Cover Story: Newspapers, Songs & Caroline…. AMINÉ, The Q&A

Chuck D once dubbed Hip Hop the “CNN of The Ghetto” during the late 80s. At that point, the culture continued to be viewed as something that would eventually go the way of Disco Duck. Since then, Hip-Hop has evolved into becoming the number one music genre in America. Add technology into the fold and the Public Enemy emcee wouldn’t have guessed how literal that metaphor has become. There isn’t a better example than the popularity of Joe Budden’s Podcast and co-hosting gig of Complex’s Everyday Struggle or Jay Z releasing op-eds with The New York Times.

The newer generation is also blurring those journalistic/recording artist lines as well when they aren’t challenging genre notions – let the Portland-native Aminé tell it. His breakout single “Caroline” became a viral success, earned him Triple Platinum status and placed him amongst this year’s coveted XXL Freshman List. However, in a time where artists have to be clever with the marketing budget, Aminé (signed to Universal Music Publishing) went in a bold direction for his Republic Records debut, titled Good For You.

This means releasing a fully-fledged newspaper for free in Los Angeles and New York featuring articles written by himself, family, friends and industry peers. Directly tying into the themes Good For You, the one-off publication touched on millennial concerns, community and even politics, among other things. Getting some quick time to chat with Aminé, he spills the deets on the balance of creating a body of work while putting together a newspaper in one of the most unique music release campaigns on the year.

M.I.Q: During the peak of “Caroline’s” popularity earlier this year, there were billboards for it literally everywhere in Los Angeles. Being a guy from Portland, what’s that like being able to have your work promoted in such a fashion?

Aminé: That’s really cool. It’s literally cool. That’s all I think of it. I love music so that’s what I focused on while this was going on. I was just working on my album and finishing it up, so I didn’t really get to pay much attention to it. I took a picture of it and sent it to my Mom. That was it. I think billboards and being popular is cool, but it’s not my favorite thing about music. It’s just what comes with it I guess.

MIQ: Good For You was also released as an actual newspaper featuring writings from [fellow artists] Taco, MadeinTyo, and even your Mom. Where did you get the idea for that and what was the actual process of putting everything together alongside the music?

Aminé: I kind of worked on it while I was making the music. I just wanted to invite fans in. I came up with it because I wanted to bring fans into my world. It’s 2017, so just dropping a little CD isn’t enough for fans. Fans can grow hungry and want more and more especially with content. I just wanted to give them something that was very personal. It invited you into who my friends and family are and let you know what we’re about. All my friends did articles in the newspaper about things that they’re really good at. One friend talked about confidence and how people should have it. Another one of my friends is a sketch artist and he did a comic like a real newspaper. My other friend did a word search and my Mom wrote a piece on time and what it meant to her alongside advice. It was just really cool. I wanted to give fans something personal that they could appreciate. Plus, it was free.

MIQ: In the newspaper, you mention how Portland’s gentrification pushed out your friends. How much did those circumstances influence the “Money” track? Aminé: That influenced the track “Turff” on the album more so than “Money.” “Money” was about things like the billboards and being a regular kid from Portland. Having a song or any song that gets this much popularity, getting all these views and getting plays on the radio, it’s hard for me to get used to. It’s not something normal to me because I didn’t grow up personally knowing anyone who experienced that. I never grew up with money or anything like that, so that’s how “Money” was written. It was the process of me experiencing all these new things.

MIQ: How much did Devin The Dude’s The Dude cover come into play for you which featured him on a toilet reading The Houston Chronicle?

Aminé: He didn’t influence the cover at all because I hadn’t even seen the cover until fans told me about Devin The Dude. To be honest with you, I never listened to Devin The Dude’s music, but I love his cover. It was a cool seeing him on the toilet…that was tight. For me, the reason I came up with the album cover was because I didn’t want anything that showed me as a god or something fans would think is unachievable. I wanted to look like in a normal state of mind that fans could relate to and I’m reading a newspaper I actually made. I’m just reading a newspaper on the toilet. It’s everything I wanted to do.

MIQ: Artists like Frank Ocean are creating their own publications and hosting their own podcast while even some music journalists like Rob Markman are putting out albums. Any thoughts on those lines being crossed?

Aminé: I didn’t even know there were journalists that were coming out with albums. Hey, to each his own. I think artists doing podcast and stuff is really cool because you get to know a lot more about them in a similar way I made a newspaper. It’s a great way to learn about an artist outside of just the music. At the end of the day, it’s all art. I feel as if anyone should be able to do what they want.

MIQ: Making this year’s XXL Freshman cover, what other artists a part of the list have you found yourself close to since the shoot?

Aminé: Other than everyone thinking that me and Playboi Carti are brothers? [Laughter]. I think yeah. Some of those dudes I knew previously and we’re all cordial and we support each other. I really just like most of everyone’s music on the cover. All we can do is focus on our careers and do what we can to be better.

MIQ: How did it feel to have Missy Elliott hop on the “REDMERCEDES” remix and should we expect any more collaborations?

Aminé: That was crazy. I told my friends back home that Missy was about to be on the remix and they thought I was lying until I played them the song. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It’s definitely a highlight in my life.

MIQ: One of the more surprising features on Good For You is the “Yellow” track with Nelly.

Aminé: Nelly is a legend. I was working on the track “Sundays” from the album in the studio with producer Frank Dukes. We were joking around and saw Nelly in the studio next door. We both never met him and were like, “oh my god, it’s Nelly.” Then we were like he should be on the album. His A&R who was with him came in the room because he noticed me. He was telling me how I should go in the other room and meet him. I’m like, “I would love to meet Nelly.” Frank asked him if he wanted to be on the “Yellow” track and he literally did it and cut it the very next day.

MIQ: Should we expect more collaborations in that vein in the future?

Aminé: I would love to. I would expect it ‘cause I’m going to push for it.

MIQ: Good For You is still relatively fresh in the minds of listeners. Are you still working on music and what creative mindset are you in at the moment?

Aminé: Yeah, I’m literally always working on music. When we go on tour next month, I’ll have studio equipment with me. I’m always making music and figuring out what I want to do next. That’s where I’m at.

MIQ: Talk a bit about the collaboration process, having worked with high profile producers like Frank Dukes, Murda Beats & Metro Boomin…what makes for a great collaboration…how do you know when you’ve got something good?

Aminé: I think what makes a good collaboration is when artists involved have a great respect for one another. One person can’t have respect when the other one does. I think everyone who I’ve worked with on the album production wise all had a mutual respect for each other. If I felt that someone didn’t respect or appreciate what I did, I wouldn’t be interested in working with them. I feel like we should enjoy each other’s company because music is such a personal thing.

MIQ: What music (outside of yours) is at the top of your personal playlist? Which artists or songs are you feeling?

Aminé: I’m listening to a lot of So Far Gone by Drake; the old mixtape for some reason. It just came up in my iTunes directory. I’m literally looking through my phone to see. I’m listening to the new Tyler, The Creator. I’m listening to a lot of Donnell Jones, like his greatest hits collection.

Check out Amine’s videos “REDMERCEDES” & “Caroline”

By Ural Garrett