Bookended by the Lyrically Endowed & the Melodically Pop, Aminé's 'Limbo' Ranges
Evan Dale // Aug 9, 2020
From a rapper who was at first typecast by the hilarity and fun-loving nature of his debut hit; from a rapper who subsequently went on a lyrical tear, reaffirming his place as more than a hip-pop one-hit wonder; from a rapper who has since 2016 been on the tip of hip-hop’s tongue at large, comes the amalgamation of it all. As it stands, Aminé is at least in the conversation for most creatively influential hip-hop artist alive if by no other measure than the word unique and what it means to a modern musical scene in constant search for the next groundbreaking, experimental sound. Tethered by the polarizing nature of his first project, Good For You, and his second, ONEPOINTFIVE; by their attached standout anthems: the aforementioned Caroline and the hard-hitting REEL IT IN; Limbo is the only organic space from which he could deliver his multi-tiered, wide-ranging thesis of self.
Aminé calls home to Portland, Oregon – not necessarily known for their hip-hop scene, but certainly known for being, if nothing else, different. And Aminé is exactly that. The rapper has long approached rap from both sides of a double-edged sword. He can seamlessly stitch together bouncy hits that find themselves attracting a wider ranging audience than perhaps they should given his crass sense of lyricism. But, he can also spit, rapping at a pace, with individuality and lyrical intent that few in modern hip-hop can match. And, he can merge it all with a painfully underrated knack for vocalism – on fervent display with his new album – and an affinity for experimental production. It’s that balance between spaces, that suspension in Limbo that provides him a sound unlike any other. His new album just happens to be his most refined take yet on a sound he’s always had.
There was a sense that something was a little different when he started his campaign towards the album’s release. Shimmy opened the gates as a brash statement of volatile penmanship, keen to a no longer understated braggadocio, if ever Aminé was understated in the first place. And if the hip-hop world needed a deeper dive into his self-image, an ode to Ol’ Dirty Bastard – one of the more inventive, left-of-center hip-hop artists of all time – speaks widely and accurately to Aminé’s acute role in modern music. He’s experimental. He’s raw. And he successfully keeps pace with a nonchalant, straightforward limerick to one of the greats.
With Shimmy, his listeners were reminded more of 2018 album, project, or middle ground – whichever it was given such a title – ONEPOINTFIVE than anything else. Though lyrically endowed has always been an understatement for the hard-hitting punchliner, ONEPOINTFIVE was a project that highlighted that truth with more intent and traditionalist vivacity than its predecessor or than its follow-up. Now circling back to that predecessor, Amine’s debut: Good for You, without sacrificing anything in terms of the lyrical tour de force that emerged with ONEPOINTFIVE, Limbo is a multi-tiered composition celebrating the balance between his dueling masteries on hip-hop’s sliding scales.
Where Shimmy shined as a reminder of his more recent past, Riri reached further into Aminé’s canonical styling, bringing at first perhaps confusion and then certainly clarity into where it was that he was heading en route to Limbo. Riri is a warm, melodic merging in form of a breakup anthem, putting on exhibition the Portland icon’s sharpness of tongue and refined sense of laid-back vocalism. Coupled with Shimmy, it’s also jarringly wide-ranging – an A-Side / B-Side microcosm of what was to come.
Limbo is usually described as a negative space. A place in which one gets stuck; an inescapable middle ground; neither here nor there. But for Aminé, it feels bigger than that and a chosen – or at least accepted – space for him to end up. And he does so with grace. The album isn’t some forced attempt to meet the expectations of his wide-ranging audience. It’s a natural progression for a rapper, vocalist, and experimentalist that has long earned through his wide-ranging talent listeners from across music’s myriad grey areas. There’s something in Limbo for everyone it would seem. And though it probably doesn’t hold up as a more hip-pop adjacent exhibition for those still clinging to Caroline; though it probably doesn’t suffice as a raw rap project for those more inclined to listen to ONEPOINTFIVE and those turned on by the release of Shimmy; Limbo is 45 minutes long, so get over it and find the part of the project that pleases your own musical sensitivities. Chances are, all of it will if given the chance, because on nearly every track, the range of his talent is on full exhibition, albeit sliding heavier towards the lyrical at times and the melodic at others.
Bookended by the juxtaposition provided in his leading singles, Limbo falls into its own self-established, meandering bounds wildly navigating Aminé’s refined skill as a sharp, old-school reminiscent rapper; his budding ubiquity with his own vocals; his charismatic blend of it all. Off the top comes the former; at its tail end – starting with Riri – comes its latter. The album’s vinyl would almost certainly be split up that way, providing a physical separation to a project that undoubtedly thrives in its usage of stylistic chapters.
In its first, Woodlawn feels especially standout. The rap-heavy, high-energy anthem rides Aminé’s sharp skillsets with ease. Both a lyrical daunt in verse and an anthemic hook in chorus, it’s a perfected route for Aminé’s dualistic rap approach. Fiery, addicting, unique. In its second, Easy is the signature bop. Summer Walker has a lot to do with that, but a lot is owed to Aminé for keeping pace vocally with one of the most important young soulstresses in music. The emotive, slow-moving ballad pays credence to Aminé’s ability to transcend the things that have defined him at different moments through his story. Like the album at large, the middle grounds – the grey areas – he so effortlessly traverses, are what makes him an unparalleled figure in modern hip-hop and beyond.