Spending an afternoon with Aminé on his Australian tour, there’s one clear quality you can single out about him – he doesn’t think the same way most rappers, or even most people do. Chatting to the Portland-raised artist, he ran us through being the biggest rapper out of his hometown, why his album Good For You stands out, and whether he’s coming for that Donald Glover spot.
We’ll start off easy. This is your first time in Australia, what’s your experience been like so far?
I think it’s really cool, it’s people that are huge fans of music. There are ‘heaps’ of people, always excited to just be at a show which is really cool. The reason why I use ‘heaps’ is just because I’ve heard that like a thousand times since I’ve been here (laughs).
I feel like Australian crowds are more excited when people come out because we’re so far away.
Yeah yeah, it’s definitely a flight that people don’t usually take, but it’s worth it. I think it’s really cool. I’ve always wanted to come here so I’ll definitely be back sooner than later.
Is there a big difference between the crowds here and anywhere else in the world?
I feel as if Europe and Australia are the same, as far as the energy from crowds. In America, if you’re unknown, it’s much harder to please a crowd than it is in the UK and Australia. People in Europe and Australia are just so much more appreciative of music. When I was in Europe, I performed a lot of unreleased music before my album came out, and the fans cheered like they’d heard this music before. In America, it usually doesn’t slide that way. I think Australians are just very appreciative of the artists when they come to their country.
When I’ve asked that question to other artists they’ve sometimes said they don’t fuck with crowds back home as much when they compare them to the love they get overseas. Why do you think that is?
I don’t say I don’t fuck with it, I love American crowds. I kind of like the challenge of having to please people who don’t really fuck with me, because I like the satisfaction of pleasing them once I do. I don’t know, there are different kinds of crowds and I don’t prefer one than the other. If you’re buying a ticket to my show you’re here to see me regardless, so I’m already thankful for that.
Have you had some experiences with difficult crowds?
When you start doing music before you’re big, you play a show where there are only like 50 people. People are like “wave your hands in the air!” (laughs). And it’s like, not a good show at all. Everybody has to go through those struggles of going through horrible shows. Your first shows aren’t gonna be sold out, there’s going to be 100 to 50 to 20 people there sometimes. You need to start from the ground up and work your way.
Now, you started off in Portland, and essentially you’re the biggest rapper from there, right?
I mean, hey, if you want to say that. Tight! I don’t like to claim anything for myself, but I love that.
Tell us a bit about what it’s like growing up in Portland, because I don’t think many Australians would know.
Yeah, a lot of people don’t know what growing up in Portland is like, and I love that. I love coming from a city that’s not L.A. or New York and is not some popular-ass place where everybody claims they’re from. When you’re from a town that no one knows, a lot of people love to claim they’re from L.A. or New York when they’re not. So I love being from Portland because I get to tell Australians or Europeans or anyone that I meet, where I’m from and what the city’s all about and how it made me who I am today.
How do you think it influenced you?
I think growing up in that very simple suburban lifestyle where tours didn’t come to our city all the time, and where we only had vintage shops and regular restaurants, it’s cool. I think that’s what made me who I am today in a subconscious way. It’s weird, there’s nothing specific that I can thank Portland for, I can only thank it for being itself.
Did you go through a ‘big fish in a small pond’ situation?
Yeah, being from a smaller town as an artist too it’s kind of like–Portland is huge for indie bands and rock music, and basically just a very white market. So, being a black kid from Portland, it isn’t the easiest way to make it in music being from that city. So, thank god for the internet and for Soundcloud and Apple Music and Spotify where people can find your music now. Without the internet, I don’t think I’d be here today, being from where I’m from.
You moved to L.A., how has that changed things?
When it came to my album, being in L.A was the best thing I could have done. Every artist is there making music, so you just run into people. I got Nelly on my album because he was in the same studio as me, not because I knew him. I was just a huge fan, I met him and asked him to be on a song and he was super cool and down. I think moving to L.A. made me happier too, because I grew up in a place where it rained every day. Being in L.A. where there’s vitamin D – it’s great. Sunny weather influences your happiness.
Speaking about your album, to me, there isn’t much like it out right now. Why do you think it stands out?
I don’t know. I think it stands out just because I know what I like and I make what I like. I don’t like to let others influence me or my decisions, I’m very stubborn and stern when it comes to what I like and what I want. I’m very decisive, so that’s what makes my album my album. I know what I like, and I know what I want, and I know how I want it to sound. Not to diss anybody, but most people just make an album because they want to just make a cool album and have no really set sound in mind. They just make music to make music. That’s cool too, I think that’s always the way to go, but I always have a goal in mind when I make a project.
I think the popularity of certain styles of rap is a reaction to an action. I think in your music, there’s a little more swing, soul and humour in comparison to other stuff out there. Do you feel like those kinds of things were missing from the game?
I would say, I mean, I don’t know. The rap game is influenced by heavy drug use right now, and I’ve literally never taken a drug in my life. So, I can’t really relate to that style of music, so I feel like that’s one big reason too. I’m not against drugs, I think drugs are cool, and I probably will do them soon. But I’ve just waited this long without doing it, so I’m like fuck it. I want the first time I smoke weed to be on a beach in Jamaica with the Marley children, not in my friend’s alleyway. But I do feel hip-hop is just in a state where it’s heavily drug-influenced, and that it used to be more so that people were drug dealers, and now they’re the drug addicts.
How important is being honest about yourself in your music?
I think being honest about yourself in life is important. A lot of people can have morals for their music, but if you don’t set those same morals in your life, it’s kind of hypocritical to me. If my music is very respectful, happy or introspective and I’m not anything like that in person, it’s hypocritical.
I think you’re one of quite a few artists now that’s willing to be vulnerable in your music, is that something that you set out to do for your fans?
I think fans in this day and age are so much smarter. Pop stars aren’t as successful as they were back in the day. Like Britney Spears, and that Spice Girls era, those were huge pop stars. I don’t think pop stars are huge anymore. Fans are smarter, so they’re more in touch with artists that are just honest, and tell us about their lives and spill their hearts out. I feel as if the pop stars are in this world that’s more about hierarchy than they are their fans, and I don’t want my fans to ever see me as an icon – I think that’s wack. I don’t think man should ever be seen as icon that can do no wrong. I fuck up all the time.
You direct all your videos, how hands-on are you with all your work there?
Well, I’m directing it, that’s how hands-on I am with it. I write the treatments, I have input from my friends all the time, I ask them ‘do you like this, do you think this is wack?’. My initial goal with it though is to start a production house for writing and film, where me and my friends just come up with ideas for music videos, TV shows and whatever, and we all just produce everything together.
So you’re aiming to be that full creative package?
Yeah, for sure. I like to do things very in-house and find my own people and not use some famous director. Like I love [Quentin] Tarantino, but I don’t really want or need a Tarantino to direct my music video. I’d rather be able to say I’m influenced by him, and then try to do it myself.
So you’re a fan of Tarantino, how does his influence play into what you do?
I’m not a fan of who he is as a person, just given situations that have occurred, but I’m a fan of his work. He’s definitely influenced my directing for sure–if you look at my credits I love first name pretty small, last name huge. It’s little shit that influenced my work. I’m a big fan of watching it, but I wouldn’t do that in my own film where I’d make things really gory and bloody, that’s not my thing. I could never be a doctor, I just don’t like blood. But there are directors like Richard Ayoade who did movies like Submarine and Aaron Sorkin who wrote movies like The Social Network and Molly’s Game who are just dope-ass writers and dope-ass directors too, those are people who influenced me for sure.
So are you kind of gunning for that Donald Glover spot?
I mean, that man is great, and there’s more people like Issa Rae too who are dominating the game. I think Donald is very relevant right now, he’s amazing, so that’s the perfect example for what anyone is trying to do when it comes to writing and directing. I think that’s such an easy comparison when it comes to a black man who raps and is trying to direct (laughs). But I don’t know, I’m just my own person and I love movies and I love music so that’s what I’m trying to do.
I say that just because he can literally do anything – are you actively trying to add different skills to your repertoire as you go?
I don’t think it’s that I’m trying to add different skill-sets for people to be like ‘damn, this guy is so tight’, it’s more so I really love movies, and I really love the enjoyment of finishing a product like a film or a music video. And I also love music, and I also love clothes, and it kind of just happens. I just like to create what I like and if it works out – cool. If you don’t like it, fuck you.
You were saying that you’re delving more into fashion. Tell us about what you have going on in that lane.
With a shoot, I’d rather style myself than someone giving me clothes to wear. Like I even say in ‘Red Mercedes’ – ‘what’s a stylist?’. I just don’t like the idea of someone telling me what to wear. If someone wants to help me get what I need because I’m too busy–for sure, that’s cool, that’s what a stylist would do for me if I ever hired one. But I’m very controlling, and I don’t let people mould me into what they want me to be. I have a brand called CLBN which I don’t consider merch at all. I hate the word merch because when an artist makes clothes they love to call it merch, and that’s not what I’m trying to make. Club Banana is more so just a brand of clothing, and my company, like an LLC. We sell clothes and we’re new, so–coming soon (laughs).
How would you describe your own style?
Very Portland. I like cardigans, jeans and simple shit. I don’t really like flashy things. I enjoy necklaces and diamonds and chains, but I couldn’t be that guy who wore a bunch of shit because I don’t like to be noticed when I walk into a room. I like to be very chill.
So you’d like people to take the time to notice you?
Yeah, I respect the person that has on a $2000 vintage Visvim jacket versus the person that has on a $30,000 chain. There’s different ways to flex your style, to me.
Speaking of stylish people, there’s a photo of you with Andre 3000 on Instagram. What does he mean to you?
He means a lot to me. I think he’s a huge influence on who I am today. I probably wouldn’t be the same artist, and I don’t think I would probably sing as much as I did if it wasn’t for him. I never really saw somebody rap and sing as much as he did, so I was always a fan of how many chances he took and I thought it was really cool. And style-wise the man is just so stylish and so crazy. And I always thought, to this day, even though he’s much older now, he’s still one of the most stylish men out here. I would like to be very much happy, and like Andre, when I’m older.
Another person who seems to have influenced you is John Mayer. What made you such a big fan of him?
It’s really simple, it’s just the Continuum album. When I was in 4th grade to 6th grade, my mother would just play it everyday. I didn’t even know who he was, we would just play that album from front to back every day when we would drive to school. So I just became a fan of this guy I had never heard of because all I listened to before was Andre 3000 and Kanye and just rap shit. I was never a fan of music like that, so it just opened up my palate a bit because of my mother–my mother did that.
Are you friends with him now?
I know him. We don’t really hang out like that, but he’s a really kind, genuine, funny-ass person, he’s super hilarious. If you follow him on Instagram the guy should start a TV show, for sure.
He’s kind of a hypebeast now, right?
I mean, he knows his shit. His last album, he had like all Visvim for the whole album cover. He’s a very stylish man too, girls still love him. He’s still a ladies man.
So when’s the collab?
Hopefully soon. I don’t know how to answer that yet.
What do you think you’ll be up to this time next year?
Hopefully touring Australia again (laughs). Maybe bigger venues.
And what’s the story looking like for the next project?
I don’t know, it’s definitely gonna be genuine–you know when you hear it that’ll be where my mind’s at in my life today. It’ll just be more honest. But that’s all I can say for you right now.