*Photo credit: Christian Lanza
By: Kevin Crandall
“You Bisquick, scallywag, silly muthafuckas
I do yo ass the same way that Ye did Taylor”
In the middle of Aminé’s Pressure In My Palms (feat. slowthai and Vince Staples) is a statement of brash mockery and tenacious self-confidence so audacious that you can hear the whiskey bottle sloshing and black leather squeaking from that fateful MTV Video Music Awards night in 2009. One year after the release of his sophomore album Limbo, the Portland rapper’s adamant self-determinations—as well as his aptitude for blending flippant arrogance with visceral vulnerability—still captivate and shine as some of his best work to date.
Limbo represents a crossroads in Aminé’s life: a state of uncertainty and experimentation he experiences while attempting to find his place in life and in music. He raps about the death of Kobe Bryant, the racial tension of his upbringing in Portland, Oregon, his determination to succeed, and the aches and pains of growing up and seeing those around you grow up. He covers this range of topics all while experimenting with different sounds and production to feel out where he fits sonically. Aminé was twenty-six at the time of the release, experiencing what he refers to in an interview with Oregon Public Broadcasting as a “quarter-life crisis” while trying to navigate adulthood. The candid nature of that journey lays heavy within the album, giving it an aura of genuineness and relatability that touches just as deeply today as it did upon its release.
Limbo represents a shift in the way Aminé approaches his craft, as well as the emotions and vulnerabilities he expresses within his music. His 2017 debut album Good For You, while introspective at times with songs like Money and Turf, gives the overall feeling of a free-flowing and carefree summertime album to bump while sunbathing and pool partying. On the flip side is ONEPOINTFIVE, the between-LPs mixtape released in 2018, whose trap-heavy tracks blew out speakers and provided some of Aminé’s most ambrosial hooks and melodies to date, but at times lacked a genuine feel in favor of playing to the mainstream sound of the time. Limbo takes the successes from both of these albums and expands upon them, creating a consistently candid atmosphere littered with different flavors and brutally honest bars.
The inconsistent stylings throughout Limbo play right into its concept: life isn’t one mood fits all, especially when you’re in your mid-twenties trying to figure out what the fuck life is. What better way to represent the uncertainty of that time than by diversifying the sounds and sensations associated with each song? From Parker Corey’s industrial backings in Fetus to the rehashing of Ol’ Dirty Bastard’s Shimmy Shimmy Ya on Shimmy, Aminé brings unique character to the production of each track to embody the turbulence that can define one’s mid-twenties.
Outside of the production, Aminé tackles a wide swath of topics within his lyrical offerings. Touched on in the beginning of the album is the death of NBA legend and hall of famer Kobe Bryant, whose passing is mused upon by Aminé’s close friend Jak Knight on the interlude Kobe. The death of the Lakers star shook America to its core, in particular the Black community, including Aminé, who said that he “was like a second dad I saw on TV” who “affected every kind of young Black man in America who had played sports.” Seeing his idol, who had inspired him to pick up a basketball and give his all to everything he did, die so unexpectedly was crushing; it stole Aminé’s childhood innocence and propelled him into the “cold cold world that we live in,” as he raps on Shimmy. The Rip City rapper also touches frequently on the racial tensions and gentrification he witnessed growing up in Portland, the home of hypocritical liberalism. On the opening track Burden, Aminé expresses his frustration with the lack of retroactive correction after the legalization of marijuana and the large number of Black people still incarcerated for marijuana-related instances, rapping that “when it’s us, n***as gettin’ years, maybe ten and up / soccer moms do the same, but government don’t give a fuck.”
The place where the theme of racial tension shines through the most however is on the song Becky, where Aminé walks through the irritants and burdens that come with being in a mixed-race relationship. He outlines a variety of instances where he or his partner are “fed up” with being treated differently because they are a mixed couple, encapsulating the feeling in the bars: “and no, it’s not a law, but you know we ain’t the same / I’m fed up with a world that I know I can’t change.” He then goes on to explain the apprehension he faces from her friends and family for being Black, a feeling very similar to what he feels when he returns to Portland and, in particular, Woodlawn Park, the neighborhood he grew up in. The exclusivity that exudes from a gentrified area gives off the same sentiment that a racially hesitant white family does; “you never, as a minority, you never [feel] welcome or [feel] like you belong there.” Hostility and general nervousness are abound in these situations, and Aminé tackles the subject head on and in such a way that it is incredibly easy to empathize (or sympathize) with him and, by virtue, the Black community as a whole.
Following up the album that put you on the map is a tall, tall order, yet Aminé did nothing but serve. Limbo gives a window into the gripes, jubilations, and overall emotional truth of one of the most innovative and adaptable artists in the rap game today. Not only did Aminé bring the blend of swagger and braggadocio that propelled him to stardom on this album, but he was able to intertwine that with brute candor and intimate moments, creating a work of art that is as sensitive as it is relentless. Damian Lillard beware, because Portland has a budding superstar, and it won’t be long before Aminé is known for so much more than being the yellow-clad Caroline rapper.