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Aminé’s ‘Good for You’ Puts Portland on the Map

The “Caroline” rapper’s debut album, ‘Good for You,’ is a bright, personal coming-of-age record

(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)
(Getty Images/Ringer illustration)

There’s a shiny new album in the world, Good for You, by a 23-year-old rapper named Aminé. He likes cereal. He also likes The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, SpongeBob SquarePants, Jimmy Neutron, Moana, and the bro-friendly 2005 American classic Wedding Crashers. This is to say that he’s a lot like you, aside from being an XXL Freshman: his parents worry about whether or not he’s eating enough, they wish he’d read his bible more and stop staring at his phone so much. Though he can sound as though he could be from anywhere — like on the poppy first half of Good for You — he’s from Portland, Oregon, the whitest big city in America, known as much for its geographical beauty, breweries, and general progressivism as for pricing black people out of its neighborhoods. What the city is known less for is hip-hop — there’s an underground scene that suffers from public misconception and a contentious relationship with local police, which translates to those of us who live outside the Pacific Northwest likely having never heard of any rappers from Portland.

That was, until "Caroline," a goofy, horny, swag rap bop that dances after its object of desire (Caroline, duh) in the street. A debut mixtape in 2014, Odyssey to Me, had come and gone (and sounded very GoldLink) without a song so undeniable, but March 2016’s "Caroline" peaked at no. 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 and would eventually go three times platinum. It’s as delightful as "Yo (Excuse Me Miss)" was before Chris Brown ruined everything, as smooth as Chris Tucker thumbing through his pocket dictionary for the right words to invite some women back to his place. The music video — self-directed, now with over 180 million views on YouTube — channels that nerdy, jaunty energy. It’s just Aminé and his friends bouncing around the city in a hoopty on a lazy summer day, wearing cutoff shorts, eating burgers at a drive-in, and talking raspy about sexual conquests they’ve yet to make. The burgers are from Big Kahuna, and he’s wearing a Pulp Fiction tee while professing that he’d like to "get gory, like a Tarantino movie." Aminé likes Quentin Tarantino, OutKast, a thick girl named Caroline, and he needed all of his limbs to explain that to you.

By contrast, last November’s live performance of the song on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon — days after the election — was subdued (aside from a citrus-colored leather biker). Aminé tacked on a bereaved third verse that wondered aloud along with half of the country if that really, actually happened. I imagine being both black and first-generation American equals "crippling anxiety cubed" in Trump’s America.

Adam Aminé Daniel (he goes by his middle name) was born to two Ethiopian parents not long after they settled in Portland. They both taught him Amharic and an appreciation for Ethiopian music ("Baba," which didn’t make the album, is only partly performed in English). But, as Aminé told New York Times music writer Jon Caramanica, it was his mother who introduced him to his biggest influences: André 3000, John Mayer, Kanye West, Michael Jackson, and Tupac. Good for You borrows from all of them at one point or another, while finding time for every new vogue in post–"tough guy" hip-hop: Aminé yelps his own ad-libs, he sings as much as he raps, he deprecates others as often as he does himself.

If you search for "Aminé," Google may still assume you mean something else, and he makes light of that while still being somewhat annoyed by it. (How hard is it? Uh-meen-ay.) On "Hero" — a song about his boo thing’s wack-ass friends, featuring a contribution from L.A. indie rock duo Girlpool that works surprisingly well — he sits through seven distinct mispronunciations of his name: A-Mine, Animé, Anemone, Amani, Amen, Aminaminah, Amino. On "Beach Boy": "I’m Aminé to my friends and Animé to a punk." He’s in on the joke, even if he doesn’t find it particularly funny.

Good for You is also bright and warm and personal, a friend request spread out over 15 songs. One in particular, "Sundays," is about staging out of religiosity, the things that get lost in translation between concerned parents and capable children, and broadly about life’s ups and downs. It’s easy to picture those mornings when you hope everyone sleeps in long enough to miss church, and what the resulting day looks like in a city where it rains half of the time. There’s a lot to be learned about Aminé on this album: His father eats pancakes with agave because he’s a diabetic. His sister’s happy that her brother can finally afford to buy all the Supreme he wants. He worries about maintaining his sense of self ("STFU"), and about what "growing up" actually means ("Beach Boy"). He also enjoys Costco smoothies ("Sundays"). But, lest you think you’re familiar, the only two people that truly know him are his momma and his maker ("Blinds").

On "Veggies," the album’s Ty Dolla $ign–assisted opener, he talks about feeling 40 in the soul despite being 17 years younger on paper, which befits the album artwork — Aminé, pants around his ankles, reading the newspaper on a royal blue toilet, all against a bright yellow backdrop. It follows that the album sounds just as vibrant. There’s production from Frank Dukes, Guy Lawrence (from Disclosure), Metro Boomin, Murda Beatz, and plenty of others. Since the album’s release he’s been caps-lock tweeting about how the scope of Good for You came into focus — he wrote "Money" while trying to get off of his mom’s data plan; he had to get "Spice Girl" approved by every Spice Girl. Features from Leon Bridges, Charlie Wilson, Nelly (!), and a particularly gleeful Offset shade in the edges of a varicolored coming-of-age album.

There’s also a song called "Turf," which sounds like "Seigfried" in reverse. He talks about quotidian gentrification, but the more pressing, personal concern is the strange guilt of leaving all his family at home despite knowing home isn’t where he could be his best self. But he gets that life is out there elsewhere, waiting to be lived, and that all the things he misses about home will be there waiting for him when he gets back. Good for him.