Status Ain't Hood

The Week In Rap: ILoveMakonnen, Transformative Figure

Tuesday,” the song that made iLoveMakonnen into an unlikely star last year, scans as a party anthem. It is, after all, about making the club go up. That sounds pretty fun! And if you are partying on a Tuesday, the least fun day of the week, you must have an advanced degree in partying! But you don’t have to listen too closely to know that that’s not what “Tuesday” is about. Makonnen is singing from the point of view of a drug dealer, and it’s not the Awesomely Badass Hardworking Drug-Dealer archetype that still persists in rap. Instead, Makonnen is a wage slave. He’s harried and tired and overworked, and he can’t have fun on weekends because he’s too busy selling drugs to people who are partying. He has to party on Tuesdays instead, since the only free night he has is the one where nobody else is partying. It reminded me of this old Onion article about the undercover cop who didn’t realize that dealing drugs was such a hard job. Even when Drake jumped on the track, he seized on its anti-glamor. His verse was about working too hard on making music to enjoy himself, which is sort of the same thing but also not quite the same thing. Either way, with Makonnen, we’ve got a guy in rap who’s making music out of the uncomfortable details that other rappers so often edit out. That’s a valuable thing.

Makonnen is a fascinating figure in part because his story is so completely non-standard. He’s a studious weirdo who makes records with DIY rock bands and who voraciously absorbs musical influences via the internet. But he’s also a guy with a drug-dealing history and connections to some of Atlanta’s best street-rap producers. He found his voice, more or less, when he was on house arrest on a manslaughter charge, interviewing people like Lil B and getting all on the internet partly because he had to do something to occupy his time. He’s not a craftsman. His rapping is sloppy and hoarse, and it has that Lil B sense of being just whatever happened to be bouncing around in his head the moment he stepped in front of a microphone. And he’s a ferociously awful singer, to the point that it stops being annoying and becomes sort of awesome instead. (The new Action Bronson album has some of that, too; both Makonnen and Bronson are from the Biz Markie School of Charismatically Terrible Rap Singing.) When Makonnen does come up with an indelible hook, as with “Tuesday” or “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” it’s almost like he fell backwards into making it, like it was an accident. But those hooks arrive too quickly for them to be accidents.

Yesterday, Makonnen released his Drink More Water 5 mixtape, his first tape since becoming a bona fide celebrity. On first impression, you’d have no indication that this tape was made by someone affiliated with Drake; it has none of the slick and spacey signifiers of the OVO sound. (There have been rumors that some sort of rift has pulled Drake and Makonnen apart since Drake signed Makonnen.) There are moments where Makonnen flexes his newfound clout, as when he gets people like Migos or Fredo Santana to show up for collabs. But the tape feels like an almost self-consciously minor work, from its goofy CGI cover art on down. I don’t know who produced much of the tape, but I have to assume a lot of it was self-produced, since I can’t think of any reason why all these beats would be so murky and thin. At times, it sounds like Makonnen is rapping over the queasy electronic blorps of, say, a James Ferraro. Other times, electronics go out the window entirely. For two entire songs near the end of the tape, Makonnen howls and warbles over synthetic piano. Those songs are terrible, but they’re brave, too. And that’s one of the best things about Makonnen: He is fully willing to fall on his face.

If Makonnen is making rap safe for that sort of failure, he’s doing us all a favor. He’s already a presence, and he is changing things. Since Makonnen’s rise last year, we’ve seen things like Awful Records, the Makonnen-affiliated Atlanta DIY-rap crew, come up and flourish. Father, Awful Records’ frontman-if-that’s-the-word, scored his own breakout underground hit last year with “Look At Wrist,” a song that featured Makonnen. Two of my favorite rap releases from the past few weeks are from Awful Records guys: Father’s Who’s Gonna Get Fucked First and Archibald Slim’s The Other Special Guest. Makonnen doesn’t show up on either of those records, and they’d probably both still be out there in the world if Makonnen didn’t exist. But there’s a little extra confidence in Father and Slim these days, and I attribute some of that confidence to the fact that there’s now a lane for queasy, druggy, lo-fi Atlanta rappers. Makonnen made that lane. He changed the game.

FURIOUS FIVE

T-Pain – “Booty Butt Ass”
T-Pain is technically a singer (or a rappa ternt sanga) rather than a rapper, which is the main reason I didn’t write this week’s column about his ridiculously fun new mixtape The Iron Way. But hooooly shit, this thing rules. Even if you never fell for T-Pain’s Auto-Tune miasmas back when he was an inescapable pop-music presence, it’s a bizarre joy to hear him launch a comeback by bringing new levels of absurdist joy to his sound. And the wonderfully titled “Booty Butt Ass” — which counts as rap if any Future song counts as rap — is the most joyous and ridiculous song on it. The way he turns “Oh my God, Becky” into a choir’s koan is a thing you need to hear.

Lil Boosie – “Black Rain”
There’s no rapper working right now who’s more motivated, or more reliably furious, than Lil Boosie. He’s home from prison now, but he hasn’t been in a celebratory mood since he got back, partly because he’s got people in his family still behind bars. And “Black Rain” is a rare thing: A banger with emotional heft to it. It will fuck a subwoofer up, but it still works as a howl of anguish. It matters.

Sauce Twinz – “Oh My Sauce” (Feat. Lil Boosie)

And here’s the other side of Boosie: A frantic party machine whose adenoidal knife-stab of a voice can transmit pure superhero power when it needs to. Here, he teams up with Houston duo Sauce Twinz to make the sort of guttural underground synth-rap knocker that people just don’t make often enough anymore. There is chaos in this song, and there is beauty.

Cakes Da Killa – “Serve It Up”
Cakes Da Killa has enough sneering badass intensity to eclipse just about any of his club-rap peers. Here, he brays all over a wobbly, off-kilter beat and just takes off running: “We eating down as we stack-sta-stack riches / And these Tamagotchi broads get read down like bad glitches.”

Antwon & Wiki – “Squad Deep” (Feat. Lee Spielman)
A bicoastal duo of punk-rap scallywags huffs and puffs all over a forbidding Skywlkr instrumental while the guy from Trash Talk barks on the hook. A great line: “I might just give my bitch neck / Afterwards, show her respect.”

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO