The Portland rapper's new mixtape is a remarkable left turn, filled with neon-drenched twinkling lights and bubblegum bangers.
Occasionally, when you’re scrolling through Tiktok you might just happen upon a zany video from Aminé, the Portland rapper’s often goofy energy perfectly suited to the bite-sized, chaotically fun ethos of the app. There he is: in front of towering greenery in his backyard, dancing to a Somalian pop hit, or miming out an audio clip of a salty Nicki Minaj defending her height.
In the last few months, a handful of these sporadic videos are sped up, showing him either dancing or joking with his movements edited to a roadrunner clip. He’s playing to the schizophrenic, giddy spirit of a certain slice of the internet, but this hyper speed tone is also a perfect manifestation of the rapper’s remarkable new mixtape TWOPOINTFIVE, a fast-motion kaleidoscope of hyperpop and dance-influenced hip-hop that offers one of the year’s best experimental rap albums.
The tape, his first release since last year’s strong sophomore album, Limbo, could be seen as a sequel or cousin of previous 2018 mixtape ONEPOINTFIVE — the “point five” moniker here summing up the attitude that Aminé is here to just have a little fun halfway in between his more official studio records. And he does have a lot of fun here: comedian Rickey Thompson, who makes an appearance on the first mixtape, returns as a narrator, opening the album with a pep talk on on “YiPiYaY.” “If you’re feeling sad, alone, depressed, upset, fuck that! It’s time to get up. Go have some fun. Shake some ass!” he declares in the first few seconds.
But where ONEPOINTFIVE provided a slate of trap hits and Limbo gave a more serious and traditional rap offering, here we’re plunged into a 12-song arcade of neon-drenched twinkling lights and bubblegum bangers. On TWOPOINTFIVE, songs breeze by in two-minute chunks, whisking you away on a rollercoaster ride of video game beats before quickly dropping you off at the next bouncy attraction. Many songs, as with the addictive single “Charmander” or “Twisted!” are anchored by pixelated, fairy-like synths (on “Van Gogh,” an immediate ear worm, uses an almost lullaby-like beat) that hover like a feather over a dancing breakbeat.
His flows are quick, catchy, and playful; meanwhile, he crafts some surprisingly infectious pop hooks that display a strikingly natural, new level of versatility. Lyricism (standout ludicrous bars include: “We finna make babies tonight, goo-goo-ga-ga,” on “Mad Funny Freestyle”) is largely besides the point on an album that is somewhat akin to being “at Disney doin’ acid,” as he raps on “Twisted!”.
There are still brief moments of reflection: on “Colors” Aminé looks desperately for pleasure, rapping, “I been getting green, but somehow, I can’t find no happiness.” But mostly, the record, executive produced by Norwegian hitmaker Lido (Halsey, Ariana Grande), is a cohesive and carefree left turn into a fun house of electronic-infused hip-hop, where the immediate visceral pleasures almost belie the rather remarkable experimentation. It all still largely sounds like Aminé, but a version of him that is also related to Pinkpantheress and Playboi Carti.
The second half of TWOPOINTFIVE in particular leans most wildly and satisfyingly into this direction. “sh!t2luv” is exquisite bubblegum pop and the best evidence that a potentially golden collab is to be had between the rapper and Pinkpantheress, perhaps the most popular new artist working with this kind of digital, ethereal pop sound. The next and final track, “meant2b,” sounds like its production was cribbed straight from Playboi Carti’s Whole Lotta Red, but where Carti would screech and groan (though the very beginning of the first verse here has strong hints of this Carti voice), Aminé opts for a mostly cartoonish, happy-go-lucky take. There is a case to be made from “meant2b” that for all the boundary-pushing hip-hop Carti is critically lauded for, Aminé is a surprising candidate to play with a similar sound and take into a more broadly appealing pop lane.
If anything, the shame here is that Aminé may have relegated this more daring artistic turn to an in-between tape. His next album is more likely to pull back into a well-produced but ultimately more straight-laced path than burrow deeper into this interesting direction — an understandable move considering that he has carved such a sturdy lane in rap and avoided one-hit wonder status after the virality of “Caroline.” If that is the case, it is plausible he’ll craft a good record, and build further off of a solid album like Limbo. But it’s certainly not as interesting as going to Disneyland on acid.