Last summer, my home city of Toronto hosted ESFNA, the amateur Ethiopian (and non-Ethiopian East African) soccer tournament that claims a different North American metropolis annually, for about a week. It's safe to say that the event and others like it—BADR, OSFNA, and the Harari Kuba tournament, to name a few—are almost secondarily concerned with the actual game at hand. The prerogative of the makeshift tradition is simple: gather the widespread, sometimes tiny pockets of a given ethnic or nationalist diaspora for the purpose of enterprise or community-building. And a little over a year ago in Toronto, a noticeable surge of familiar tourists pounding its pavement, one song could be heard everywhere. Blasting from speeding cars. Cloudy shisha cafes. And cellphones, far exceeding their data plans. "Caroline" by Aminé. Not long after, the song went viral. Presently, its video has over 180 million views, and the name of its star and director, Aminé (full name Adam Aminé Daniel), was added to the (very) short list of East African—specifically, Ethiopian and Eritrean—artists to gain the attention of the mainstream North American music industry. And on Good For You, his debut full-length, Aminé shimmies in his self-made limelight as both a thoughtful troll and intriguing artist, still in bloom.
I'll be the first to admit that it took me a minute to get into Aminé, the artist versus Aminé, the viral hit. The bright, rich video for "Caroline" was lush. It featured Aminé flanked by friends Yosief Berhe, Jonathan Ressom, and Demetrius Rhodes Jr. trading corny jokes, playing video games, eating burgers, lazily laying in the grass, riding around, screaming the lyrics to their own shit. It was sweet and simple. Not necessarily making Aminé one to watch, just yet. As we'd soon come to find out, that simplicity, despite its meteoric reach, was something that Aminé was well aware of. He followed through, though. "Baba", a loosie that writer Abel Shifferaw said "continue[d] on the sound trajectory established with 'Caroline'" came with a surprise verse in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. "Anchi konjo nesh / Baba negn, endemenish?" he cheekily sings twice over for his Amharic-speaking fans. And in his second-ever visuals, for "Red Mercedes", Yosief and Jonathan join Aminé again, this time as the "National White Association for Care And Pleasure"-calling Kelly and D'eChelle to his DeAndre, a pale-faced spoof on reverse racism, and a tongue-in-cheek reminder of who he is.
Where "Caroline" was little more than a beautifully-shot manifestation of carefree black boys, "Red Mercedes" was a sharp attempt at political satire, and "Baba", a nod and wink to the people who first helped broaden his online scope off the strength of nationalist kinship alone. But with each release, Aminé made himself more interesting, too, adding more depth to his fresh, malleable persona. When his debut album, Good For You was announced—just shy of the one-year anniversary of "Caroline", —there was more curiosity than ever around the Portland artist. What else did Aminé have to say?
"Basically, when I was like, five, I signed to Death Row Records," explained Aminé of his rise to celebrity. Without breaking a smile, he outlines how "he wrote for a couple people" like Tupac, got out of the deal, and somehow gained his own impressive following. All while signed to "nobody, really." Sure, Aminé has a comedic quality to him. But make no mistakes: the Republic Records signee came into the industry with a vision in mind. A former marketing student, he describes his sudden fame as an unpredictable twist in his path. And on Good For You, his incredulity is palpable. "My life was a lie, I filled it with gold / There wasn't a night when I wasn't sure, " he sings on the Ty Dolla $ign-assisted opener, "Veggies." But as much as he remains in awe of his own trajectory, it was his steadfast belief in himself that kept him going and still does. "I'm Andre's prodigy, can't find a hotter me," he promises. "If a nigga try and stop me, I'ma tell 'em 'I'ma eat.'"
But Aminé being a child of Andre,—the far-out and off-centre half of Atlanta's legendary OutKast,—seems a little inaccurate. More closely, Aminé is a student of the school of Odd Future, particularly born of the path beaten and moshed and scandalized by a one Tyler Okonma. And that's substantiated by more than the west coast that claims them or the nearly fluorescent colours they both love and wear constantly. Tyler and Aminé share the same sense of eyeroll-inducing humor and crassness, perfectly crafted visuals, even a penchant for Charlie Wilson, whose vocals can be found all over Good For You. (It's worth noting that the two are friends and collaborators, too.)
Andre may be an influence, but it's Tyler's impact that oozes from Aminé's work — not as a carbon copy by any means, but as someone who witnessed Tyler's shift from tongue-wagging, bacon-eating sensation to a surprisingly severe artist by his own merit. For fans of both artists, their similarities and dissimilarities alike are striking, a linear progression of sorts. And by virtue of Aminé existing as the artist he is, Tyler's position as a true trailblazer for a generation of young black artists all over America's big cities and America's forgotten, like Aminé's Portland, becomes an undeniable truth. The cultural reverberation of OF's 2010s reign is proof that there is weight in outlandish, off-kilter expression, too.
One of the best moments on Good For You is definitely the intro of "Hero." The subtlety with which Aminé marks his cultural otherness — particularly when juxtaposed by a large chunk of his fanbase: white, high school and college-aged kids — is a practice of careful neutrality, an acknowledgment without the consequences of a certain style of statement-making. The track's intro begins with a cacophony of mispronunciations of his name, some bogged down with their own unfunny puns. "I A-mean-eh no harm", one says. It comes up again in "Yellow," ("You say 'Amen,' I say Aminé"), "Beach Boy," ("I'm Aminé to my niggas and Animé to a punk"), and in the merch that mocks the same ignorance. Despite the bullshit, Aminé shows no signs of retreat. On "Sundays", "he's not loud, he's Ethiopian rowdy," a distant child of the church, but a child of its teachings, nonetheless. On "Turf", he's a perpetual nomad, hopping from Portland to L.A. in hopes of fulfillment and a resounding, comforting familiarity rooted in more than scattered memories. Mostly, however, he's just a 20-something-year-old chasing money and girls, only falling victim to his existentialist-leaning thoughts once the laughs and touches retire for the night.
Aminé is figuring it out as he goes, with a confidence that comes from a thorough understanding of the world around him and his ever-changing place in it. When he's not caught up in life's uncertainties, Aminé's having fun with his friends. Screaming out the 503, speaking a heavy-tongued Amharic. Paying his sister's tuition and buying Supreme. Falling in and out of summery lust, drinking Costco smoothies and eating burgers and bananas. Maybe he'll make it to church next week, call up his Mama. And, really, that day-by-day can be enough. Sometimes, actually, it's exactly what you need. Just what's good for you.
Amani Bin Shikhan is an eloquent writer based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter.