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ILoveMakonnen Gets The Club Goin' Up in New York: Live Review

iLoveMakonnen
Josh Brasted/WireImage

iLoveMakonnen performs at the Buku Music + Arts Festival at Mardi Gras World on March 14, 2015 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 

A tall, brolic white kid with full-sleeve tattoos, saggy jeans, baseball cap and gold grill in his mouth anxiously paces back and forth on a darkened sidewalk, looking for trouble. Seconds later, in a twisted bit of fate, he's knocked out cold on the concrete, the victim of a devastating right hand sucker punch and a punishing stomp to his face. His assailant runs off, camera phones pop out and a crowd of twenty-somethings silently wonder if he's dead. "Will this be on Worldstar tomorrow?" one mutters. People laugh, the kid finally wakes up and the party continues.

iLoveMakonnen Releases New 'Drink More Water 5' Mixtape

This is the deceptively-dangerous vibe that the accompanies an ILoveMakonnen concert. In October the Atlanta-bred hybrid singer/rapper was attacked on stage at the nightclub S.O.B.'s while performing his hit song "Tuesday," and though someone else was clearly the victim outside the venue Tuesday night -- the first stop on the Loudest of the Loud tour -- maybe the music had something to do with it. New York's Bowery Ballroom is a 575-person capacity venue and it can often seem even smaller than it actually is, because under the booming assault of skittering 808 drums and catchy shout-along choruses, it occasionally felt like it was being shook by the hand of God. ILoveMakonnen gets the people going.

Though he is wildly popular online and has performed one-off shows since a Drake remix turned "Tuesday" from a fringe favorite to a bona fide smash last summer, this is the 25-year-old's inaugural headlining tour and at times it showed. Dressed in a white T-shirt and white jeans, hair pulled back and tied in a small bun, thin gold chains lining his portly neck, he ran through a series of his more celebrated mixtape cuts ("Swerve," "Man of the Party," "21st Street" and "Hold Up"), dropped an occasional track he'd been featured on (Gucci Mane's "Cash Cash," Father's "Young Hot Ebony") and served up favorites ("No Ma'am," and "Dodging 12") from the recently released mixtape Drink More Water 5.

ILoveMakonnen Performs 'Tuesday' on TV for the First Time

With DMC of Run DMC looking on from the mezzanine ("I brought my son," he said), Makonnen was engaging, energetic, deft and nothing if not entertaining. The crowd, a mixed bag of mostly-male, post-collegiate, multicultural millennials looking for meaning, molly and more at a rap show -- "I just want to do cocaine with Makonnen," one man said. They eagerly shoulder-leaned, flailed their arms to the song "Wrist" and eventually turned into one giant, sweaty mess. But confined to a small stage and backed only by elder statesmen DJ Green Lantern, Makonnen at times appeared caged-in, like he didn't have enough space to really move. And while he's more singer than rapper, his voice seemingly stuck in a gentle, affecting blues scale, here it felt like he was propped up more by atmosphere than virtuosity. Luther Vandross, he is not.

However, that's not a total slight. Like his audience, Makonnen is young and the Bowery Ballroom is not a particularly intimate environment, nor on this tour is it supposed to be. The opener, Key!, offers his own brand of off-kilter charm and packaged together, they are apt to cash in on the exploding interest in this weirdly-original, minimalist, stream-of-consciousness Southern music movement. Makonnen's biggest hit, "Tuesday" drew an immediate reaction, but it felt no more frenetic in that moment than in any during the brisk 45-minute set. The club went up on a Tuesday, and then it just kept going.