Year after year, successive generations of internet rap further confirm that iLoveMakonnen is an originator. Hyperpop and digicore artists get praised for mashing together rap with other genres on a whim; Makonnen was making songs that sounded like Gucci Mane and MGMT in 2011. Mario Judah goes viral for crooning over rap beats like an opera singer; Makonnen did that in 2014. “Panini” by Lil Nas X—everything by Lil Nas X, to be honest—feels indebted to Makonnen’s bubbly melodies and vocal approach.
Makonnen’s version of internet rap was unlike anyone before him. His early Drink More Water tapes, largely self-produced, were strange and muddy and gripped by a deep curiosity, full of sketches of rap, electro-pop, and indie rock. On paper, they looked like the work of a hitmaker, which is why the industry took interest in him. But after “Tuesday,” and after signing with Drake’s OVO Sound in 2014, Makonnen largely receded from the spotlight—partly because his music was always too weird for radio, partly because labels never cared to invest in him. It didn’t help that most of his star rap collaborators distanced themselves after he came out as a gay man in 2017. (It’s telling that just a couple years later, the Black online teen who hit No. 1 with “Old Town Road” was more embraced by fans and the industry for coming out.)
Maybe Makonnen just needed to escape from all that noise. He did in real life, moving to Portland, Oregon in 2016, and now he’s done so artistically. After a near-decade with Warner, he’s gone and started his own label and released his first independent album, My Parade. It’s a natural continuation and refinement of the styles he’s grown fond of over the years, with a little less rapping and a little more singing. Makonnen rarely compromises his vision, sequencing warbling rap songs alongside the indie rock and folk experiments he’s toyed with for a decade. These are some of his most fleshed-out ideas, and the results are consistently joyous. The single “Whoopsy” lurches around synthetic flutes and 808s and Makonnen yelps the title, sounding like a siren, before passing it off to a rapper named Payday who demolishes her verse.
On “Whoopsy” and elsewhere, Makonnen demonstrates his knack for rolling words around and making them sound three-dimensional. His elastic, buoyant voice transforms relatively mundane phrases into mantras. He could just tell you he’s sexy, but he’d rather squeal “I’m2sexyI’m2sexyI’m2HOT!”, the syllables floating overhead like loosed balloons.
Makonnen tends to throw everything at the wall, which usually leads to a few duds. But on My Parade, he moves briskly through styles. He’s a bit more reserved, which makes the record smoother than some of his mixtape work, but it also leads to greyer stretches, or staid rap cuts like “So Saucy” and “Whip It Harder” where he isn’t doing much. He thankfully follows those up with the yawning “Bad Bitch With a Stutter,” a glacial club record made warmer by its ridiculous, self-evident premise.
The thing is, “Bad Bitch With a Stutter” is also a song about longing, and longing is Makonnen’s wellspring—no one is better at injecting funny, meandering songs with heart and humanity. On his indie rock and folk numbers, Makonnen writes in big, theatrical flourishes. “You could be ‘cross the ocean, somewhere in the blue/ I’ll be all alone searching for you,” he warbles on the gorgeous “If It’s Cool,” which saunters at the pace of a Tame Impala song. These are ideas he might’ve tried on past tapes, but here they’re full-bodied, aided by stronger beats and cleaner mixes.
The range of production allows Makonnen to express himself better and open up more, like on the grungy title track, where he acknowledges all the hardship that’s come his way over the years: the deaths of some of his closest friends, the hearts he’s shattered, the living hell that is working for someone who doesn’t care about you. It’s sad but also defiant, a moment of agency: “Why should I keep waiting around if it’s just gon’ be raining now?” My Parade takes that line to heart and grins wide in response. The DNA and doll head are still there, but Makonnen’s older, surer of himself, freer than ever.
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