The DIY Grind and L.A. Roots of Atlanta Rap Star Makonnen

ILoveMakonnen album art
ILoveMakonnen album art

[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, "Bizarre Ride," appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. Follow him on twitter and also check out his archives.]

Until two months ago, Tuesday was the most neglected day of the week. It lacked the queasy terror of Monday, the euphoric potential of the weekend; it couldn’t even trump Wednesday’s rebranding as “Hump Day.” ILoveMakonnen changed everything.

Even if the West Adams–raised, Atlanta-adopted rap crooner never records another song, he reformed the Gregorian calendar with the psychedelic slump “Club Going Up on a Tuesday.”

If you haven’t heard it or its Drake remix, it chronicles 25-year-old Makonnen Sheran getting stoned in a stonewashed denim vest, wearily sipping liquor in a club corner and issuing falsetto laments about house arrest and a 24/7 trapping schedule.

In tandem with another viral hit, “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” Makonnen was immediately hailed as the latest overnight sensation from Atlanta, a misclassification obscuring the lengthy grind and free EPs that eventually led to his signing to Drake’s OVO Sound imprint earlier this month.

“I’m the master of DIY. I did it out my room before Drake cared about a verse, before a producer cared about giving me a beat,” Makonnen says. “You don’t need million-dollar utensils to have million-dollar ideas. Just use what’s around you.”

He’s speaking from a car parked outside of his mother’s house in Atlanta. The home’s sale is imminent and Makonnen is filled with nostalgia as he memorializes it as the place where he did “so much legendary work.”

It has been his permanent residence since he first moved to Atlanta to live with his mother in late 2001. Before that, Makonnen lived with his father and a constantly rotating cast of characters on the same Gramercy Place block where Marvin Gaye got shot.

Constant troubles eventually sparked his Southern odyssey.

“I was skipping school for months, having hood rat bitches over who would steal money. I was into music, drugs, alcohol, cellphones, technology, sex. All the shit that they don’t want you to be into, but you are,” Makonnen says. “Then I got ratchet in Atlanta. Jeezy came out and suddenly everyone wanted to trap. I lost so many friends to the trap.”

An incident after his high school graduation rerouted the trajectory of his life. Set to enlist in the Air Force, in 2010 Makonnen was involved in a tussle for a gun, which accidentally went off and killed a friend. Makonnen was sentenced to two years on house arrest.

Unable to leave home, Makonnen started a blog dedicated to music, film and other pop culture ephemera. He also started making hauntingly screwball piano ballads, which split the difference between based rap and Brandon Flowers from The Killers.

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After the detention ended, he frequently traveled to New York and L.A., performing solo and with the band Phantom Posse. His cousin is ethereal local underground producer Dream Panther.

“We were just doing underground cult ceremonies, really,” Makonnen says.

The Drake co-sign helped, as did Miley Cyrus’ Instagram assertion that she was his Makonnen’s No. 1 fan.

But the songs from June’s eponymous EP evidence gifts that extend beyond hype: The narcotic melodies and melancholy narratives make him closer to a young Morrissey than merely this year’s model.

Future theoretical plans include collaborations with Vampire Weekend, Cyrus and Drake, Broadway musicals, his own water company, finding an heiress, opening at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade, a penthouse on New York’s Upper East Side and helping humanity.

“I want to make music that inspires people to keep pushing through,” Makonnen says. “I’m not out here to be the most famous or the next Liberace with diamond toenails. I just want to help people and shine a light where it needs to be shined.”

ILoveMakonnen performs Sat., Sept. 27 at Jewel's Catch One in Mid-Wilshire with James Ferraro and Dream Panther. Tickets available here. 

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