It’s Wednesday, the day after Drake ceremoniously anointed Makonnen with his 'Tuesday' remix, and the Atlanta/California-bred rapper is making his highly anticipated New York City debut. Part of The Player’s Ball series, a frequent showcase held at the West Village located The Westway, the venue is barely equipped to accommodate 250 people.
Tonight is the perfect spectacle where Internet meets industry, as micro- celebrities like Carnage, A-Trak, Elliott Wilson, Vashtie and G-Eazy weave into the crowd without a designated backstage or VIP. Loaded into the dark and steamy former strip club people are hopeful of finally conceptualising the elusive Makonnen. The audience stand idle until he materialises. Shrouded by his friends, the efforts to catch a glimpse elicit minor scuffles in the over-flowing room. The New York crowd is known to be highly judgemental; skepticism washes over them with each song they can’t rap along with. However, Internet favourites like 'Club Going Up On A Tuesday', 'I Don’t Sell Molly No More' and 'Look At Wrist' regain the crowds’ interest – particularly for the latter, a song that leads to arms aggressively flailing along with its obscure lyrics.
Also sanctified by Drake’s approval, via a caption his Instagram, 'Look At Wrist' is by fellow Atlanta rapper, Father, and features Makonnen and Key!. Makonnen was almost blindsided by the support for the song, as it gained traction on the Internet in less than a month. Reflecting back to when he first met Father, he recalls, “I met Father in April; but, I always knew about him on the scene and that I should fuck with him and all of that. I went over, and met all of them [at the 'Maneuvering' video shoot] and it went on from there. The creatives over there [at Awful Records]. They do videos, music and everything. I was like ‘Yeah lets do it. We’re just hanging out with friends...’ We’re all believers and nobody doubted each other.”
While Makonnen had been working with producers like Mike Will Made-it and Sonny Digital, it was apparent that many slinked to the NYC show simply because the scent of OVO was in the air – unaware of the leg work Makonnen had been putting in for over three years. Even while he was on house arrest in Atlanta, he “has always been doing music just to make music. Now it’s starting to become a business and da da da.” Makonnen is proof that a Metro Boomin beat will change your life and that signing to OVO Sound will change your world.
Within this crucial incubation period, the Drake effect made the hip-hop clique crave for more Makonnen. Each week he returns to NYC after this debut show dubbed “Makonnen Week." He makes surprise club appearances, performs at secret shows and interviews roll out one after another. He remains so transparent, relinquishing some of the most intimate details of his life, yet he’s still mysterious and vague – perhaps an OVO side effect... Prior to signing with Drake’s imprint October’s Very Own Sound, the word of Makonnen was spread through the exchange of a SoundCloud link amongst fellow artists like Travi$ Scott and The Weeknd. The comparisons between icons like Biz Markie and Calvin Harris circled amongst those who simply “got it,” mostly for his untrained vibrato and lyrical modernity. Makonnen recognizes those who stood beside him saying, “A lot of people are coming out and they want to be in the limelight now too, saying ‘Yeah I was there too.’ I don’t really pay attention to it. I know the people that were working on all of this and doubting.”
When contemplating those who have always shown their support, Makonnen explains that “Martha has been with me longer than any of these fans.” Martha is the abstract mannequin head that appears on the cover of his ILOVEMAKONNEN mixtape. She’s the only physical representation of Makonnen’s past, symbolic of his transient stint as a hairdresser. He explains that she only makes special appearances with him at meetings and when they go out of state, “Buckling her up and riding off into the sunset.” Makonnen had been making trips to New York with Martha weeks prior to his debut, mobbing the streets of SoHo with his friends from the streetwear brand Lucid. He explains, “Yeah, I met the twins this year and we’ve just been hanging out since June and then that
was really it... doing creative shit and that.”Makonnen speaks the way he writes his music – comedic discussion with melancholic undertones. His melodies are simple, dragging out lyrics that are just waiting to become an Instagram caption. It’s like an out of body experience, that slows down your breath and taps the untapped. As someone who was on house arrest for involuntary manslaughter, Makonnen is able to sentimentalise even the linear aspects of his life. He makes a “club record” like 'Tuesday' sound like a ballad, whereas other rappers have approached the topic with an aggressive vigor.
When you aren’t curious as to who Shalitha, Sarah, Brianna and every other girl he mentions throughout his self-titled mixtape, you’re left wondering where exactly he fits in Atlanta’s topography–– which is somewhere between Young Thug (present) and Fiddlin John Carson (past). Makonnen plays upon sexuality and sensitivity in a way hip-hop deprecates; but for him, it’s a way of displaying a variant of tastes and perspectives. He likes Sex And the City and documentaries about fashion and Karl Lagerfeld and supports designers like Valentino and Alexander Wang, but it doesn’t make him any less “hip-hop.”
Makonnen’s mind is far from any purists slinging their apprehensions towards him, as he plans to move to NYC and furthering his Makonnenbrand. A new project is in his horizons; however, he’s ensuring we won’t be quick to forget him by strategically releasing records that exemplify his range of sounds and abilities.
“Sea Ghost hit me up online before my Drake situation. They were big into my music and I checked out the band and was like ‘Wow! This is really good! How old are you?’ I was like ‘Give me your address. I gunna come see you guys.’ They’re creatives and a real band [who are still in high school] and we fucking did it... That Saturday before Drake dropped the remix.” While Drake and Makonnen have almost become synonymous, he remains gratuitous, in fear of “letting them down.” For him, the goal isn’t to adhere to hip-hop’s conventions. He frames it blankly, “It’s about getting a Penthouse in upper east side.”