For Aminé, blazing a fresh joint is the same high as turning over the ignition to a new Lamborghini Urus. Growing up he avoided status symbols, even smoking, unsure of what his self-control would be like as he worked frantically, and desperately, to make it out of Portland. In his eyes, smoking equaled success. A lot’s changed since then, including some of his reservations. “Once I accomplished the dream of becoming a musician, a lot of weight kind of came off of my shoulders, and I kind of just wanted to try it [weed] for the first time,” he says on a call from Los Angeles, a week before his new album was set to drop on August 7. “It has really calmed down my anxiety and my paranoia.”
These days, the 26-year-old rapper smokes to get away from the feelings at the center of Limbo, his long-awaited sophomore album. It’s from the viewpoint of new adulthood through a shattered window, cracked by failed relationships, realizations about money, and discoveries about happiness. It’s also a large step for Aminé, born Adam Aminé Daniel, who first won teen hearts and ears by rapping about a “bad thang” that was “fine as hell” on his vibrant, charismatic debut single “Caroline” in 2016. After signing with Republic Records that same year, he released an equally cheery debut album, Good for You, in 2017. The following year, he shared an “LP/EP/Mixtape/Album” ONEPOINTFIVE; this summer saw him branch out to acting with a small role on Insecure, which arose from his friendship with Issa Rae, who’d appeared in his 2017 “Spice Girl” video. He’s now wiser, wearier, and eager to show people that despite having a gold album plaque under his belt and more than 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify around the world, he doesn’t actually have it all figured out.
Recorded over the past two years, Limbo is a time capsule of the feelings, experiences, and personal thoughts that, up until now, Aminé was hesitant to reveal. Now he’s ready to explain his personal limbo — and why he believes he’s still stuck in it.
Limbo is a fitting name for an album coming out right now when we’re all in limbo, in a sense, due to the pandemic. How long have you been sitting on that title?
What’s fucking crazy is I had it for about a year and a half — way before this pandemic, before everything. Personally, I’m not a fan of being on the nose of things, of the times, or of anything, really, ever, so the title just kind of worked out in our favor when it came to the timing. I personally chose the title for completely different reasons.
The album feels, and sounds, like the musings of a person that’s stuck in more ways than one.
It came from an actual feeling that I’ve had for a long time. I had a bunch of titles in mind for this project that I had drafted up and had written for like two years. And I completely scrapped them, because by the end of making this album with my co-executive producer Pasque, we both agreed that no matter how much success we’ve reached with Good for You, or ONEPOINTFIVE, we’re still figuring it out. I still feel like a college kid trying to become an adult right now. I’m 26.
I’m 27. I can relate.
When I was in high school, I thought that when I was 26, I would have kids, a wife, and a car. The way you think about life as a kid completely changes and morphs into who you end up becoming when you’re 26. It doesn’t mean it’s bad or good, it just … I don’t know. I still don’t know what I’m doing, and that’s what I really wanted fans to know. Because the idea of a celebrity, or a rapper, or whatever the hell it is, when you’re put on this pedestal, people expect you to know exactly what to say or to have the best advice. This album is for people to understand I’m literally a human.
What does “figuring it out” look like to you at this stage of your life?
What would honestly bring me a lot of joy, as crazy as this sounds, is exactly what I talk about in the hook of “Woodlawn.” When I say, “You ain’t really on til all your niggas on,” it means I’ve reached a point in my life where I’m happy with what I’ve done with my career, and there’s still a lot more I want, but it would bring me a lot of joy to be able to put on family, to be able to put on friends. I have a little bit, but I haven’t fully done it the way I want it to be yet, because I’m not Michael Jackson, or Madonna, or that level at all yet.
The break between Good for You and Limbo was three years. Of course there was ONEPOINTFIVE in the middle of it, but the true wait for your debut album’s follow-up was very long, in rap years. Was there any particular reason for the extended break?
I needed this much time because the pressure of a sophomore album is real. It’s kind of like trying to show people that you’re here to stay. And I wanted to have time to work on it, because I didn’t want to rush something I knew was going to be really important to me. Of course, rappers my age and of this generation are putting out projects like every other week. Some stay, but a lot of them come and go. And I knew that I want my projects to stay. I want something that will last with people forever.
I made the decision that Limbo was not ready to be released in 2018 or 2019, because I needed more time. I was like, I’m tired of working and stressing myself out to make a really serious hip-hop album. I wanted to just make a bunch of raps and shit for fun. That was around the time, in 2018, when I got high for the first time. So I made that weird decision, and I was like, “Let’s just call it ONEPOINTFIVE since it’s not the second album.” We put together that mixtape in Hawaii in like two months, dropped that, and it kind of did a lot more for us than we expected. We toured the world and had to push back Limbo even further; that’s why I couldn’t really release it in 2019. And here we are in 2020 in the middle of a pandemic, feeling in limbo.
One of the skits from the album talks about how simply eating a grapefruit can make someone happier than money. It reminds me of “Money” from Good for You, where you say that “money doesn’t make you happy, it just makes you want to get richer.”
It’s a continuation of the same idea, but the grapefruit skit is a much more literal way of explaining it. Me and [comedian] Jak Knight, who does the skits on the LP, were talking about how you can get something so rewarding in music, or whatever your career is, and that’s supposed to make you feel accomplished, but there’s always pressure to want more. More accolades, more top hits, more whatever… You’re never fully satisfied. And when I’m sitting down eating this grapefruit with some sugar and vitamin D, the sun is hitting me, that feeling almost is greater.
Overall, Limbo sounds darker than Good for You in an intentional way.
Of course. I’m not a big fan of making music that sounds the same at all. I knew that once Good for You is out that I’m not ever going to make another Good for You again, because I don’t want to. At all. And I know I want to be able to challenge myself as an artist to prove to myself that I can make something just as good and completely different. Without having to double down and try to re-create what you’ve created before. Limbo is darker because, mentally, that’s how I genuinely feel. Albums are literal soundtracks. My albums, at least, are the soundtrack to my life at the time that I was making it. So Good for You is this joyful, superbright thing, because that is completely how I felt when I “got on,” or whatever you call it … finally making it in music. You’re nothing but naïve, happy, and careless. Limbo is me becoming an adult, and being an adult is hard. It’s not something that’s super-carefree and bright. It’s something that needs to be taken seriously.
With changing styles, do you ever have any pushback from fans? “Caroline” introduced you as bright and cheery and that image has changed since it came out in 2016.
I mean, look, there’s the fans who really love the artist because of the songs he is able to make. And I know which fans are those. Those are the fans that are front row at my shows, the ones that are buying the merch, the ones who are really the true meaning of a day one fan. They stick beside you no matter what. I guess you call them “stans.” But the people who are fans of “Caroline” and want me to keep making more music like that are half-ass listeners. They’re not true fans. It’s just kind of ridiculous to me if somebody wanted that from an artist, because growing up, I looked up to artists who always changed. I mean, 808s & Heartbreak had so much pushback when I was in middle school and saw that come out. How much it got appreciated a couple of years later completely taught me: “Fuck what anyone thinks. Do exactly what you think you should do in this moment in your life, because that’ll make you happy, and that’ll make you proud of the work you’re putting together.” I personally could not live with myself if I’m in the studio trying to re-create something. It’s depressing. Why even do it if you’re treating your music like you’re a robot trying to re-create the same thing?
On the album, there’s a Jak Knight skit about the death of Kobe and its impact. How did it personally affect you?
He was a part of every young guy’s life. Kobe is like a second dad to most of us, especially if a guy used to hoop, which I used to as well. That skit completely explained what his death felt like for me. It didn’t feel real. It felt like, Oh shit. His death means we’re literally getting older. We’re becoming actual adults. Life is completely changing. Imagining a world without Kobe is just so weird, because I never really knew a world without Kobe ever since I could speak. I definitely went and got the number 8 tatted on me the day I found out he died.
Emotions run high on “Mama,” where you thank her for everything that she’s ever done for you. How has your relationship with her evolved over the course of your career?
Really, really good. As soon as I moved out of the house and I had my own money, I really started to appreciate my parents. When you’re an adult and you’re 21, 22, 23, 24 even, living with your parents, it’s hard. You guys butt heads a lot. You’re becoming an adult, the rent is in question, and things like that — all the little funny shit of growing up. But once you move out, separation is good for you, because you start to miss each other so much. You really start to appreciate what that person has done for you, or who they made you into.
My parents are really African, so they’re strict as hell. And growing up, I really didn’t like that about them. I was really, really, really pissed all the time when they were so strict on me. But now that I’m 26, I really, really appreciate it. I 100 percent understand that if they weren’t like that, I wouldn’t be the man I am today. Calling your parents means the world to them, so I hope “Mama” makes everybody call their moms.
What was her reaction like when you first played it for her?
I ain’t going to lie to you, man. I haven’t played it for her.
She’s going to love it when she hears it.
Yeah. I can’t … You know how weird that would feel to just … I don’t want to make her cry or nothing. I know she’s going to be listening to the album as soon as it comes out. I just want her to be surprised. It’s like a little gift to her.
Years ago, Young Thug called you a young legend. Making this collaboration had to feel like a full-circle moment.
That moment was definitely weird for me because I really loved Thug, but I didn’t think he knew who I was back then. That’s someone I looked up to, especially coming up as a rapper. The collaboration got quarterbacked by T-Minus, who is a good, good homie of mine. We were in Toronto working on an album, and he was like, “Thug just did a demo to the same beat.” And I was like, “No way.” Usually, when someone plays me a verse from the same beat that someone else did or something like that, it’ll be a completely different subject, or it wouldn’t really work. But when we played the Thug verse, it was the same topic as my song. And Thug’s people loved the song; they didn’t care about their old demos. And they loved “Compensating,” so they were with it.
Did the Summer Walker song come about in a similar way?
Me and Summer have been DMing since 2018. When I first started the project, I just reached out. And she was really nice and she was a fan, too, so that was really cool and humbling, as well. I knew I wanted her on the album, but I knew it had to be the right song. I had sent her two other songs before “Easy,” and she didn’t say anything back, so she might not have liked them. “Easy” was the one that she really liked; she was like, “Okay, let’s do this.” Our duet is one of my favorite songs on the album.
Album closer “My Reality” explores what your life is like after making it to this level. Now that the musician’s dream has become your reality, is it different from the vision you had at the beginning?
Yeah. When I was dreaming, nobody ever told me about taxes, so that really changed my perspective on all of this. But no, all jokes aside, I don’t really think the dream necessarily changed from what happened. It was more so believing it was real [that] was harder for me. There was this moment, I’ll never forget it — I was actually talking about it the other day with my best friends, Yosef and John — around the time that we were working on songs for Good for You, right after “Caroline.” I had enough money to get my first car, and I bought a red Mercedes, and I was driving in it with them in L.A. where I had moved to. And we were just sitting there like, “This shit is crazy.” I had like $5 to my name the previous year. My account was in overdraft. We were freaking out in the car like, “This nigga really got a red Mercedes. This is crazy.” Growing up, we could never afford shit like that; it was just surreal. It was harder to believe for us, because we kind of came from nothing.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.