Rapper Adam Daniel (aka Aminé) Finds Bold News Sound in His Family Heritage
Adam Aminé Daniel found the answer in his family heritage. On Calling Brio, Daniel reaches back to his Ethiopian roots, filtering hip-hop, R&B and electronic music through Afrofuturist production.
Somewhere on the Internet—he’s hesitant to say exactly where—lies the roots of Adam Daniel’s rap career.
“The way we started was, as a joke, we’d make dis songs to Grant High School and Lincoln High School,” says the Benson alum. At the time, Adam Daniel wasn’t an eager rhyme-spitter; his friends had to goad him into getting on the mic. But those off-the-cuff goofs unlocked an artistic desire he never knew he had. “After high school, I kind of missed that,” he says. “So I started taking it more seriously.”
That wasn’t too long ago. But things are moving fast for the 21-year-old, who performs under his middle name, Aminé. He’s put out two mixtapes, and already disavowed one of them. He’s built a strong online following, scored blog hype and label interest and a crucial co-sign from one of the top young producers in the game.
It’s an impressive start for someone who, until a few years ago, had different aspirations entirely. “I wanted to be Kobe Bryant,” Daniel says. When that didn’t work out—he got cut from his freshman and sophomore basketball teams—he settled on track and field. But music surrounded him growing up. His parents, both Ethiopian immigrants, listened to everything from reggae to indigenous African music to John Mayer. His older cousin introduced him to R&B, while he discovered hip-hop on his own: The first CD he ever bought was Kanye West’s The College Dropout, “just because it had a teddy bear on the cover.”
Having absorbed so much in his childhood, Daniel initially struggled to make his influences cohere. His first release, Odyssey to Me, indulged in a crooning rap style á la Drake, with mismatched production. “I wasn’t happy with it because there wasn’t a structured sound to it,” he says. He eventually took the album offline and regrouped. “I looked into my inner self, and asked my friends, ‘What do you want to hear from me? What makes me me? Who am I?'”
Aminé: Picking family heritage
Adam Aminé Daniel found the answer in his family heritage. On Calling Brio, Daniel reaches back to his Ethiopian roots, filtering hip-hop, R&B and electronic music through Afrofuturist production. “Brightwood” turns the “Ms. Jackson” chorus into a tribalist chant, while “Zzzz” flips “In the Jungle” over digitized percussion and his distinctive patois. Three tracks were produced by buzzing Canadian beatsmith Kaytranada, who reached out to Daniel after hearing him rap over one of his instrumentals.
It’s a sound vividly reflective of who Daniel is, where he comes from and, musically, where he’s going. But Daniel says he isn’t just telling his story. It can be yours, too.
“I want to leave you interested,” he says. “I want to leave you in a place where you can make that story for yourself, where it can relate to you, rather than just being my story.”
Aminé’s biggest move came when he dropped the wavy love rap single “Caroline” last year and, as of this month, this single has sold nearly 656,000 copies and racked up more than 345 million plays across YouTube, Soundcloud and Spotify. In August, Aminé signed a deal with Universal subsidiary Republic Records, making him labelmates with the likes of Drake, Nicki Minaj and The Weeknd. A few days after the U.S. Nov. 8 election, he performed “Caroline” on The Tonight Show and appended a verse in which he took shots at Donald Trump, prompting The New Yorker to praise it as “bold.” In December, he returned home to Portland for a sold-out show at the Roseland Theater, where he shouted out Benson High School in between guest appearances from Leon Bridges and Kehlani.