Pop Culture

Aminé Is Portland Proud. But He Doesn’t Recognize His Hometown Anymore

“This shit has to be a hit and if it’s not, I swear to God I’m going to go crazy,” Aminé says, laughing into the receiver from somewhere in Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. He’s talking about “Woodlawn,” a song named after the neighborhood in the Northeast section of Portland, Oregon, where he was raised, and the second track on his new album. “Came a long way from that Woodlawn Park / Now, Young Aminé pushin’ ‘PUSH’ to start,” he boasts over rubbery 808s and a simpering flute sample on the song’s chorus. It’s a nimble anthem of the kind audiences have now come to expect from the 26-year-old artist, but one with a sober backstory. The song is dedicated to a close friend who became incarcerated last year: “It was heartbreaking, so I was trying to make a song for him. I literally played him ‘Woodlawn’ through the phone, and he was dancing in his cell.” It was a bittersweet moment, he says, but in its combination of pop and pathos, the song is characteristic of the career the rapper has forged since his grinning, Habesha visage first grabbed the public’s attention in 2016.

But the four years since Aminé’s career-catalyzing hit “Caroline” rocketed to the top of your summer party playlist (and to #11 on the Billboard Hot 100) feel a little more like 400. In that time, the multitalented rapper has gone from a precocious, gap-toothed provocateur bouncing around in the back of his friend’s Honda to one of popular music’s most commanding and eclectic new forces, as comfortable on a track with lo-fi indie rockers Girlpool as he is with Young Thug. He’s left his native Pacific Northwest, traveled the world, and settled in the land of Erewhon. He’s made music that Rihanna enjoys. He even got a dog.

And after releasing his Technicolor major-label debut Good for You in 2017, and a quick follow-up project in OnePointFive just a year later, Aminé now finds himself on the verge of releasing his true sophomore album. The process hasn’t been without its hurdles.

“To be honest with you, I’m just a really insecure guy sometimes,” he says. “Every album I release, I’m so nervous. Literally, my hands be shaking. Because I be caring about this shit so much.” Having delivered a well-received debut, toured the globe, and won the support of everyone from Scary Spice to Gucci Mane, he’s proven that he’s much more than the banana-loving gimmick some initially pegged him to be. But he recognizes that even a video of Beyoncé roller-skating to your song doesn’t guarantee your spot in the pantheon. In the fickle world of music and entertainment, competition has never felt higher and attention spans have never seemed shorter. But Aminé knows the question for those who truly want to leave their mark isn’t “What have you done?” so much as it’s “What’s next?”

With Limbo—out August 7—he did just about the only thing a musician isn’t supposed to do these days: He moved slowly. “I have an opportunity to really establish myself, and that’s kind of why I took so much time on it,” he tells me. In a moment when a 15-year-old can go from recording dance videos in their bedroom to starring in Super Bowl commercials in a matter of months, it might sound strange to hear a multiplatinum musician speak of establishing himself. But Aminé says that’s kind of the point. “The main reason for Limbo was to let fans know that I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing,” he tells me. He says he’s exited the bright, carefree, just happy to be here portion of his early career, and has begun the part where you contemplate not simply the next step but also what you hope the whole staircase will look like. “Now that I’m 26, I think so much more about legacy than I do the moment. I think about what is this album going to mean in two, three years, you know what I mean?”

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