CMA Awards 2018
With Debut Album 'Good For You,' Aminé Prepares to Step Into the Mainstream
On a rainy and humid day in July, five days before Adam “Aminé” Daniel will release his debut album, Good for You, to retailers and streamers around the world, the 23-year-old rapper is in New York City starting off a busy week at Late Night With Seth Meyers. His performance this Monday evening will be his second appearance on late-night television, following a bold anti-Trump message to the then-President-elect on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon back in November.
Sitting in front of a laptop in the show's green room, he is putting the finishing touches on a promotional flyer in Photoshop for “Wedding Crashers,” the song he will be performing soon alongside Migos MC Offset, who is featured on the song and who he brought along as his special guest. He gives one hint to what his performance will entail, pointing to a clothing rack full of powder blue tuxedos for his bandmates. It’s evidence that Trump won’t be the topic of discussion tonight.
“That moment in time, [Trump] just got elected and I felt super strongly about that situation,” he says of his performance of breakout single “Caroline” on Fallon's show eight months prior, during which he debuted a new, topical verse. “I wrote that verse like two days before. That’s why I was so nervous.”
But that was then; now, for Late Night, Aminé wanted to have some fun. In a few hours, his high-spirited performance of “Wedding Crashers” will air with its wedding band theme on full display and Aminé, his backing vocalists, a Marimba player and Offset all dressed to the nines for the jubilant rendition of a song dedicated to ex-lovers. “Wedding Crashers” follows a series of buzzworthy singles released over the last few months that built momentum for the Portland, Ore. native’s debut LP: “Turf,” “REDMERCEDES” -- a remix featuring Missy Elliott and AJ Tracey was released earlier this year -- and “Baba,” with the former ending up on the album. All three have been enjoyable follow-ups to his first hit “Caroline,” which peaked at No. 11 on the Hot 100 in January, that venture into the pop-rap lane, but are playful and complex in their own way.
For most, talking about Aminé means discussing how great “Caroline” is. After releasing the song in March 2016, it took on a life of its own after the self-directed, vibrant video came out in June, which featured Aminé and his friends professing their love for bananas and turning up in various locations around PDX. Before “Caroline,” Aminé’s only other song that had gained any traction on SoundCloud was a remix to Kaytranada's “Not At All”; before that, Aminé was barely a rapper, having only taken up the craft at age 17 while making joking diss tracks aimed towards his friends over various instrumentals. “I was just a huge fan of music, so that’s how I learned how to rap," he says of getting his start. "I just knew every Kanye [West] and André  lyric.”
The popularity of “Caroline” was still growing when music blogs began to pick up on it and deem it a late bloomer for song of the summer. Backed by celebrity endorsements from the likes of Miguel and hip-hop’s new A&R Kylie Jenner, the numbers started to show that this song was reaching new levels: it entered the Hot 100 for the first time in the week ending Sept. 24, rose to the top 25 by November and had climbed all the way to its No. 11 peak by year’s end. As of now, “Caroline” has been certified three times platinum for earning the equivalent of three million units, racked up over 180 million views on YouTube and pulled in around 246 million streams on Spotify, a testament to the unpredictability of what catches on in the streaming era. It served as a strong argument for his inclusion in XXL magazine's annual Freshman Class this year, where he appeared on the cover donning a t-shirt with hilarious mispronunciations of his name.
Any artist can tell you when they first heard a song of theirs on the radio, but Aminé didn’t exactly hear it blaring out of car windows. “My mom heard it on the radio way before me," he says. "I was working on Good for You for the past year and a half; I wasn’t really in the car listening to radio. So she heard it first and she called me like, ‘Hey, they’re playing it on the radio.’ Five times in my hometown. That was just really tight."
While "Caroline" was blowing up, Aminé was careful to not try to capitalize off the attention to rush out a project. Instead, he tried to distance himself from any association with being hip-hop’s next one-hit wonder. Good for You was carefully crafted in every way possible, from the numbers of songs to the art direction to the producers (Frank Dukes, Metro Boomin and Malay, among others) and collaborators (Charlie Wilson, Ty Dolla $ign, Nelly, Kehlani and Offset). The title, an interpretation of giving someone approval with exclamation, came randomly to him one morning -- “I’m not even joking with you as I say this, but I woke up and I went to go brush my teeth and I had Good for You stuck in my head,” he explains -- and he’s been running with the campaign ever since.
The day after his appearance on Late Night, Aminé hosted a Good for You installation at Ludlow Studios on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where fans got an opportunity to hear the album in full, meet the MC and take photos with the now-famous blue toilet that serves as the centerpiece of his album cover; several times, fans recreated his pose, either partially nude or going the full Aminé monty. The mood felt like an album release party that arrived a few days ahead of schedule: in attendance were Kari Faux -- the Little Rock, Ark. rapper who has a cameo in the “REDMERCEDES” video -- as well as his Republic Records label reps and several of his closest friends.
During the pop-up, Aminé stood behind a desk, adorned with bunches of bananas and a banana figurine, and spoke with every one of his fans who had spent the afternoon lined up for the opportunity. He handed each a limited copy of The Good for You Post, a newspaper he spent the past year putting together as an accompaniment to the album. “I feel like the newspaper helps fans understand who I am better and I would like for them to read that before they listen to the album,” he says; Los Angeles and Portland are the next stops on his newspaper tour.
Among the 25 people who contributed articles to The Good for You Post are MadeinTYO, Steve Lacy, Michael Uzowuru, Jahaan Sweet, his manager Justin Lehmann and his mother, each of whom penned stories that ranged in topic from life advice, romance, culture, Portland happenings and more. Aminé’s piece, titled “Good for Me,” is appropriately on the front page. It's a revealing essay about a breakup with a girl and how that’s affected him as he navigates the world without her. “Everything about you was good and bad for me and I knew I had to care for myself before I could care for you," he writes at one point. "I’m still pacing, but the finish line to optimism seems to be getting closer.”
As an album, Good for You is deeply personal, the best representation of Aminé’s artistic vision: pulling from the quirkiness of Andre 3000's verses and the experimentation of Kanye West’s production to create non-traditional hip-hop that’s perfect for summer. OutKast’s Speakerboxxx/The Love Below and West's The College Dropout were the first albums he ever bought, and you can hear spiritual cues from them both on Good for You. (From album opener “Veggies”: “I'm André's prodigy, can't find a hotter me / If a n---a try to stop me I'ma tell him I'ma eat.") “[Andre's] just a true, true artist to me and what I thrive to have an impact on other kids,” he says. "Him and Kanye West. Those two always have an influence on me."
Day-one Aminé fans first heard his global ambitions on his first mixtape, 2015’s Calling Brio, and on Good For You he’s refined those influences -- dancehall, pop, R&B and pure hip-hop -- into easy listens. His own favorite songs on the album include “Spice Girl,” “STFU” and “Hero,” while fans have appreciated the honesty found in “Turf,” where he addresses gentrification in his neighborhood and reflects on high school days hanging out at Du’s Grill with his friends. “It's about Portland, where I grew up, but it relates to anyone growing up in a hometown and having to move out to follow their dreams and do anything,” he says. He now splits his time between Portland and Los Angeles, but he still holds a special place in his heart for his hometown, even if he doesn’t see himself as the first artist to put the city on a national scale.
“I already know the talent is there; I just don’t want them feeling like I made them get famous," he says about the local scene. "They are their own artists. They can be whatever they want to be. I feel like it’s just harder. Everything is meant to be the way it is. I got pretty lucky -- sh-t just worked out for me.”
In October, Aminé will embark on Tour For You -- his first national trek -- with Chicago rapper and SaveMoney member Towkio. He purposely left Portland off the tour schedule because he’s planning to do something bigger in the future; previous hometown shows have seen artists like Leon Bridges and Kehlani make surprise appearances, so fans can expect a memorable moment. “I made a couple friends in this industry that now I want to bring to my city to do special things,” he says.
Now, with Good for You finally here after months of anticipation, Aminé's next set of challenges are to keep his dream a reality, one that he feels more confident won’t fade away just yet. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world when it comes to music and how people perceive it,” he says. “If you don’t believe in yourself, I don’t think people will believe in you.”