The Bold Fluidity of Amine
Updated: Apr 10, 2019
Written by Jelani Driskell
Illustration by Kayla Snyder
Hip-hop artist Amine surprised fans earlier this year with the creative ability displayed in his sophomore album, ONEPOINTFIVE. The new project follows Amine through his now flourishing rap career, built on the back of a massive 2016 hit in “Caroline” and a solid debut project, Good For You. References to how success has both inflated his ego and isolated him are littered throughout, culminating in a project that can make someone feel themselves, but also question how they feel.
Although Amine has his conventional rap “turn up” songs (see “Reel it In”), his rise as an outsider to mainstream rap reflects a different approach in his thinking and execution. Most prominently, the way he displays his masculinity is inherently different than that of most of his rap compatriots, especially at the level of visibility that he now has. In the context of hip hop, which is largely stereotyped as hypermasculine and misogynistic, Amine’s personality as one who openly employs forms of expression that are societally characterized as feminine places him in a sparsely populated space of fluidity. Other artists who might fit this category are rapper Tyler, the Creator and guitarist Steve Lacy, both of whom are friends of Amine. This acceptance of fluidity is a breath of fresh air for listeners who enjoy hip hop but want to hear music that also falls in line with their views on embracing and being tolerant of different sexualities, genders and style choices. Overall, Amine succeeds in subtly and candidly dissecting masculinity as a concept by placing himself somewhere in the middle of a Venn Diagram of masculinity and femininity, as, some would argue, we all are to some extent. It only makes sense that this more liberal mindset he has is reflected all throughout his new project.
The opening track of ONEPOINTFIVE, “Dr. Whoever”, is a shamelessly honest look at how Amine’s life has changed since gaining the large-scale recognition that now surrounds him, setting the tone for the rest of the project. He enlists Rickey Thompson, an openly gay Instagram personality, as a kind of narrator throughout the album. This act alone- essentially letting a gay man speak for you- is an anomaly within popular rap music. Rickey’s voice is the first one we hear, delivering a monologue before Amine starts his verse. One bar especially stands out upon first listen: “My niggas having sessions and I’m doing sessions/ can’t man up if masculinity your only weapon” The message here is very straightforward, and hints at the type of allusions he would make later in the album.
On the track “CANTU” Amine revels in his long-haired glory, the crux of the hook being that he’s going ‘let his hair down’ as a display of carefreeness; here he displays fluidity, in this case by using a phrase commonly associated with women letting loose and being comfortable with themselves (think “Put Your Records On” by Corinne Bailey Rae). To complicate this a bit, it can mentioned that this phrase has been used by other rappers before. An example that comes to mind is Kendrick Lamar in the second verse of his song “untitled 02”. Still, the difference between these two uses of the phrase lies in the context of the subject matter. Kendrick uses it within an extended display of staunch masculinity, as an almost comical juxtaposition within a verse that finds him comparing his crew to the mafia and making subtle allusions to violence and robbery. In contrast, Amine frames his whole song solely around his hair, names the song after a hair care brand and taps Rickey Thompson once again to outro the track: “Who has nice hair? Me. Who can touch my hair? Not you! Did you think this was a petting zoo?” Thompson says cheekily. Amine’s use of the phrase is much more in the realm of fluidity.
This, as well as other examples of him positioning himself within spaces and mind frames that are socially equated with femininity is not a new development in Amine’s artistic career. For example, Amine was interviewed by GQ magazine as part of a recurring series where they ask prominent figures in pop culture to name ten things that they can’t live without. Amine lists perfume as one, while also mentioning that he gets many compliments from men when wearing it. “We’re changing gender norms out here,” he says coolly. In another interview with Genius, he professes his love for the Spice Girls and tells a story about begging his dad to get him a Barbie doll modeled after one of the members, Sporty Spice. His fluidity seems to be something so inherent to him that he does not question it, nor does he cower away from it.
In fact, Amine has had to defend the more fluid way of how he presents himself at times. Back in January of this year, Amine made an appearance on Hot 97 radio following the Gold certification of his debut project, Good For You. In this interview, Ebro Darden, one of the show hosts, pokes fun at Amine for spearheading GlitterPop, a homecoming show that Amine does in Portland in which participants are required to wear glitter. Darden scoffs in response to the idea, “Guess where I won’t be, Portland? Glitterpop.” “I’m gonna keep doing it until you come,” replies Amine, initiating a moment where Peter Rosenberg, another host, feels especially compelled to highlight the way in which that statement could be perceived as gay or perverted if taken out of context. Amine is visibly uncomfortable, and likely disappointed in this moment. This incident, though subtle, frames why Amine is important in a world of hip hop where the gatekeepers like Darden and Rosenberg represent an older, more conservative generation steadfast in their idea that there are rigid and binary rules to follow. Still, Amine challenges those “rules” every step of the way. The very next month, perhaps in response to that Hot 97 incident, Amine raps in an LA Leakers Freestyle: “2018 and you still homophobic/ while my makeup looking better than your girlfriend’s/ Mama im so sorry, these niggas so obnoxious/ fuck a hater when my red mercedes polished.” Doubling down on his stance, he shows that he is intent on expressing himself exactly in the way he wants to.
Taking all of this into consideration, it is safe to say that Amine stands at the forefront of popular hip hop artists who are gracefully pushing the envelope for what a man should be or look like. Voices like his subvert the status quo and question the need of certain systems that we abide by within our society. For our generation, Amine’s music and outlook hits home because we also question the same things—many of us have come to realize that not everything fits neatly inside the parameters that we’ve been indoctrinated into. Especially in the context of rap which is dominated by black men, Amine’s voice is very necessary in destroying the negative stigmas around “other” ways of expression. In an interview with Paper Magazine he echoes this sentiment: “With black men it’s like ‘Stop being a bitch, be a man.’ It’s like, I don’t want to be a man, I just want to be myself.” Instead of encouraging the discrediting of identities that do not affirm what we’ve been taught, Amine helps usher in a future where fluidity is more accepted in all of its forms, effectively broadening the avenues for people to express themselves exactly as they wish.