Aminé's debut is at time derivative, at other times deep, and mostly enjoyable.
Portland has historically never been a big hip hop city. Even Seattle, its closest neighbor to the north, has Sir Mix-a-Lot, Macklemore, Shabazz Palaces, and beneath them, an underground community that's thrived for years. Portland has, if anything, a fraction of that. Beyond the lack of recognizable names, the rap scene is also hindered by Portland's racist and discriminatory policies. "The Portland police and the city have continuously shut down hip-hop clubs," one Portland rapper told Noisey four years ago, and since then, it hasn't gotten much better. Based on personal experience, pat-downs and metal detectors are regularities at Portland rap concerts, but attend a show of a different genre at the same venue, and odds are that bag inspection is the only security measure. Almost exactly a year ago, Portland Publics Schools attempted to ban school bus drivers from playing rap stations. This shit runs deep.
That's why it's amazing to see Aminé flourishing. Even when all he had to his name was a radio hit in "Caroline," the 503-repping rapper was something of a miracle, quite literally the first Portland rapper to get national pop success. If he had only ever panned out to be a one-hit-wonder, he'd still be an icon, but his debut album proves that he's got more to offer, even if he still seems to be in the preliminary stages of finding an original sound.
The cheerful, sex-obsessed "Caroline" sets the tone for Good For You, most of which reflects the bright yellow that appears on the cover and is referenced in many of Aminé's lyrics. On opener "Veggies," a sweeping, symphonic intro gives way to the same choppy funk that fueled his hit single, as well as a joke about being blunt about wanting to fuck Emily Blunt. Yes, it's a little goofy, and no, it doesn't come close to justifying Aminé's assertion on the same song that he's "Andre's prodigy," but already after one song, we've already seen him effortlessly switch between two distinct moods.
For the most part, Good For You can be divided between those two distinct tones: the fun, upbeat, playfully irreverent side, and the more wistful-sounding, introspective, freewheeling one. This split is often displayed, as it is on "Veggies," in the same song, and far from being disjointed or distracting, it's actually the best illustration of Aminé's skill. The way "Spice Girl" quickly transitions from a breezy, romantic instrumental intro into a happy-go-lucky Nintendo synth/flute duet catches you off guard, as does the similar move pulled on "Beach Boy." That balance shows depth that most artists don't have on their first albums-- the only problem is that despite the well-balanced mix of sounds, those sounds are pretty derivative of other dominant pop-minded rap and R&B of the moment.
The chunky, neon-toned schoolyard chant-styled "Spice Girl," "Wedding Crashers," and "Beach Boy" all owe something to recent hits like Kodak Black's "Patty Cake," DRAM and Lil Yachty's "Broccoli," and more than anything, DRAM's "Cha Cha" (the last of which is surprisingly proving to be one of the most influential songs of the last five years, even after the "Hotline Bling" dust has settled). This budding style may just be a genre of its own at this point, but when its appeal is based on novel sound effects and rudimentary (but fun!) melodies, it doesn't offer much room for improvement or new ideas.
Then there's the looming presence of Frank Ocean, whose last two albums inform a ton of Good For You. The echoey ad-libs of "Hero" are straight out of "Skyline To," the drumless, backwards-guitar-led passages on "Turf" are definitely Blonde-inspired, the piano-led "Beach Boy" intro is almost a dead ringer for Endless's "Alabama"-- then there's the fact that Aminé, coincidentally or not, named his most crossover-ready EDM song "Slide." Malay, a producer who's worked on most of Ocean's material, is a telltale presence on "Turf" and "Dakota." Every sane human being has had Blonde and Endless on repeat for the past year, but Aminé leans into his love for the albums a little too overtly to avoid parts of Good For You coming off as a genre of post-Blonde R&B, as a few tracks on Brockhampton's Saturation did earlier this summer.
The core of Aminé's soul, and what will ensure that he lasts longer than a single song or album's success, lies in middle-to-late album highlights like "Sundays," "Turf," and "Money." These songs address religion, gentrification, and materialism with wisdom far beyond his 23 years. When he's bouncing around pop tracks like "Dakota," he's liable to drops clunkers like "Patch me up quick with a stitch like Lilo" or "Groupies fanning out like Dakota," but when more meditative, he'll fall into a groove and come up with some profound wordplay like "N****s will either end up at Heaven or at Kevin's gates."
This side of Aminé that's hyper-cognizant of social justice issues has popped up in the past, such as a post-election performance of "Caroline" that included a new, anti-Trump verse, or the video for non-album track "REDMERCEDES," in which he and some friends put on whiteface and skewer whites who try to act black. Especially on "Turf," he shares the story of how all of this racism plays out more subtly, but no less harmfully ("Saying you ain't racist really sound racist"), in Portland, which to date is an unexplored tale in hip hop. As he made clear on "Caroline," Aminé is really fucking good at making infectious singalong tracks, but as time goes on, he might prove even better as a crucial social critic.