iLoveMakonnen - I Love Makonnen EP

Drake's latest signee iLoveMakonnen is a rough-around-the-edges R&B singer that has the potential to bring a DIY approach to the mainstream.

Additional Info

7.2

ALBUM: I Love Makonnen EP

ARTIST: iLoveMakonnen

2014

Hip-Hop/Rap

Rap's progression has looked like devolution to some who cling fondly to the golden age. Deconstructionist artists like Future and Chief Keef can sound frustratingly foreign to those who've grown to count showboating lyricism as the sole blueprint for quality music, and as the traditional cues for what constituted skill fade away, some have come to dismiss modern rap outright. On first listen to out-of-the-blue sensation iLoveMakonnen, it's easy to recognize where the contrast lies between his work and prescribed standards of rap and R&B. His rapid rise, ensured by Drake through a remix to "Tuesday" and signing to OVO Sound, will confound some people. His is a nakedly unforgiving sound, decidedly unpolished and tinged with what can feel like an amateurish approach. It can be polarizing, and whether or not you enjoy iLoveMakonnen depends a lot on your age, relationship with irony, and receptiveness to the non-traditional.

There's clear resemblance here to Lil B, whose anti-quality control, flood-the-market approach surely inspired the bajillion-some albums and self-directed videos iLoveMakonnen features on his blog. The visuals have shades of Odd Future's internet collage aesthetic, and the somber rap&B lyricism is reminiscent of Drake. But when iLoveMakonnen sings that he "made it on [his] own, [he] made [his] own style" on "Club Going Up On A Tuesday", he's completely right. There are comparisons, but no direct line, that can be drawn between his style and anyone else's. Much of this has to do with the fact that iLoveMakonnen's massive back catalogue is largely underground DIY music, more aligned with post-shoegaze electronic artists than club music. He's incorporated the sort of trap tropes that float around material like "I Don't Sell Molly No More" in past works, but rarely did he make music that aimed for tightly constructed rap or R&B. Much of his self-produced beats prior to I Love Makonnen EP or "Drink More Water 4" didn't even feature bass or drums, and his vocals would be buried in the mix deep enough to be considered atmospherics more than lead singing. "I Love Makonnen EP" is one of his first forays into more straight-ahead R&B, with production handled by some of his hometown of Atlanta's top producers, such as Metro Boomin, Sonny Digital, and 808 Mafia. The transition works fairly well, showcasing that he had a handle on the sound even when he worked at its margins.

Anyone unfamiliar or intolerant of his brand of post-ironic DIY music may find the graduation from Youtube to sold-out stages and Miley Cyrus co-signs to be trying. It remains a not totally professional sound, retaining much of the clunkiness of his based approach by not including auto-tune or lyrical rewrites. iLoveMakonnen's interesting backstory (much of his music was made alone while under house arrest for the accidental death of his friend) and positive-minded philosophies add a lot the character presented in the music that helps improve the listening experience, and the fact that top-tier beatmakers are gravitating towards underground fringe artists is good for both sides. The beats on the EP are uniformly excellent, which helps carry much of the vocal valleys, but there's plenty of left-field earworm hooks here, delivered with a pointedly inconsistent singing-in-the-shower aesthetic. It's hard to tell at this point if this will stand the test of time, but it's exciting to be in the midst of a potentially new direction for pop music.

"I think about Atlanta, and how we're changing your mind."

1. Too Much
As Makonnen moved from a crackly home recording setup into a more professional approach, he retained much of the somber and isolated sound that made up his more DIY material. The vocals aren't those of an obvious star, lying closer to Youtube cover artists to that of bona fide radio R&B talents on the spectrum of singing ability, but in many ways that's the charm and strength behind the music. The honesty of the vocals - untuned, with hardly any backing melody tracks - is going to be off-putting for some listeners, but others will hear this and be ready to welcome a new brand of star power.6.5
2. I Don't Sell Molly No More
A remixed (read: actually mixed and mastered, with an excellent beat update from Sonny Digital that adds a much needed snare drum) version of "I Don't Sell No More" from Makonnen's Drink More Water 3, Makonnen's ode to drug dealing is a little paint-by-numbers lyrically in terms of trap-rap tropes (the hook is little more than a laundry list of illegal narcotics), but the melodic touch coupled with the loose approach to flow elevate this into new territory. A song that may seem pedestrian in comparison to tighter rap acts, it's an interesting listen in the context of iLoveMakonnen's early work. This is not a full-on game-changer but it will get stuck in your head.8.5
3. Club Goin Up On a Tuesday
The iLoveMakonnen song that Drake provided with the Midas touch sounds better without him, if only because Drake nails the sing-song flow a little too perfectly. iLoveMakonnen benefits from not having an immediate comparison on the same track, owning a lane here that's more original than may be immediately obvious. It may seem to share some sonic similarities to acts like Drake, The Weeknd, and Chris Brown, but with multiple listens - and you will find yourself listening to this repeatedly - it reveals itself as a quirky club song that works better than it seems like it should. It's an oddball hit that may or may not stand the test of time, but for the moment it's a fairly refreshing track.9.0
4. Tonight
This is kind of a disjointed track. I can't tell if we're revering Brianna for her dancing skills or upset with her for her infidelities. I'm not totally sure why iLoveMakonnen offhandedly mentions Atlanta either, as the place location adds no illuminating information whatsoever. The beat is fairly decent, keeping consistent with the rest of the tracks, but the middling, unsure lyrics and singing styles might've sounded better as an early iLoveMakonnen track, buried underneath a haze of low-bitrate samples rather than hoisted up as the hot new take on downtempo pop.6.0
5. Meant to Be
"Meant To Be" succeeds where "Tonight" failed, showing what a thin line it is between an iLoveMakonnen track that works versus one that doesn't. The story is a little more full, the use of the word "Atlanta" makes more sense as a closing line, and the vocals have more engaging cracks, warbles, and rhythmic lilts throughout. The tail-end of the track approaches the pre-chorus with a slightly overdramatic vocal fry that one might utilize to gently mock a song's self-seriousness when singing along to it. Applying it to himself on his own track, iLoveMakonnen works to blur the lines of irony in a playful way that improves the sound in subtle way.8.0
6. Sarah
At previous points on the record, names are dropped as a convenient way to add some specificity to the track, but here the name is about as deep as we get into the backstory. She was his favorite girl, and it didn't work out, or something. It's the illusion of digging into a topic, assuming the name itself is enough to claim this as a introspective track. The back-and-forth between falsetto and lower registers creates a nice vocal dynamic that maintains the amateurish charm but can be tedious with repeat listens.6.0
7. Exclusive
There's certain slight timber changes that bring out some new sides to the performance of each line here, something most tightly written pop performances don't allow themselves. It's a positive and a negative over all, as certain lines that shouldn't work do while others feel a little too awkward to land properly. The simple melody has a nice meter to it, like many on the record, an it's hard not to laugh at the Dan Marino reference.6.5
Written by Jack Spencer
A freelance music writer from Minneapolis that has been featured in the City Pages, Bitch Magazine, 2DopeBoyz, The AV Club, Consequence of Sound, Thought Catalog, and more.

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