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From “Unpopular” Beginnings To A Cinematic Future: US Rapper Aminé Gives Us A Rare Glimpse Inside His Enigmatic Mind

Written by Cyclone Wehner on June 5, 2018

Aminé (pronounced “uh-mee-nay”) is the most blithe hip-hopper since Chance The Rapper, blowing up with 2016’s now multi-platinum Caroline. He’s also the first hip-hop star from Portland, Oregon – a city renowned for indie music.

Adam Daniel was born in Portland to Ethiopian migrant parents. Using his middle name Aminé, he launched a music career while studying marketing at college. In early 2014 Amine circulated his fabled mixtape, Odyssey To Me. He’d later go viral with Caroline, signing to Republic Records. And Amine left the Pacific Northwest for Los Angeles.

Last July, the buzz rapper issued his debut album, Good For You, with such guests as Ty Dolla $ign, Offset and Kehlani. (Disclosure produced ‘Blinds’.) Inspired by everyone from OutKast to (the old) Kanye West, Aminé delivers clever, whimsical hip-hop with coming-of-age themes. He pays playful homage to the Spice Girls (his first concert!) on the hooky ‘Spice Girl’ – Melanie Brown, aka Scary Spice, cameoing in his self-directed film-clip. The Good For You sleeve depicts Aminé seated on a toilet, pop art-style.

However, Aminé also has a political side. Performing Caroline on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon following the US election, he added a missive to President Trump: “You can never make America great again, all you ever did was make this country hate again.” The rapper then presented a powerful video concept about racism for his one-off single ‘REDMERCEDES’ – wearing whiteface.

Today, Aminé has famous fans like Malia Obama. In March, he featured on Snakehips’ banger ‘For The Fuck Of It’ alongside Jeremih. Recently, Aminé blitzed Australia with Groovin The Moo, selling out side-shows. Though the 24-year-old rarely grants interviews, he chatted with Music Feeds in Melbourne pre-soundcheck for his final club gig. “It’s been definitely a pleasure being here in Australia, so I’ll miss it,” he says. “I wanna be back soon!” But, with Good For You nearly a year old, what’s next for Aminé?

Music Feeds: How are you enjoying Australia? How has the festival been?

Aminé : The festival’s been great. We’ve done a lotta solo shows as well. We already did a Melbourne show and we have our last Melbourne show again tonight. It’s the last show on tour – so we’re excited.

MF: You’ve been to so many regional hubs. A lot of people don’t see these places when they’re touring. How have you found the experience?

A: Yeah, I mean, it’s definitely a blessing. When I talk to other Australians, I’ve heard that most of you guys don’t really get to see each other’s cities that often. So I guess I’m pretty lucky enough to do that. It’s been great. I’ve seen different sides of the country. It’s a huge, huge difference between cities, for me; from the cultures I’ve seen here.

MF: I wondered if you’ve hung out with any of the artists or caught any of them? There’s lots of Australian talent there!

A: I haven’t got the chance to see all of them, but the one I know on the line-up very well is Portugal. The Man, ’cause they’re from the same hometown as me – they’re from Portland, Oregon as well. So it was just super-crazy that two artists from my hometown are playing the same festival all the way in Australia.

MF: I’ve read interviews with you and you often sound ambivalent talking about Portland. You felt creatively limited maybe – there are not a lot of opportunities for a hip-hop act. How do you look back on it now that you’ve been living in LA for a while?

A: I’m super-grateful that I’m from this city that isn’t very popular because it probably made me who I am today. I think when you grow up in a city that isn’t as popular, like an LA or New York, people are much more interested to see what you have to offer – because people are like, “What is Portland?” So any time I travel the world I get to tell people about where I’m from and what it’s like, ’cause no one really knows – unless you’re from there, you know?

MF: I remember the same was happening with Detroit when you had J Dilla, Eminem and Proof coming up – people didn’t really know what it meant. But is there much hip-hop happening in Portland?

A: Yeah, yeah, there is. There’s an artist by the name of [The] Last Artful, Dodgr from Portland – she’s really cool and coming up. She’s one of the coolest female rappers to me. But there isn’t a lot of hip-hop in Portland. But it’s starting to grow – and I’ve seen it start to grow more and more. I think it’s just cool. I think, for me, coming up out of that city and doing what I’m doing, touring the world and stuff like that, is kind of showing kids from my city that you can do it as well. So it’s a cool thing to be a part of.

MF: You never know what you might have unleashed now! There might be a whole wave.

A: Yeah, hopefully – I mean, that’d be amazing, yeah. That’d be great.

MF: It’s almost a year since Good For You dropped. How do you look back on it now? And how do you feel about the response?

A: I feel great. The album recently went gold, so that was the biggest accomplishment for me and my team. A single going platinum is okay – and that’s a great accomplishment as well. But, when a whole album goes gold, that’s the best feeling ’cause then you know your body of work that you worked on all year is kind of congratulated, basically. It’s just like that little stamp of certification for you as an artist that makes you feel like what you did was worth it. So it feels great in that way.

MF: What did you learn from making the record?

A: I kinda learned just about who I am and what I do. I guess, for an artist, it’s more so you make an album and then you realise, Okay, I made this body of work that I always wanted to make, now what do I wanna do next? What that album taught me was knowing exactly what I wanna do next. I don’t really have the words to put it into, what I wanna do next, but I know in my heart exactly what I’m gonna do. So [the] next album I’ll make soon.

MF: You released a song called ‘Campfire’ recently. What you can tell us about it?

A: Well, ‘Campfire’ was just basically like… I made this song randomly in the studio – ’cause I’m always working on music, so I have tonnes of unreleased music. I made this song and it was just really fun. Coachella was coming up and I wanted to put out a song right before Coachella. And I wanted to put out a song with a video at first ’cause I had never done that – I’ve never released a song and a video at the same time; it’s always been the song, then the video. So ‘Campfire’ isn’t part of any project specifically. It’s just I released that because Coachella was coming up and we wanted to put out a really, really fun song. It’s featuring Injury Reserve, who’s a new indie rap group coming out of Phoenix, and they’re dope as well.

MF: We don’t hear much about hip-hop from Phoenix either. So that was curious.

A: Oh, yeah – I think that’s why we get along, just because we’re both from the cities that people don’t expect hip-hop to come out of. So it’s cool.

MF: One song that made me smile was ‘Spice Girl.’ I think a lot of Australians forget that the Spice Girls were actually big in the States. We always equate them with the UK…

A: Yeah, they were huge!

MF: But I know there’s a story behind this – how you had to get the group to sign off on it. What was involved?

A: I’m kind of quoting their song ‘Wannabe’, “zig-a-zig-ah” – when I do that, it’s basically just copying their song. So I wanted to make sure we got approval from them. Their manager – like the original manager of the Spice Girls [Simon Fuller] – was very responsive and super-kind. We got approval from every Spice Girl to put out the song. It was kind of like a blessing, just to have them be able to say it’s okay and sign off on it. It just was like a tick off my list. It felt good.

MF: Your music is positive, proactive and political – and it’s unusual to find all those qualities together. How do you see yourself evolving as a lyricist? Are you gathering ideas as you go – do you keep a notebook?

A: To be honest with you, I think the best songwriters – and the best lyricists – are the people who focus on living their regular life and living life in general. When you’re an artist, or when you’re someone who’s in somewhat way famous, you kind of get distracted when it comes to events and parties and people you meet and [other] things that can distract you and not have you focussing on music. So I think the best way to be a better songwriter is just living life and meeting people from different countries… I meet people that inspire me and have conversations [where] just someone might say something interesting – I’ll write it down in my phone; in my notes. I keep a constant notebook in my phone – it’s on my iCloud so, if I lost my phone, I could still have it on the new phone, so it’s all good. But, yeah, I feel like the best way to become a better lyricist is just living a regular life and keeping in touch with family and your loved ones and staying super-normal.

MF: How is travel influencing you as a writer? And how is it feeding into your music?

A: Specifically, I don’t know how to answer that. I think it just subconsciously kinda influences it. You appreciate life in a more positive way when you’re blessed with being able to travel the world and see things that you and your friends back home would have never imagined to see. You know, if you told me in high school that I would go to Australia, and tour Australia, I wouldn’t believe you – which is cool…

MF: Hip-hop artists have so much cultural influence now – whether it’s Killer Mike or Cardi B or Kanye West. How do you handle that responsibility? Because things flare up on social media.

A: I don’t know. I think, when you have that much power, especially with social media and stuff like that, you just have to really kind of be careful and, more so, be a little more sensitive about everything you’re saying and putting out there into the world. So, if there’s something I’m not sure about, before I tweet it or before I talk about it, I’ll make sure with my team that I know what I’m talking about – or I just won’t speak on it because I’m not educated in that manner. I’m not a Political Science major, so I don’t know too much about politics. I can’t speak on different laws and things that I don’t nothing about. So, for me, when you have power, you just have to really, really be careful about everything you’re saying because everyone is listening. I like to know what I’m talking about, if that makes sense.

MF: What do you make of the whole Kanye issue? And how should people respond to it?

A: For now, for me, I really have no comment on that, because… You know, I just don’t have a comment on it, to be honest with you.

MF: This is a fun question. I know you’re a huge movie buff and you love Quentin Tarantino. What was the last movie you saw?

A: The last movie I saw was literally this movie called A Quiet Place – it’s in theatres right now. It’s really good. It’s just about a family having to be very, very quiet because of a natural disaster, basically. It’s just like this super sci-fi, creepy film that’s really, really good. I think you should watch it!

MF: What are your aspirations in that area, with directing or acting? Are you making any moves?

A: For me, when it comes to acting and directing, that’s definitely a world I would love to enter and, more so, put a lot of my work and efforts into. People like Issa Rae [of Insecure fame] and Donald Glover and Aaron Sorkin are idols of mine, and people are doing that right now, so that’s something I wanna get into. It’s just I’m really touring right now so I have to focus on one thing at a time. I hate when people try to do different things at the same time and never really put effort into all those things, ’cause you’re doing so many things. So, hopefully, I enter that world pretty soon.

MF: Do you have a favourite movie genre?

A: My favourite genre of movie is coming-of-age films. One of my favourite films ever is Submarine and that’s by a British director named Richard Ayoade. It’s just about a kid growing up being sensitive and not understanding how to talk to girls. It’s really cool. I’d say coming-of-age films are the most relatable films ’cause everybody goes through that when they’re in middle school and growing up.

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