Water No Get Enemy: The Triumphant Return of ILoveMakonnen

The Club continues to go up.
By    April 2, 2015


To paraphrase Rip Torn: Makonnen is a crooner working in the rap medium, which I like. After a decade of trap, in which the insular Atlanta dope soundtrack became co-opted by European dopes and evolved into de facto rap party music, it’s amazing that no one beat Makonnen to the bando player piano. At his best, he’s a balladeer singing street liturgies — the joy of being able to escape for a few hours on a weekday night, the beauty of being able to tell your mom that you’ve moved past penitentiary temptations, the instructional knowledge of how to properly whip it. Rap game Devo?

More like rap game Morrissey, absorbing the lessons of the British misanthrope second-hand — via Brandon Flowers of The Killers. Makonnen once told me that that’s his real father, and you can hear the lineage in the lovelorn pleas. But whereas Flowers reveals the theatrical glam of Las Vegas, Makonnen has battle-scarred stress disorder from the Atlanta shadows. It gives his songs a unique balance of romantic sentimentality and cold-blooded excess. When you pair that with his imperfect hyper-emotional warble, it produces the sort of originality you rarely see.

We’re amidst an era when most singers auto-tone their voice to the point of oblivion. It’s alternately my favorite production flourish and my least favorite. Future uses auto-tune like it was a bazooka welded to his arm. Many others use it as a crutch. Makonnen’s voice isn’t conventionally strong. It seems permanently on the verge of cracking, ready to exhaust itself and collapse at any moment. But there’s a bizarre beauty to it that he understands how to maximize. It transforms his songs from well-written drug sagas into your friend Makonnen belting melodies that curve and slur, drop their head on the bar and pop up with a beaming smile.

People mistakenly pegged Makonnen as a one-hit wonder and admittedly, it’s difficult to top “Tuesday.” The Drake assist and his ability to completely revolutionize an entire day in the Gregorian calendar aren’t the kind of thing you can easily repeat. But Makonnen is for real. The melodies are too strong. The ability to tap into internal uncertainty comes too naturally. His latest tape, Drink More Water 5 blends all these strengths, adds Migos, Gucci Mane, and Rome Fortune, and amounts to 11 more dynamite sticks and dirges to keep the house booming.

There are minor moments of major beauty — the hook on “No Ma’am,” where telling his mom that he isn’t trapping feels particularly heartwarming. The moaning piano coda at the end of “Get Loose With Me.” They remind you that he’s a fully formed troubadour, touching on the sadness and joy that make us fully human. And when you can sprinkle serotonin and sorrow in equal measure, you have the necessary ingredients.

ZIP: ILoveMakonnen — Drink More Water 5 (Left-Click)


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