When I found out that hip-hop artists Aminé and Tobi Lou would be performing on the Beach for the third Johns Hopkins Annual Music Festival (JAM), I honestly didn’t know who they were. By no means is that an insult to their stardom. If you ask anyone who’s done karaoke with me, they’ll tell you I have really basic taste in music.
As a result, before Sept. 8, I worried that I wouldn’t enjoy JAM 3.0; I almost wished that the Hopkins Organization for Programming (HOP) had selected a different artist to agree to come to campus, someone whose trashy Top 40 lyrics I knew by heart.
Snippets of tunes with which I was far more familiar like “No Scrubs,” “Hotline Bling” and “Wannabe” were played, but even if they hadn’t been, I’m sure I would’ve still had a great time at JAM. I enjoyed it even though I was neither one of the three students Tobi Lou brought on stage, nor that kid next to me who seemed to have memorized every word Aminé had ever written.
Tobi Lou and Aminé are both talented singers of catchy songs with great lyrics, and the Soulja Boy they played brought me back to Bar and Bat Mitzvah season in seventh grade.
Furthermore the festival fostered a sense of community; I’ve never felt closer to my peers. Literally. The event was so densely packed that a small misstep could entail the loss of one’s virginity. I exaggerate, but an unprecedented number of arms and legs accidentally grazed my ass in just a few short hours.
Someone, however, touched me purposely — on my shoulder to steady himself as he reached out from behind to block my camera while I tried to photograph Tobi Lou.
“Get off your phone, bro,” he said. “Live in the moment.”
(Aminé himself would later echo these words when he addressed the audience upon first entering the stage.) But how could I? Tobi Lou had just removed his jacket to reveal that he was wearing a HOP shirt: the IHOP logo devoid of its first letter.
“I’m taking a photo for an article,” I said. “It’s for The News-Letter.”
I wonder now how many times those words have fallen from my lips.
“Are you Writing Sems or something?” he asked.
“You do you, man,” he laughed, patting me on the back and pushing his way in front of me. STEM majors always get ahead at Hopkins.
My sense that I had been trivialized quickly faded; I recalled University President Ronald J. Daniels’ recent message on the humanities, and, in a similar vein, Tobi Lou asked the audience for help with his ad libs. The opportunity to validate my program’s real-world utility had finally arrived.
Or so I thought. Tobi Lou instructed us just to say “aye” whenever we were prompted. My friend and I recited the next letter of the alphabet each time.
One letter that Tobi Lou forgot, as I’m sure you could guess, is the letter “s,” namely the one in “Johns.” If you go to the Beach and listen closely, you can still hear the echo of my scream.
Another scream that drew some concerned glances: “Oh my God, where is he? I’m gonna cry.”
Indeed, after Tobi Lou left the stage, the DJ, whose name I unfortunately didn’t catch, struggled a bit to maintain the crowd’s vitality as we waited for Aminé to grace the stage. Like Perez Hilton, we waited anxiously for a celebrity to come out.
Soon after, Aminé finally appeared, and he taught us self-love.
“Tonight, when I say ‘you’re beautiful,’ you’ll say, ‘I know.’”
“You’re beautiful,” he said.
“I know,” we chanted.
Aminé proved to be a heartwarming and electrifying performer and speaker. He paid tribute to fellow rapper Mac Miller, who had died of an apparent drug overdose the day before, and pointed out that audience members who might be feeling lonely or depressed because of being away from home were not alone.
Another uplifting moment of the evening was when we all sang an impromptu, a cappella version of “Caroline,” Aminé’s debut, breakout single. I only wish there had been more space to dance, but never before have I nodded my head so aggressively.
Senior Sean Jost described the Beach as “quicksand-like,” because it had been raining all day. But, even beyond the soil that temporarily transformed the Beach into Mudd Hall with one fewer “d” and may forever glaze its goers’ shoes, JAM 3.0 was a delightful and memorable experience.
Sophomore Leta Ashebo explained in an email to The News-Letter what made the festival resonate with her especially.
“Aminé’s concert was an incredible experience for me personally, particularly because of our shared Ethiopian culture. Aminé’s pride in his heritage and culture, evident in his lyrics and the concert yesterday, made me feel even more proud to be Ethiopian,” she wrote.
As Ashebo recounted, a member of Hopkins Ethiopian and Eritrean Society (HEES) reached out to Aminé’s manager so that the club would have the opportunity to meet him.
“Aminé took the time to shake each of our hands and answer questions we had,” Ashebo added. “It was a surreal experience that I know I won’t forget.”