Photo: Timothy Saccenti
Aminé On Beyoncé, Prince & All Things 'Good For You'
Traditionally, West Coast hip-hop encompasses MCs hailing from the state of California. However, Portland, Ore.-bred rapper Aminé has always drawn outside the lines.
A fan of everyone from Kanye West and André 3000 to John Mayer and Prince, Aminé's music sounds like his videos look: crisp, bright and honest, with a splash of humor. The 23-year-old recently released his debut album, Good For You, a collection of songs he originally made for his own enjoyment. Now the world is taking notice following a breakout performance on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" and a high-profile endorsement in the form of an Instagram roller-skate montage from the one and only Beyoncé.
Aminé came by our headquarters in Santa Monica last week to talk about his new album, the real Portland, his love for acting, TV shows, the color yellow, and more.
Good For You dropped just a couple weeks ago. How has your daily life changed since your debut album was released?
It changed my life in the way that I'm just really happy it's out because I really worked hard on it. I'm just happy to have people listening to a project of mine. It's kind of like something that is your baby and you're just handing it off to get babysat, and you just want to make sure every babysitter's cool (laughs). It's my baby.
You said you made "Caroline" in your room on your laptop, just like 50 other songs. Why do you think this was the one that took off like crazy?
Because it was the only song I put out at the time (laughs). Yeah, I really didn't think much of the song. I don't really expect much from any songs I put out. I just kind of make them and hope for the best because I'm the kind of guy who likes to hope for the least and then if the best happens I'm like really happy.
Beyoncé's IG post featuring "Caroline" went viral. It's sort of a cosign of sorts, so what did that mean for you?
We were freaking out about that, me and my friends. Beyoncé is Beyoncé, there's no other [way] of putting it. But when we saw that, we were just like, "What?" It's just really funny, because I'm from Portland and me and my friends are pretty average, so seeing her listening to my song was just like, "What?" You know, there's really no words to explain it. But it was really cool. She's a legend. … It was surreal for sure.
Portland is not mentioned often as a hip-hop hotbed. What's the scene really like there, and what's it like to claim Portland as home?
I loved growing up in Portland because I'm not from L.A. or New York or Chicago or some cool city. … It was a very regular suburban life. People don't expect a lot of African-Americans to live in Portland, but I lived in a mainly all African-American neighborhood. I mean, there's black people everywhere … it was just a very suburban, normal life. I had my first crush. I learned how to ride a bike … things that made me who I am today.
[The] hip-hop scene — there's tons of rappers and artists there. Portland never really had its own original sound … and we're still creating that for ourselves. But it was a lot of indie bands and there wasn't a lot of space for hip hop so I had to go to New York and L.A. to get more opportunities, you know. I got more show offers as a nobody in L.A. and New York than I did in Portland. It shouldn't be like that, but it was. So it's still developing, it's still a great place. There's a lot of artists like the Last Artful, Dodgr and Mic Capes — a lot of rappers [are] coming out of there.
You've said "yellow is the new black" and that you rock "yellow on some yellow like what purple is to Prince." Why yellow?
It's my favorite color! (laughs) It isn't really "because the moods." I don't have a deep explanation, it's just one of my favorite colors. I don't know Prince's music like the back of my hand, but I was always a fan of him as an artist — just the way he was a person who did not care about what people thought and did his own thing and I thought that was so cool. Everything I saw that he did was so seamless and it just flowed together, and I saw purple in everything he did. And when he died, I saw the Empire State Building [turn] purple. Not to jinx myself — knock on wood — but if I die, that would be cool if it was yellow.
Actually, they just gave Prince his own purple Pantone color called Love Symbol #2 …
That's so fire. That's a goal of mine. You just established a new goal for me (laughs).
Can you tell us how the album cover concept for Good For You originated?
I had the newspaper idea for a minute, so I wanted to always incorporate that in the album cover in some sort of way. But with that I wanted to establish or put in the idea of how I am as a person and how my music is. I don't really care how people see me in my natural state, in a comfortable state. That's really what the goal was. It wasn't anything too deep where the toilet has this symbol. It was just a very comfortable place, and I come up with a lot of ideas on the toilet as well.
That reminds me of the beginning of the "Red Mercedes" music video …
Yeah, if you look closely … I put the newspaper in that video and I was sitting on the toilet, so I just wanted to give a hint to the album cover early on, and it said the album title on there months before the album was announced, but no one really noticed that. I got that idea from when Donald [Glover, Childish Gambino] put the Awaken, My Love! cover in "Atlanta." I was like, "OK, that's amazing. I need to do that."
You've named Kanye and André 3000 as musical influences. Can you name something you borrowed from each of them?
I don't know specifically, I can't be like, "Yeah I took this from this song," but every Kanye album is one of my favorite albums. I don't think there's an album I hate. I didn't really appreciate 808s & Heartbreak when I was in middle school because I was a kid and didn't really get what singing was at the time because I was such a huge fan of rap. Then 808s … and … Love Below opened my mind into what [being] an artist meant, instead of just rapping over beats. It was just super cool. It was basically like indie music to me, it wasn't even hip hop or R&B. I think that's closing those albums in a genre they don't belong in. Those were alternative magic.
What about style influences?
A lot of André and Kanye (laughs). I don't tell many people this but this is funny. I used to do this thing in elementary school where I would have a new outfit and before I'd put it on I'd close my eyes and imagine what Kanye or André would look like in it, and if it didn't look right on them I wouldn't wear it. I think I kind of still do that sometimes when I see an outfit that I'm iffy about, I'm like, "Hmm, would this look good on Kanye or Andre?" "Nah, ok."
What are three things you're loving right now?
"Game Of Thrones," for sure. I was watching an episode last night. It's one of my favorite shows ever. It's gotten pretty intense, if anyone's kept up, it's pretty crazy. I was on my couch standing, yelling at my TV [during] the last episode.
"Master Of None" is one of my favorite shows, too. I could just name a bunch of movies and TV.
I ate Shake Shack last night. I really like Shake Shack burgers ... I like In-N-Out a lot, but Shake Shack is just divine.