Music

Aminé’s Dazzling ‘Limbo’ Sets The Bar For How To Make A Classic Album

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It took Aminé over two years to complete his sophomore album. You wouldn’t think it to look at the tracklist, a trim 14 tracks, including one interlude. It’s an anomaly in today’s rap release climate, where seemingly every major star drops off 20-plus tracks per project, then follows up a month later with 10 more “deluxe” edition throwaways. In contrast, Limbo — the title of Aminé’s second official studio album — is a refreshing throwback to the days when artists still cared about a vision more than streams and Billboard.

However, were it not for Aminé’s 2018 EP/Mixtape OnePointFive, he wouldn’t have been able to create Limbo. Today’s constant content churn would never have allowed him to insist on recording all the album’s features in person with his various collaborators. On a Zoom call to discuss the creation of the project, Aminé related holding onto the beat for “Roots,” against JID’s insistence that he text it for over six months. This is the kind of patience that yields tremendous results and Limbo’s finished product is all the evidence you’d need to prove it’s an objectively better way to record than just emailing files back and forth.

Aminé first displayed his tendency toward artistic perfectionism with his 2017 debut album Good For You. Aside from diligently detailing the aesthetics he wanted for the rollout, he also resisted the urge to chase the success of his breakout single “Caroline” with a dozen or so clones. Every song on Good For You has its own concept or story, and all the songs together create a multifaceted reflection of the artist himself. He even accompanied the project’s unveiling with a clever complement: At various release parties throughout the country, he gave away copies of a complete newspaper filled with articles written by his friends, family, and Aminé himself.

And while the overall tone of the project was breezy, sunny, and upbeat, Aminé wasn’t afraid to tackle heavier subject matter from oblique angles, like “Turf” and its empathetic view of the ongoing gentrification of Aminé’s hometown, Portland. On Limbo, he repeats the feat with “Becky,” a glittering, soulful meditation on race relations that remains timely despite being the first song recorded for the project two years ago. Switching from his mischievous rap flow to a ‘70s soul-influenced croon, Aminé frames his racial rumination around a piece of near-universal advice for Black kids everywhere: “Mama said, ‘Don’t ever bring a white girl home to me.’”

On our call, he told me that it wasn’t only about the inherent complexities of interracial dating so much as it was a reminisce on growing up Black in Portland — a nearly objectively dangerous proposition in any decade (seriously, look up the history of the city as a bastion of white supremacy). But that’s the way Aminé approaches the writing throughout the album. On the perky single “Riri,” what sounds like an ode to a pretty, potential lady friend is really an indictment of said would-be paramour, who’s broken Aminé’s heart not just once, but three times.

Likewise, “Fetus” featuring Injury Reserve and the last verse from late member Stepa J. Groggs finds Aminé struggling with the prospect of fatherhood — not because of his own personal readiness, but because of the state of a world where “They givin’ guns with every muthaf*ckin’ Happy Meal.” The content throughout the album is mature and thoughtful, but never heavy-handed or preachy, lending itself to multiple play-throughs to appreciate the sparkling production, then the ear-gripping choruses, and finally, Aminé’s improved pen game throughout.

Aminé said he was most proud of that latter aspect, often re-writing verses over and over to ensure there were no weaknesses in his bar work. Again, that perfectionism is on display most with his battle-rapping Ol’ Dirty Bastard homage “Shimmy,” on which he shouts out actor Dennis Haysbert with one of the funniest lines of the year, reminds his competition to pay their taxes, and flips a reference to classic Black cinema into an urge to check out one of the most pioneering musicians in African music. No weak links or smudges on this pristine chain.

From paying homage to Kobe Bryant on the swaggering “Woodlawn” to loving on his matriarch alongside soul legend Charlie Wilson on “Mama,” Aminé proves his gifts over and over on Limbo. Although he describes the album as a “mid-life crisis,” it’s much more akin to a coming-of-age for the 26-year-old star — and he is a star, because Limbo is going to make him one. The Portland performer is the definition of an artist who genuinely cares about his craft, putting in the time, the work, and the patience to deliver a concise statement that goes against the grain. The title of Limbo may not be a reference to the party game, but the album sets the bar for an album that will have an impact long after those first-week streams are tallied up.

Limbo is out now via Republic Records. Get it here.

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