Hiphop protegé from Portland, OR speaks on his sound and growing up Black in a predominantly white city
Considering all the unique gestures of protest throughout the history of rap, Aminé's (Adam Aminé Daniel) public campaign against gentrification in Portland isn't all that strange. But that is not the only thing that has opened himself a road to becoming a truly admirable example of a millennial, cloud-rapper and entertainer that embraces the world with acceptance.
We watched him perform at Festsaal in Berlin, on a sunny Monday in February in front of youtube infested visuals Aminé designed for his playlist promoting ONEPOINTFIVE, his second album. The language he uses to encourage agency, self-awareness and singularity, supports directly minorities and LGBT-movements around the world. His language is softening and authentic, even when he screams to the audience „You are beautiful“, and the audience responds „I know“.
But he is not only educating a characterful lesson of tolerance to his own generation, but also the one of his parents. The son of Ethiopian immigrants suggests - explicitly in his newest video Blackjack - a ‚School of Rap‘ (just like Jack Black did with the film ‚the School of Rock‘), meaning just to use music again for a better cause: a good-humored, global, socially conscious collectivity.
Who is that guy on your story?
Oh, that’s Rickey Thompson! Rickey Thompson is a comedian and internet personality. He stands up for the LGBT community, always funny. He is a great person that I already admired before reaching out to him to do something together. I thought it would be really cool to have him do the skits on my album, because just as hip hop is known for being a homophobic crowd. I just wanted to change that.
Is he playing with you tonight?
No. You ask because of that thing I posted on my story? A lot of people were asking me if he is actually in Berlin. It's actually an old hilarious video that he made when he came to Berlin last year. He was just joking and he made that video and I told him to text me that video because it was so funny. So I post it every time I come to Berlin. But he doesn't tour with us.
It truly is funny. Tell us about how this is changing the whole tradition of hip hop. We're being infused by digital media. Bodies and forms are more fluid; personalities, too. Like, you have someone that is part of your album, but he primarily a comedian. He is not here, and yet everyone feels the good energy coming from an instagram feed. And that is just one of thousand examples.
It's crazy. Imagine if Michael Jackson had an Instagram; things would have been so different. I mean, the idea of an artist ten or twenty years ago versus what the idea of an artist is now is just worlds apart. The public feels much more connected to artists now, because you have this access where you can just like go on my instagram story and see what I'm doing right away.
So what does your mom think about you posting her iMessages about your new video?
She’ll read everything and be like „Why did this person say this?“ I'm like „mom, I don't know them!“. My mom is Ethiopian, and African mothers be like soldiers, following everything of their children's lives.
Your parents are US citizens as long as you are here in the world.
Yeah. The main reason for most Africans moving to America is either because governmental corruption or because class and gang violence, in which innocent people are being killed. They immigrated in the 90’s and two or three years later, they had me.
Before getting famous, they were kind of scared and maybe disappointed that I didn’t become a lawyer, a doctor or a journalist. It is justifiable for a parent to want that for their children. You know, we are immigrants and we moved to America but not for me to become a rapper. They introduced me to hip hop and pop music. She played like all that stuff in the car not knowing that it subconsciously affected me.
You seem to musically reflect on many things at a time, reflecting social influences from all sides.
I reflect around music conceptually, like everything around me. I’m the kind of person that gets moments of creation walking down the street. A random melody popped up in my head today, so I just hummed it in my phone. I got thousands of recordings on my phone, and see a cool statue or a really cool shirt, like the one you are wearing, I'll take a quick picture of it and save it in my notes for a music video idea or whatever. I'm always constantly getting influenced by my surroundings. So for me it's never been like I purposely am looking conceptually for art. Art is possibly the most subjective thing in the world.
But the anarchic stuff you are doing on social media is cross-pollinating all over the place. This life inspiration you're talking about during these walking-around-scenes are also study cases for artists like Robert Smithson or David Hammons, resumed today by museums and catalogues. But I guess they are probably less important for you that what happens on the internet.
I actually go to museums every time I visit a city. But as art is picky and harder for me to understand than a meme about a person grabbing a pair of glasses, putting them on the floor and declaring it for an artwork while people are staring, I would get the interior of a car made with that. It’s just random stuff that I don't control, and I feel like that's how my whole generation is. My generation of artists and musicians coming out nowadays can’t explain what it is. We always had the internet.
Growing up for us was maybe like it, too. It's like everything is moving like a sum at some point. Maybe in the 1950s advertisement did the same with people’s attention.
We're adjusting communication channels and I see I have little good ways of living. I see my little cousins, who are like seven, eight years old. They are not considered to be of my generation, but the gap between us is way more smaller than the gap between my parents and I when I was ten. At their age I didn't know what it was to have any sort of social media profile or anything. I was like sixteen when I got introduced to this, you know. So it's just crazy right how fast kids develop today, and have access to the same things we do in a tablet or a smartphone.
We are both amazed by your billboard in Oregon’s MLK boulevard; In black letters on your signature yellow background we can read "Yes, There are Black People in Portland". A message to a primarily white city experiencing rampant gentrification especially in city's only black neighborhood.
Thank you. But I can’t to sit here, in the US or in Africa as if I was a politician, because I don't know much. All I know is that I put that up there, because I relate to that issue way to much, and it affects me and it's personal to me. So anything I talk about where I fight for it is because it affects me.
It's clear that you are not using the banners to make a political campaign, like the posters Kanye published last year. You're just playing with all the empowering tools that you have to make things visible in a way the weren’t before.
There’s a lot of money being spent on PR, and the concerts where just sold out. Instead of spending on marketing for albums, TV shows or whatever I decided to spend this chunk amount of money on a billboard in my hometown to make a statement.
I am not reflecting on my social engagement or responsibility, I just came into this making music. As I said, I’m not a politician.
Well, we know that. I didn't want to direct my question towards the expectations. We are interested in knowing how did you came to choose this kind of public space for a banner like that, showing your opinion about gentrification in Portland. You know like being reflective in the public spaces you are like with this banner.
I just think it comes from a genuine perspective. I am a black person from Portland. So I think the only person who can address to the problem like this, on that is someone like me. And most black people I know in Portland can't put up a billboard. It's a pretty it's a pretty quiet place for us, you know. I mean you either get gentrified and moved out of the neighborhood or you just can't afford to do that in a reasonable period. This is saying something about living in Portland.
Something like how is it being an immigrant child? Is it a different perspective you have also on black culture in the US?
It is hard to talk about your heritage with proud as an African; growing up for me as a first generation American of migrant parents? Black kids really didn't understand from where I am or what I do or would make commentaries about my dad having an accent when he picked me up from school. He's African. Looking back to that, black people making fun of the way you talk and so on, you realize how slavery brainwashed black people. Applause to the suprematists; slavery made black people think that they are not African anymore. That's crazy good job. They achieved what they wanted, stripping off black people from their cultural heritage, alienating the people who are literally exactly like them.
In the video of the song REDMERCEDES you and your friends are painted like white middle-class arrogants buy a car from black people. How did you come to that idea?
That whole video swaps the roles of an incident that inspire the song. REDMERCEDES is about me buying my first car. I first made a good ton of money and I could finally buy my own expensive car, walk into a Mercedes dealership and ask for the car. I had the money but the people working there made me feel it shouldn’t. The way I was treated, as they didn't expect me to be able to pay for this, is put into the video. But this should be mainly a parody.
But regarding the sound you make…
…You are flowing in that river of trap, with warm streams coming from Dr. Dre and all that good old hip hop. How do you produce it? Where do you list to your mastered track before release?
A: I do and listen to it on my smartphone. In this day and age of engineer futurism, we record music for us to hear it instantly. It is not like back in the day when Dr. Dre would mix his tracks in a big studio with big speakers. Nowadays you gotta think, people don’t have nice speakers like that, unless you are somebody with a great career, very rich or whatever. Kids listen to their music on those thirty dollar Apple headphones, off their phones or their laptops. So what we do is as soon as we finish the song we mix the song off my phone, then off the shitty headphones and then we test it in my car. If it sounds good in the car and it sounds good in the headphones, the song is done. Those are the proportions today.
That’s how we discovered ONEPOINTFIVE for ourselves. And, hey, DR. WHOEVER is just fucking awesome.
That song already modifies something, when you start talking about mental illness and psychotherapy, criticizing masculinity as an only weapon of men. And then you're talking to your family. What does it mean for you to take political intentions to rap gender, social and racial issues all in one collage?
Growing up black and male, me and my friends were meant to be tough. I could never talk about crying or anything. My dad is not homophobic, but I had to hear about not being a sissy, etc. I can't and I really don’t blame him for that. When he would see someone of the LGBT community, he didn't understand them, didn't want his kids to be like them. So you know that’s him, and it’s just overwhelming. It's sad, but that’s how a lot of parents must feel. That's how a lot of immigrants feel about their children turning into liberals. My generation has to educate their parents to speak with tolerance. I mean, any time my dad speaks out of the line against queerness, I tell him like „That's not cool, stop saying that. Never say that in public ever again.“ He's learning and he's way better with it now. He knows I full fledged makeup on stage. Growing up like this is just having a hard time talking about these issues. Imagine, in middle school you'd walk around the corridors and you would smack a girl’s ass. That was considered funny! The word faggot and stuff like that was used so much literally in 2012. That’s just a few years ago! And now it's like, to say faggot is a taboo. Period. Is great that we've moved on from that. Like a lot of these transitions we're making as humans and becoming better humans is you got us into it happened so quick and we just we try to I don't like to expect my dad to change that fast. It wouldn't really be fair to him as a human, if he is not educated the same way I was. He grew up in Africa, where being gay is not even heard of, and if so, only the down low. So, for me it's just like when I say things like in songs or when I'm talking about masculinity, I'm talking about it, because this is my world as experience. This is the only way I can progress as a human being. The only way I can get better myself and make myself feel better about it. I have tons of gay friends. If I wouldn’t stand for them, I'd feel like a fraud. I'm not the activist you may think of, but I’m just trying to stand up for the people that I love and believe in. This is what makes any statement powerful.
That’s a beautiful way to put it.