An album release from a high profile artist is a fickle thing. For established stars, expectations can bog down the actual music. When you never quite know what you want, what you get can cause confusion, apprehension, or—most commonly—disappointment. Especially in this polarized era of leaks and blockbuster releases, artists often lose themselves in a hell of hype, commercial trends, or the conflict between critical consensus and diehard fans. So when I say Aminé manages to execute the promise of his sound on Limbo, I don’t mean it lightly.
The Portland rapper’s career thus far has seen him dabble in diverse styles, from feel-good pop rap, to alt/experimental collaborations with the likes of Injury Reserve (who feature on the late album cut “Fetus”), to modern iterations of barring-out hip hop. Each of these varyingly successful forays earned him acclaim and popularity from different groups, but neither of his previous two projects (his 2017 debut Good For You and 2018’s ONEPOINTFIVE) capitalized on this compellingly unique diverse sonic profile.
Fortunately, while not breaking any new ground, Limbo capitalizes on every important aspect of Aminé’s sound. From the jump, the album’s first track “Burden” sees him operating on all cylinders. The song, prefaced as “some shit you pick your homie up from jail with,” lets Aminé set the tone for the project—highlighting his time as a disenfranchised youth in Portland and giving him room to lyrically establish the struggles stemming from his successful comeup. The beat is like nothing on his previous projects, a chopped up vocal sample over steady old school drums. But even while touching on the seriousness of getting stuck in the titular limbo between success and failure (and much more), he finds space to crack jokes, reference Rico Nasty and Coldplay, and slip into catchy melodies. “Burden” immediately throws you into Aminé’s world, one that can fluently operate in diverse hip hop spaces without sacrificing a distinct voice.
From there, the album progresses beautifully, balancing sincerity with levity, bangers with introspection, and brightness with heaviness. Aminé proves his ability to ride flute-driven hits on “Woodlawn” and slower R&B-inflected jams on “Roots,” which features impressive performances from both Charlie Wilson and JID, who offers the most impressive new guest spot on the album. Every song does exactly what it needs to; the hooks are universally catchy and the beats are universally banging, helped by a few notable contributions from T-Minus and Boi-1da.
Party-ready singles dominate the middle of the album, each fitting well into the tracklist. The new song “Pressure In My Palms” features solid but all too short verses from slowthai and Vince Staples, but works perfectly between the high octane ODB-interpolating “Shimmy” and smooth, bass-heavy “Riri.” After these bangers taper off around the silky-smooth R&B jam “Easy” featuring Summer Walker, Aminé gets introspective, dedicating tracks to his mother and his potential future as a father on “Mama” and “Fetus” respectively. Though lyrically clunky at times, these moments of sincerity round out the album with a touch of emotional confrontation.
Despite these strengths, Limbo is by no means perfect. In fact, the perfect execution of his sound means Aminé never really ventures into new territory, something especially unfortunate after the off-kilter highlights from ONEPOINTFIVE and his recent experiments with club acts like Disclosure. Some of the album feels inessential—without a doubt enjoyable but presenting nothing that truly needed proving to the rapper’s fans or his generally approving critics. While the tracks here are almost all solid, none immediately stand out as lasting works for years to come. Worse still, the lack of distinctive new sonics hints at a potential creative stagnation in his solo work. And as much as the notion of limbo seems to thematically drive the album, Aminé never substantially explores the implications of his strange position within the popular consciousness—straddling the fine lines of indie and mainstream, artsy and pop, and hardcore and playful.
But still, he doesn’t struggle sonically with the passively referenced identity crises. The songs sound undeniably his. If you didn’t like Aminé’s left-of-center pop rap experimentation before this, Limbo won’t change your mind, but for any established fan—whether you love “Caroline” or “Jailbreak the Tesla”—the album will come as a welcome relief in these troubled times. As a fan though, I only hope this limbo doesn’t keep him in purgatory.
Stream Limbo on Spotify.