AMINE: ROOTS AND BEING IN LIMBO, THE FIRST GENERATION EXPERIENCE

For many in the United States, Amine represents a story much like their own. The talented Portland-based rapper’s roots lie in Ethiopia and Eritrea, making him a first generation immigrant. In many interviews, Amine describes his parent’s struggle to come to the United states and acclimate – but also his own feelings of misrepresentation within mainstream American media. He embraces his Eritrean-Ethiopian heritage and often cites his hair as one of his main cultural identifiers, the way for him to show children – products of the diaspora – that there are others like them. In an interview with okayafrica.com, he describes the pride he feels when other Ethiopians come to his shows and raise the Ethiopian flag: “It feels good. It’s just like your own little subculture community to have. I’m proud to be African. I feel like I’m a part of something bigger.” He seeks to be that form of representation. 

Specifically in the United States, his first generation status brings him layers of identity struggle especially as he works to find where he fits in. With a city that prides itself on its white, bohemian identity (despite a large Black population) and sad, indie rock music, he navigated complex emotions regarding his diaspora identity and Black experience in Portland. The panacea to his struggles? Family and friends. This is perhaps most evident in his music videos, which predominantly showcase his best friends who Amine on boarded onto his production team. 

For Amine, understanding the world through music was his only option. He said he grew up steeped in hip hop culture and music, with his mother first introducing him to artists like Tupac and Kanye West at a young age (alongside Ethiopian music). Understanding the sociopolitical struggle and Black pride through these songs in a mostly white city, while being raised by immigrants, shaped his understanding of the world. These experiences also contribute to his personal frustrations, which sometimes led to depression. 

This interpretation is largely showcased by his music videos, which he produces and directs himself (to precede a potential career in film, might I add):

In Red Mercedes, Amine describes his newfound success riding in his new Mercedes Benz – especially after the chart-topping success of Caroline, his debut. However, the music video employs Amine’s use of ‘whiteface’ to play a white customer walking into a car dealership staffed with skeptical Black salespeople. Turning his Black experience on its head, the Black sales staff are dubious of the white consumers and their ability to afford the luxury cars. He describes how this parallels to his experience buying cars after his newfound success. While the song may fit underneath the title of braggadocio, the music video illustrates some social commentary while poking fun.

Amine’s experiences are also shown in a powerful performance of one of his hit singles, Caroline, at The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon. He takes a respite from his usual lyrics on Caroline to address the political climate in America in the outro:

9/11, a day that we’re never forgettin’

11/9, a day that we’re all regrettin’

If my president is Trump then it’s relevant enough

To talk ’bout it on TV and not give a…

I’m Black, and I’m proud

My skin is brown and I’m loud

Everybody love it when a rapper tells some lies

Well that ain’t me, homie, I guess that’s a surprise

America wanna act all happy and holy

But deep down inside they’re like Brad and Jolie

Caroline divine and I won’t get specific

Club Banana the illest and it’s too terrific

You can never make America great again

All you ever did was make this country hate again

Amine, Caroline as performed on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon

His most recent album, Limbo, illustrates his feelings and struggles with his identity as he grew up in predominantly white Portland. Being in Limbo, a constant state of unevenness and not fitting in, he edifies his experiences and identity struggles through songs like My Reality, Roots, Kobe, and Pressure in My Palms. He also has songs like CANTU (describing his relationship with his hair and at times people wanting to “pet” it) and a song off of his mixtape, Baba, where the outro is rapped in Amharic.

While he has a long career ahead of him, nobody can deny that Amine seeks to illustrate the world that he has learned to understand and does so brightly and with candor.

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