Amaarae on Being Vulnerable in Her Music, Working With Childish Gambino and Paying Homage to Young Thug

When “Espresso” dropped, I was talking to one of my homies, I was like, ‘Yo, this is fire. The white girl’s not making music like this no more. What’s up? But I didn’t expect that the girl that made “Espresso” was going to come around and be like, ‘Hey, we want you on the tour.’ That was fucking insane.

When I met Sabrina, I was like, “So who made that decision on your team? Did they just want to get an edgy artist?” and she was like, “Actually, my best friend put me on your music and we love you. And I was like, “That is so intriguing. What are you expecting?” and she was like, “Well, I think most people see me as just a pop and just a girlie and I think that you can bring an edge to it that I might be missing, so do your thing.”

When you said that there was one that made more sense and the other one that was like, “Oh, that’s interesting,” which one made more sense?

Childish Gambino makes more sense. We’re like the alt kids. That is more of a pipeline of like, “If Amaarae’s likely to go in a direction of an artist, we can see her building out a visual world, a musical world,” whereas Sabrina Carpenter, this is Taylor Swift territory, “What the fuck is Amaarae doing in that type of territory?” But to me, it’s so beautiful and it’s a cool challenge to have and I think it’s a testament to the fact that Fountain Baby did what I set out to do, which was touch all types of people from all walks of life.

What are the vibes of the Childish Gambino songs you’re featured on?

I can’t even explain it, because first of all, they’re super eclectic and the way that I function in the album is this weird omnipresent voice that just brings, like, a taunting attitude to things— which I realized when he just kept calling me back to do new songs and new songs and new songs. The stuff that I’m on literally sounds like you’re running butt-naked through the Amazon Forest on acid. I think he just liked the tone and the texture of my voice and the way that I write records. He’s such a great curator. He has a great ear and he has a great eye. He has me and Flo Milli on a record.

Oh, wow.

Crazy. You know what I’m saying? He shocked me. What I love about him is that he really let me and Flo take over the record. It wasn’t like, “All right, let me, uh, uh …” No, it was like, “Nah, let these bitches talk their shit, and let me just sit back and give them the platform.” So yeah, that’s the record I’m most excited for.

You said that this EP is wrapping up the Fountain Baby era. What do you hope to do next?

I definitely want to drop more music this year. I want to keep innovating and surprising people. I think I’ve reached a point now where people never know what to expect from me, but they’ve accepted that and they respect that.

You switch up your look so frequently. It’s this really exciting amalgamation of masculine and feminine stylistic choices. What informs your fashion choices?

On an everyday basis, I go for comfort, so I love a baggy pant and a cool hoodie or a cool t-shirt, but when it comes to the character of Amaarae that’s in videos and in pictures, finding the balance of what’s masculine and feminine is always fun. If it’s a miniskirt, then it will have on a very edgy boot, or if it’s a corset, then it’ll be with baggy pants.

You’re wearing a We Don’t Trust You crewneck—I’m assuming that you kept up with the Kendrick and Drake beef. Did you get to watch the Juneteenth celebration?

I saw the snippets. I was traveling at the time, so I only got to watch the snippets on Twitter. Insane.

As an artist, when you watch moments like that, does it inform your artistry? Are you ever like, “I’m going to pick this up?” Are there specific elements that you’re like, “I really want to do this”?

My favorite thing about Kendrick Lamar is I actually don’t know if he’s actually insane, if he’s just playing a character or it’s like a little bit of both. His approach has been so intriguing because he’s such an enigma and he’s so quiet and he’ll only drop when he has something to say and then disappear. I listened to Mr. Morale when it came out. I got the chance to meet him and see him in concert. The visuals and just the vulnerability of it all were so incredible. So to me, watching him literally pop out and show n-ggas is a bit unhinged.

I think everyone just looked at him like, “Oh, Kendrick is a little artsy. He’s going to make his album and then he’s going to win all these awards and he’s going to go back into hiding.” And then you literally eviscerate your enemy who I now am convinced you hate. That’s what I love about Kendrick, the performance art of it all. I just love how, for him, even the context of a diss record is a whole artistic rollout and a whole thing that’s planned with intention, the same way he would do with his albums. I think it’s a masterclass in just staying consistent in your artistry and staying consistent in standing on business and standing on your word. He was severely underestimated and he proved he is the king. He outsmarted everyone. And that’s beautiful to watch.

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