Status Ain't Hood

When You Weren’t Paying Attention, ILoveMakonnen Got Really Good

Drake gave transformative figure iLoveMakonnen a huge career boost and changed his life when he jumped on a remix of Makonnen’s “Tuesday,” changing the song from a regional internet phenomenon into an actual national hit. We know this. It’s documented. And then Makonnen signed to Drake’s OVO Sound label and basically seemed to join rap’s predominant winning team. But word around the campfire is that Drake doesn’t much like Makonnen.

In a series of tweets from 2010 and 2011 — when Drake was still a pretty shitty rapper and Makonnen was just some kid on Twitter — Makonnen talked a bunch of shit about Drake, calling him “mad corny” and “over hyped” and everything else that many people with functioning ears were saying about Drake pre-Take Care. And when Makonnen joined the team, he apparently didn’t think to go back and delete all those old tweets, which means someone on the internet discovered them, and they made the rounds. This year, on the If You’re Reading This It’s Too Late track “No Tellin,” Drake may have thrown some subliminals at Makonnen: “Fuck it, all you niggas two-faced, got the club goin’ up on a Tuesday.” And when Drake showed up on Fetty Wap’s “My Way” remix this summer, Makonnen’s Twitter had some more words for Drake: “Fuck @drake: and @ovo for getting on @fettywap remix and leaving me in the #cold.” Makonnen later claimed his Twitter was hacked. That’s normally a shitty excuse for rappers who get fucked up and post stupid things on Twitter, but in this case, it seems a little more legit, since Makonnen’s Twitter also called Rihanna a “slut” for not jumping on his Drink More Water 5 mixtape, which come on. Nobody’s getting Rihanna on their mixtape. Makonnen knows that.

In any case, we still don’t know what’s going on with Drake and Makonnen, exactly, but it doesn’t seem to be anything good for Makonnen. Because he’s signed to a label run by a guy who either doesn’t like him or doesn’t give a shit about him. There’s no other way to interpret what’s happening with Makonnen’s new I Love Makonnen 2 EP. To put things in perspective, the first I Love Makonnen EP was a free mixtape that Makonnen put out last year. It has “Tuesday” on it, and that was pretty indicative of its sound — weird seasick chillwave-rap with sloppy verses and atonally-sung choruses that somehow lodged themselves in your head against all reason. It should’ve been bad, but it was really good, mostly thanks to some indefinable charisma that Makonnen has. This was an underground release, one made with no guests. It had no advance buzz. It just existed, and then it was really popular, largely thanks to that vaunted Drake cosign. This summer, I saw Makonnen at the Pitchfork Festival, and he mostly stuck to tracks from that EP. If you’ve ever seen a one-hit rap wonder live, you already know that they’re generally not shy about doing their hit song multiple times in the same set. (Shout out to Yung Joc opening for T.I. at the Apollo Theater in 2006 and doing “It’s Goin Down” like three times.) Well, Makonnen did one of this songs twice, but it wasn’t “Tuesday.” It was “Don’t Sell Molly No More,” the maybe-even-catchier drug-dealer lament that is probably stuck in your head now after you just read the title. There was always more to Makonnen than “Tuesday.” Now, there’s a lot more.

Whether you like it or not, that I Love Makonnen EP was an important piece of rap music. But the I Love Makonnen 2 EP was clearly not a priority for anyone at OVO. The label released it on Friday after doing basically nothing with Makonnen post-“Tuesday.” Drake hasn’t Tweeted or posted on Instagram about it. There’s pretty much nothing about it on any OVO social-media channel. There haven’t been any videos or songs pushed to radio. Perhaps most damningly, the first EP, the one Makonnen made when he was (I believe) still living in his mom’s house, had a more impressive production lineup than the new one. On that first EP, he somehow recruited many of his city’s best producers: Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital, 808 Mafia, Dun Deal. The new EP has one FKi track, one DJ Mustard co-production, and that’s pretty much it. Santigold shows up to croon half a verse. There are no other famous people involved in the tape at all. OVO put nothing into this.

Makonnen, by contrast, put a lot into this. He hasn’t gotten better as a rapper, exactly, but that’s never been a priority for him. Makonnen has never been about bars. But he’s gotten better as a presence. Makonnen has two great subjects: The day-to-day drudgery of the drug-dealer life, and romantic regret. The former was the whole point of “Tuesday”: Makonnen is so busy selling drugs on the weekend that he can’t have any fun, so he has to go to the club on the one night when just about nobody is getting high. He still raps about that a bit on I Love Makonnen 2, though I think “Trust Me Danny” might exist just so Makonnen has an excuse to make fun of the fake patois that Drake sometimes uses. But on the emo front, Makonnen is growing all the time. Tape opener “Forever” is about how Makonnen can’t be your boyfriend because he doesn’t want to be anyone’s boyfriend, and that’s a pretty standard rap trope. But on that song, Makonnen seems to be drowning in guilt and regret, and that’s a new thing. He feels bad about it. How many rappers ever feel bad about anything? “Second Chance,” meanwhile, is about a past relationship fuckup and how Makonnen wishes he could fix it. He seems to miss the tenderness more than the sex, and that’s new, too.

And musically, Makonnen is also getting weirder and better. Listen to all the intense grunting he does all over “Where Your Girl At.” The grunts are essentially the point of the song, and he really hurls them out there. The production on I Love Makonnen 2 builds on emotive Euro-pop, and it does fun and strange things with it: Acoustic-guitar ripples on “Forever,” tinkly melodrama on “Second Chance,” slow and purposeful CGI-gamelan chimes on “Being Alone With U.” “I Loved You,” which ends the tape, is entirely sung, and Makonnen wails all his post-breakup blues over what sounds like the karaoke version of a Duran Duran ballad. If Makonnen were an actual good singer, it might come across maudlin and amateurish. But precisely because his vocals are so halfassed, there’s a genuineness to it. He really sounds like he’s falling apart.

That combination — big, soppy, soft emotions and weird sounds — is pretty much Drake’s sweet spot. He’s been working that territory for years. And while Makonnen doesn’t do this stuff better than Drake does, he does do it differently. So it’s a shame that Drake has this guy on his roster making intriguing and singular music right under his nose, and he’s not having anything to do with him. I don’t know if those years-old Makonnen tweets are the whole story or what, but it would be nice to see these guys mend their fences and work together again. They’re already on the same page, even if they don’t know it yet.


1. Young Thug & Rich Homie Quan – “Dead On”
All I want for Christmas is a full-on Rich Gang reunion.

2. E-40 – “God Take Care Of Babies & Fools” (Feat. B-Legit & Work Dirty)
40 Water’s new Poverty & Prosperity EP is roughly infinity times better than any record from a 48-year-old rapper should ever realistically be, and this track, which reunites E-40 with longtime consigliere B-Legit, is my favorite track on it. The production is spare and eerie like the best Bay Area stuff has been since at least “I Got 5 On It,” and E-40 remains relentlessly quotable: “Diarrhea of the mouth is forbidden.”

3. G Herbo – “Get 2 Bussin” (Feat. Lil Bibby)
Herbo and Bibby have been making grimy, death-haunted magic together since long before Herbo dropped his Lil Herb name, and I wish they’d just say fuck it, abandon their solo careers, and start a full-time group together. They always sound better together than apart. And when they’re flexing angst over an eerie Metro Boomin beat, they sound even better.

4. Montana Of 300 & Talley Of 300 – “MF’s Mad”
I’m ashamed of myself for not recognizing Montana when he played a prison goon on a couple of episodes of Empire earlier this season. I’m confused by every member of the 300 crew’s decision to put “Of 300″ at the end of all their names. And I’m persistently impressed at their ability to turn grimy gun threats and high-life taunts into pretty little sung melodies.

5. The Alchemist – “Jabroni” (Feat. Migos & Mac Miller)
If this track is to be believed, Quavo wanted to be a wrestler until he learned that wrestling was fake, and that’s when he decided to become a drug dealer. Glad we got that straightened out. It’s wrestling’s fault.