The Come Up: iLoveMakonnen
Meet the unconventional rapper/singer who is representing a different side of the Atlanta rap scene.
Co-signs still matter in hip-hop. And when the most popular rapper in the game right now remixes your song, it’s only inevitable that you are going to blow up. Drake, who has a close relationship with Atlanta, has remixed the likes of Future and Migos, showing that he continues to stay on the pulse of what’s happening in hip-hop today. Seemingly out of nowhere, Drake did the same for emerging rapper/singer iLoveMakonnen and his instant hit “Club Going Up On A Tuesday.” Nothing was the same ever since.
Last week, Makonnen’s rigorous NYC press run reached a high point when he performed at The Westway for Electric Circus’ “The Players Ball.” A-Trak, G-Eazy and Vashtie were in attendance, as well as ATL’s luminaries Mike Will Made It, Sonny Digital, TM 88 of 808 Mafia, Frenchie, to name a few. In an overcrowded space with a catwalk in the middle, Makonnen brought the house down with joints like “Man Of The Party,” “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” and “Exclusive.” There were many here that knew all the words to his songs, while others watched an incredible movement blossom into something much larger. His set was about 20 minutes, which ended with the turnt up anthem “Look My Wrist.” After it was all over, Makonnen disappeared to the backstage, but many stuck around as a DJ spun “Club Going Up On A Tuesday” again. You can’t deny its massive hit potential.
Makonnen, along with names like Bobby Shmurda and GoldLink, show just how quickly someone can bubble from the underground to mainstream. Now, riding high after Drake remixing his song, Makonnen’s career is picking up fast. We spoke to the 25-year-old MC on his newfound fame, Drake listening to his music, his first show ever, meeting Atlanta artists, and more. Get up on Makonnen in The Come Up.—Eric Diep
XXL: How does it feel to be famous?
Makonnen: I’m not famous. It’s cool though. It’s regular. It’s a miracle. Everybody gets a little recognition every now and then.
We were you really surprised when Drake remixed your song?
Yeah, I surprised. Shocking. Drake listens to Makonnen. It was great. I was excited. Surprised, shocked. Just overwhelmed.
What was the first thing you did when you heard Drake on your song?
I was like “Nah.” I just kept telling my friends: "No. Is this real? Like, seriously? Ah, I can’t believe it. It’s Drake." We are all just freaking out. It was regular ass day, you know what I am saying? We were just doing us and somebody got the link and played it on the speakers. We went crazy.
Drake has a pattern of co-signing Atlanta artists. Do you think it is his way of showcasing new talent?
Yeah, I think so. I have no idea what he’s intentions are. It’s definitely good to help showcase new talent and show the world what is going on. I’m just great. Happy about it. I can’t really speak on how he feels or why he does what he does. But, you know, I just go with the flow. That’s what I’ve always been doing and its always helped me get to where I am now.
You aren’t born in Atlanta, right?
Yeah, I am from LA. I grew up in LA and I went back to Atlanta for high school.
How was your childhood in LA?
It was cool. It was in the city. It was gangbanged out everywhere. It was semi-nice, semi-proverty. Just LA shit. It’s not super, glamorous Hollywood LA, but like South Central LA. Mid-City and all of downtown LA. All that shit before it got real nice. Everybody has a store on Fairfax now.
Where do your influences come from?
From my life. Living. Being a mixed human being to where people don’t even know what the fuck race I am. I get thrown into White, into Black. Latino. Asian to everywhere. I get thrown everywhere. I’ve always learned how to accept myself and just be a world human. You know what I am saying? Just the person of the world. I’ve been already in this little neighborhoods where it is just all Blacks or it is just all White or it is all Vietnamese or all Spanish kids. I’ve done all that shit already. I’ve already had a best friend of every race, every type of shit. I kind of know how to approach people. I know how people in the world are. That’s definitely where my music comes from. It comes from all different walks of life. ‘Cause that’s what is out here. It just comes from the world. I’m just trying to make a soundtrack of life. Us living everyday, we can enjoy the music and live our life to the music right now. If it’s over, it’s over.
How did you get into making music?
I always listened to music in LA and all that shit in Atlanta. Just to have a good time to put creations down on a keyboard. That’s how I started doing music in Atlanta. Just being in my room on a keyboard and playing songs. Being on house arrest for reasons I don’t really want to talk about. I just kept playing the keyboard and making my music at home. You know, fucking started figuring shit out and going hard. Hard work, long nights and staying out all night. Traveling here or there—just being about this shit until making it to here. Just right now, fucking no time to just sit down. This is the rest time. Sit down in an interview and talk about all this shit we’ve been doing.
Are you feeling exhausted?
A little exhausted. Just on the go. I’ve been on the go. First, I’ve been going hard by myself. Just like really working and making this happen. Then that Drake co-sign happened and just like “Whewpow!” It’s like “Damn!” I used to have five hours to myself and now its 30 minutes.
New artists always want the fame. Typically, they want to get recognized for their hard work…
Yeah, that’s good. But I need to take care of my family and shit at the same time. If I am going to be in the music industry, I want to be able to get the proper accolades and the proper financial business wise and payments off of these songs and shit. Rather than just getting whored out and having my fame. And fuck that fame cause it’s like I don’t know anybody giving free houses off of fame. Paying your bills off of a goddamn whole year of fame. So until they start doing that, the fame is like some back-pocket shit. It’s like “whatever.” I pull it out every now and then. When my friends can’t get into the club. “Yo, it’s iLoveMakonnen!” So it’s cool. I use it for my friends moreso than me.
Do you want to stay grounded as an artist and be normal?
All of it is normal. As you grow older and the more you achieve and succeed and shit, the more people know about it. I don’t know what people’s idea of fame is, but my idea is fame isn’t the whole TV, goldchains. Nah. I like the fame for the work that you’ve done. I like Nobel Peace Prize fame. I don’t like “I got the hot song in the club” fame.
What are you trying to represent? You aren’t quite a rapper or a singer.
I just want to represent music and art. That’s what I feel like I represent. Just music and art. There’s so many sub-genres and shit. I feel like in this day and age we are so advanced and we multitask with these fucking iPhones and all this shit and talking to your car. So, with the music, you should be able to multitask and show different sides. You know, I like to rap, sing. Songwrite. Just play instruments. I started out, I didn’t want to be an artist. I always wanted to be a producer and songwriter. Put out other artists and work for other artists and have them out and shit. So really my first recordings and shit was kind of sample recordings and sample songs. How the fuck am I gonna get my sample songs out to people to even listen to me as a singer/songwriter? So started making videos to them. Eventually, people were like, “Oh, we like you as an artist.” But at the same time, I was already a producer/songwriter so it’s all good.
How did you link up with the young Atlanta producers?
Just being on the scene, it’s a small scene. It’s Atlanta, but there’s a whole bunch of shit to do. There’s a lot of shit to do. It’s really a network. Once you in that thing, you know everything that’s going on. It’s like a community and shit. I just happened to come in and get plugged in. In this big clusterfuck of circling around, I just met a few people who I liked and we all made song and we kept that shit going. It’s down there. Anyone can pretty much go down there and throw themselves in the mix and be apart of it. If you got some dope work and a nice work ethic, it’s there for you. It’s there for the taking. Gucci Mane’s gone now, but he’s still killing they ass. I was like, “Damn!”
Is it still that mentality out there that every new upcoming Atlanta artist wants to be a Gucci Mane or a Jeezy?
It’s kind of ending that sort of shit. I think they want to do something else, artists out there in Atlanta. I just happen to be in Atlanta at the time. I’ve always wanted to do my international shit and be like the world renowned. Playing in operas and shit. Doing real Broadway plays and all that shit. I just happened to be in Atlanta at the mix. I guess from the rest of the world, everybody’s like “Oh!” So, it was like it all worked out. It’s great that I was there bubbling. I just have to incorporate my sound with their sound and take it to make a new sound.
The artists I work with don’t want to rap like Gucci. We always respect them, but we don’t want to imitate their exact flows. We always try to big them up ‘cause they come from where they come from. The same fucking areas, the same streets where they were making their same little music. That’s where they came from. We just want to able to succeed and be a success. We do want to be like them as a way of inspiring the next creative breed to be them and do to their shit.
How do you view yourself among your peers like Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan, Trinidad Jame$, Migos?
Are those my peers? I guess because they are in the city and they make the thing. I like Migos and Trinidad Jame$. We’re friends. I’ve met them. I know them personally. Well, Quavo and Trinidad Jame$. I don’t know Young Thug and Rich Homie Quan. I haven’t met them yet. I think Rich Homie Quan and Young Thug, they do a different sound than what me and Father and Key! and the people I’ve been working with and what we do. But it’s still an Atlanta sound, which is all good. It’s just showing another side of it. It’s like another color being added to a nice painting.
What was the tape or song that got you on the map?
“Living On The Southside.” You know, that was one of my old songs from early 2012. Songs like “Sneaky Lady.” And then what really got me popping this year was “Don’t Sell Molly No More.” “Man Of The Party.” “Sex, Love, Ecstasy.” “My New Friend.” Shit like that. That just started in March. That’s when I knew it happened.
Do those songs come from the Atlanta culture?
It’s all about strip clubs and partying and getting drunk and fried chicken and all that shit. That’s what it is about. It’s good if you want to be a part of that shit, but I am not really a part of that shit. I’m trying to do my international thing and see the world and be a part of all that. I’m cool with Atlanta. I’m done. I just did my time with Atlanta, so I’m out. Hopefully I brought enough attention for there to help the other people I have been working with so everybody can start making fruition. But, I’m cool. I’m ready to take it elsewhere. So many people from Atlanta get hot and then they just come back to Atlanta and now it is like “Nah.” And now it’s the next rapper. The next thing you know, he following you on Twitter and texting you. “Oh! We need a song!” Bruh, you should have blasted off when they gave it to you when you had the fucking flight pass. Fuck you gonna stay over here for just waving the pass around. Like, “Yeah, yeah. I got the flight pass.” No. Just go so the next one can go. I’m leaving.
In your music, you talk about a lot of girls too. Are they past girlfriends?
Yeah, they are past girlfriends. I don’t even talk to them no more. There are plenty of Briannas in the world. Plenty of Marthas and Samanthas. You know, that’s what makes it so good because at the end of the day I’ll probably meet another girl that same name and I can always tell her, “Hey, I wrote a song about you.” That’s always gets them because it’s been working. [Laughs] It’s just good. I think people like when it’s a real name or when it’s something you can create and attach to.
Do you remember your first show? How was that?
My first show was in Park Slope. It was my friends and family, Phantom Posse. It’s the band I’m in. We did it in somebody’s little apartment. Damn near like this size. Seriously. I was just in the corner right there and had the keyboard. We were like drinkin’. It was like 12-15 friends and they were all cramped in. They was just playing and shit and they loved it. It was the best experience ever. It was the best crowd yet. They knew the fucking songs and afterwards they would tell me. “Oh man, one night that ‘Single Ladies’ song we were all getting drunk and everybody had to find out the lyrics and try to figure out the lyrics and shit.” And there’s parts in the song where you can’t really understand the shit. What was that part? So, it was good. It was real authentic.
You seem to like working with younger artists. Do you see yourself working with some veterans too?
Yeah, Foxy Brown. Nas. Lil Kim. Jay Z. I like New York. I really want to help New York. I like the veteran artists that they have. I feel like we can still get some true wisdom and gems on the tracks from them right now. And it don’t have to clubs and fucking shit, you know what I am saying? We just need those songs that mean something. Not just because a guy got killed in St. Louis and now I have to make a song that means something. It’s like, “C’mon guys.” I feel like that’s what they owe us. Those elder veterans that have been here and have put it down. That raised us. It’s their fault we out here bad as fuck. They didn’t leave enough wisdom! Tell them that. I’m out here and I’m looking for the wisdom from the elders so they can reach out to me and I got a good connection with the youth right now so if they want to get some messages that they really want to get across, they can holler at me. Before the damn flight takes off.
How would you describe your movement? It’s still small, but big at the same time.
Obviously, it’s a new wave. It’s always a big ass ocean out here. It’s always waves coming on shore, but here comes a new one. It’s like, “Oh, you see it? Oh, this is a good one. We should ride it.” ‘Cause one day it’s all going to be over. There’s gonna be another motherfucker that comes with a new wave and shit. Right now, I am just accepting the new wave and try to let this wave last until 2015-2020 as far as the music thing. And then after that, I move on to film and do a new wave.
At this point, does signing to a label make sense for you?
At the end of the day, I don’t know. I am a new team, but at the same time, I am part of a lot of teams. It’s the game that really needs help. It’s really not the teams. The teams are fine. I’m loyal to the game.
What is your game plan for the rest of the year?
We are about to drop new music, put out new artists. Link with the artists that already been here. Get on a few albums, drop songwriting on people’s albums. The game, you know, just take over the music industry and get some good music back out. Get some new, fresh talent out there and some shit that makes people excited and girls want to throw their damn panties on the stage. We want people to frenzy. We want people screaming and fucking pulling up with Makonnen tattoos and shit, you know? We want to bring that Beatles vibe. We want to bring that Woodstock, the Jimi Hendrix, all those great legends. It’s time for that reemerge of just awesomeness ‘cause it’s been boring and people have been sad. It’s time to celebrate. That’s what I am doing out here. I’m about to turn it up and have ‘em crazy. I want to bring that TRL, Times Square shit back where it is just outside and “Ahh!”