When people who experienced the beginnings of rap, in the late 70's and early 80's, are asked about them, many confess that they hadn't realized, at first, that this was a brand new kind of music. What they heard sounded like a declination of funk, or disco, not a musical genre per se. And nowadays, it seems that rap itself has reached the same point. Now that it is giving way to sing-song, especially in Atlanta, its current capital city, some wonder if rap should still be called the same. Listening to artists like ILoveMakonnen, indeed, this question sounds legitimate.


Self-released :: 2014 :: download mixtape

Makonnen Sheran's background, though, is typical of rap music. He grew up surrounded by violence, and he faced legal problems of his own when, accidentally, he killed a friend with a gun. Like many rappers, he started his career with the release of mixtapes, by the early 2010's. Later on, he started collaborating with Mike Will Made It, and in 2014, his greatest year, he frequented some other Atlanta producers: Metro Boomin became a fan, followed by Sonny Digital, 808 Mafia and DJ Spinz. Thanks to these people, Makonnen became a bit more visible, first with the Drink More Water 4 mixtape, and then with the free EP I Love Makonnen. Two of ILoveMakonnen's songs indeed, "I Don't Sell Molly No More" and "Club Goin' Up on a Tuesday", would be praised by celebrities like Miley Cyrus and Drake. The latter would remix the second track, and ask the rapper to join his OVO Sound label, where a revised version of the EP would be released.

Let's have a look at the first version, ILoveMakonnen's true manifesto – nothing significant, indeed, would be added to the other, except maybe the great "Swerve". This EP still had some rap tracks, and more particularly trap music ones. Such was the case with "I Don't Sell Molly No More", a great song where Makonnen opened his pharmacy. And elsewhere, the rapper was taking things were others had left them: Drake, with his vulnerable raps; Young Thug, in his craziest and most possessed times; and Lil B, an overt influence, for his ability to create a world of his own. ILoveMakonnen, though, went further from any of them.

And also, he sang for real. Beyond rap, his music was influenced by pop, rock, R&B or club music. He had odd melodies, frail and effeminate ones, delivered in an awkward way, sometimes with a falsetto or, on the opposite, with a deep voice, on songs like "Too Much", "Meant to Be" or, even more visibly, on "Sarah". ILoveMakonnen, actually, looked like a wannabe opera singer rehearsing in his shower. In his big Teddy bear mode, he talked mostly about love pains, and ex-girlfriends arming his heart, often in a nightclub context. With a wounded voice, he was shameful about their unfaithfulness, or his own, like with "Meant to Be".

His sensitive and dysfunctional side was not only underlined by his weird and shaky songs, but also by his posture and looks. In rap's macho world, this guy had a strange passion for doll heads. Trained as a beautician, he enjoyed painting them with some insane and unsettling make-up. Nothing was usual, rap was no longer in its comfort zone, with I Love Makonnen. Everything was unexpected, especially the efficiency of his best songs, almost all excellent. After Drake made him famous, rap fans couldn't agree about him. Some loved him, and others hated him, which is always a good omen. It demonstrated that rap music had entered its next era; that we had moved into something new. And newness is always exciting.

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