"Aquamarine" is a collaboration between producer Brian Burton, known as Danger Mouse, and Black Thought, the renowned frontman of the Roots. They recorded the song for Cheat Codes, Danger Mouse's first hip-hop album since his 2005 record The Mouse and the Mask with MF Doom.
Danger Mouse is known for his work as half of the groups Gnarls Barkley and Broken Bells, as well as a producer for Gorillaz, the Black Keys, and Adele. He's previously recorded collaborative albums with Jemini, Sparklehouse, Daniele Luppi and Karen O.
Danger Mouse and Black Thought began work on Cheat Codes in 2006 but they put it on hold until late 2017, when the two artists resumed recording. "A lot of it was in my apartment in New York, just the two of us," Danger Mouse told Uncut magazine. "I've just got a small setup. I've never recorded vocals myself, really - You know, I'm not an engineer."
"He's very humble," Black Thought added, laughing. "Once we got set up, the songs wrote themselves. It's quick. Once the beat was ready, I might sit and write for an hour or so. I would let Brian hear what I'd written. Then he might refine the track – he's very detail-orientated. It's quick to work with him. I'm hard-pressed to find another producer with whom I work with as efficiently as Brian."
After delays because of the COVID-19 pandemic and tracklist changes, the duo finally released Cheat Codes on August 12, 2022.
Cheat Codes has a retro hip-hop production that provides the perfect springboard for Black Thought and a range of guests to rap and croon over. This song features English singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka on the hook.
"For 'Aquamarine,' when I heard the music I just had a feeling to sing about standing up for something that's unique and following that path," Kiwanuka explained. "I don't know why but that's what came out. Sometimes when you're following something that's unique to you it's as if 'enemies are all around.' At times life can feel fragile like 'everything's burning down.' For some reason the chords and music made me feel that way."
Danger Mouse previously served as a producer on Kiwanuka's 2016 album Love & Hate and the singer's eponymous 2019 Mercury Prize-winning follow-up.
An aquamarine is a type of precious gemstone that is a variety of the mineral beryl. It is typically a pale blue or green color and is often used in jewelry. It can symbolize bravery and calm.
Survival of the fittest is the natural selection
Now, bear down on the scene like I'm Saladin
The stone courage esteem is aquamarine
You mask how you really feel like it's Halloween
Here, Black Thought is talking about the trap and drill rappers invading his classic hip-hop scene. As a king of classic hip-hop, he needs courage to see off the young pretenders.
Danger Mouse and Black Thought released "Aquamarine" as the third single from Cheat Codes on July 13, 2022. UK duo UNCANNY directed its accompanying kaleidoscopic black-and-white video.