Photo: Micaiah Carter
Aminé Talks New Album 'Limbo,' Portland Protests And Black Lives Matter
As fans hungrily devour Limbo, his newly released sophomore album, Aminé can finally breathe a sigh of relief. Over two years in the making, the LP marks his official follow-up to his 2017 debut, Good For You. After generating a promising buzz, starting with his 2016 summer smash, "Caroline," Aminé released a placeholder mixtape, OnePointFive, in 2018. In between, he took his time to carefully craft Limbo.
"I couldn't have made the same album if I'd only had six months to make it," the 26-year-old rapper told GRAMMY.com just a few days after he released Limbo. "It meant a lot to me, so I gave every song the time and care that it deserved."
Limbo comes full circle for Aminé in several ways. The album is a mature sophomore project—it features tributes to his mother as well as his icon from his hoop-dream days, Kobe Bryant—yet pines for simpler days when he wasn't expected to have everything figured out. The album features familiar faces, including Charlie Wilson, Injury Reserve, J.I.D, Vince Staples, slowthai, Summer Walker and Young Thug.
Limbo also arrives as thousands of protestors have demonstrated in the streets of Aminé's hometown of Portland for more than two consecutive months in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd in May. Born to Ethiopian and Eritrean parents, the rapper shares his experience as a Black man who grew up in the predominantly white city, which was once a Northwestern epicenter for segregation and deep-seated racism.
"For a city to be so liberal, it was so racist—the way I was brought up," he reflects. "It's the place where I grew up and I love it to death, but it's also a place that never made me feel like I was welcome."
GRAMMY.com spoke with Aminé about taking his time on Limbo, supporting the Black Lives Matter protests in Portland and finding peace in not always knowing what's next.
Congratulations on releasing Limbo! You've been working on this album since before you dropped OnePointFive in 2018. How does it feel now that your new album is finally out?
It was a bit nerve-racking, 'cause it's like your baby. But it feels really, really good. It kind of feels like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders.
Why did this album take two years to release?
I think that's just where I was at in my life. The platinum plaques and gold albums are really cool, but I had certain artistic places that I knew I hadn't gone yet, and there were still certain things I wanted to achieve. And I knew I wanted to make a more mature album. Not to discredit my past work, but they are fairly different. I just feel like, I'm 26 now, I'm a bit older, and I'm trying to make an album that will last 20, 30 years from now.
There are several Kobe Bryant references on Limbo. Did you ever get to meet him? Or was he just a big role model for you?
No, I never even got to meet him. He was just somebody I looked up to. I didn't pursue music my whole life—I pursued basketball. He was just someone where, I never knew a life without him, which is what that ["Kobe"] skit is kind of about.
There are also lots of references to Portland on the album. Being from Portland, are you surprised by how many people have showed up to support the Black Lives Matter movement there? Or do you think the protests have been a long time coming for the city?
I'm generally not surprised because Portland is liberal. It's literally the definition [of] liberal. Everyone in that city has a Black Lives Matter post in front of their lawn; they support the movement, and they've said that for years. But the history of [Portland] is kind of hypocritical.
For a city to be so liberal, it was so racist—the way I was brought up. So for me, Portland is just like the South. Growing up there, it never felt welcoming for anyone who was Black or any sort of minority or was an immigrant. Them [protesting] is a beautiful thing—I love the protesting. But it's also like, I'm not gonna send my Black family or Black friends out there to protest. Because if they're beating up white people, what do you think they're gonna do to us?
Them protesting is what they should've done 20, 30 years ago. So I guess it is a long time coming. But the problem is, the people that are protesting are the same people that are moving the Black people out of Portland neighborhoods and gentrifying the hell out of the city. So my love for Portland is like a bittersweet relationship … It's the place where I grew up and I love it to death, but it's also a place that never made me feel like I was welcome.
Have you been involved in the Portland efforts at all, whether through protesting or donating?
In Portland, I've only really helped my friends and spread the word. For me, there's a lot of other places and Black people that I can support, whether it's feeding the Black people in Portland or supporting Black businesses; I've given money to Black businesses in Portland.
I love your song "Mama" on Limbo. Does your mom like it?
Yeah. [Laughs.] My mom loves it. She cried the first time she heard it, which was cool.
What made you want to write a song for your mom?
I had been trying to write a song for my mother, to be honest with you, for years. I tried to put it on Good For You. I tried to put it on OnePointFive. But you only really get one shot at making that kind of song, so I cut those songs because I didn't feel like they were good enough. This was the first time I had made one that felt really perfect. The beat was so joyful and soulful, I was like, "We have to put this on this album."
The features on Limbo seem very full circle. For example, you collaborate with Young Thug and team up with Injury Reserve and Charlie Wilson again. Was that intentional?
I didn't really plan them out, it was more so like I was a big fan of all of these features. Like J.I.D, he wanted me to send him the beat to "Roots" for a while, and I wouldn't text it to him because the music meant so much to me that I wanted him to record his verse in person. So seven months later, he pulled up and recorded his verse, just 'cause he's my homie and he knew how much this album meant to me.
Were most of these collaborations recorded pre-quarantine then?
Yeah, all of these songs were made like a year and a half ago. There's been like 50 different versions of them. I've treated this project like it's the highest of importance. It meant a lot to me, so I gave every song the time and care that it deserved … I couldn't have made the same album if I'd only had six months to make it. Songs like "Roots," there's a line that people really love right now where I say, "Eritrea, Ethiopia, Habesha utopia." I didn't add that line until a year later. Things like that, making the perfect verse, takes a lot of time.
Where were some of the places you recorded Limbo?
All over the place! We recorded with slowthai in London. We recorded with Vince [Staples] in L.A. We recorded "Easy" with Summer Walker in Jamaica. We recorded "Compensating" and "Can't Decide" and "My Reality" and "Shimmy" in Toronto. We recorded in Portland, too; we did "Pressure In My Palms" there.
I know you direct most of your music videos, and I've read that you're interested in film. If your career were in "limbo" or you wanted to try another artistic outlet, what might that be?
Definitely movies and TV shows … I've had a couple ideas for a couple years now, so it's just about trying to maneuver it in the right way. I think being on "Insecure" this past year was a great start for my acting debut. I'm just trying to be selective with the things I do because I wanna do as well in film as I do in music. It just takes time, but hopefully we reach those levels in the next coming years.
Where did the name Limbo come from?
It was just really where I've been at in my life. I think a lot of people expect rappers, artists and just anyone who's put on a pedestal to have all the answers. Limbo was a title that I felt was a perfect definition of where I'm at personally in my life and to let fans know that I'm literally in limbo—like, I don't know what the f**k I'm doing. I'm still growing up and I'm still just figuring it out.