iLoveMakonnen was one of 2014’s biggest musical success stories. “Tuesday,” as strange as it was undeniable, became a hit, landing this rapper/warbler a deal with Drake‘s label OVO Sound. That was one of several inspired Makonnen moments from last year, along with “Wishin’ You Well” — which featured a sitar sample and an unusual, intoxicating cadence — and a verse on Father‘s “Look At Wrist.”
Today, March 31, Makonnen released Drink More Water 5, his first mixtape of new material since his sudden ascent. DMW5 is the latest in a series; past editions contained “Maneuvering” and an early version of “I Don’t Sell Molly No More” both of which ended up on the artist’s biggest release to date, the I Love Makonnen EP. But the circumstances are different: now that Makonnen has a deal and a hit on his resume, he’s no longer an underdog. The instant you make the leap from one of hip-hop’s strange edges to pop’s mainstream, the scrutiny is different, especially in the hyper-fast internet world. Failure gets people excited too, and this can be tough for a young artist used to throwing beats together pressure-free in his or her basement.
None of that seems to have impacted Makonnen’s behavior. In typical Atlanta style, he releases music at a rapid pace. Already in 2015, you can find him on two new Rome Fortune tracks (one reappears on DMW5), Gucci Mane‘s “Cash Cash,” the French DJ Brodinski‘s recent album, Brava, and “I Like Tuh,” a visceral collaboration with DJ Carnage that shows Makonnen — known mostly for the laid-back, syrupy aspect of his catalog — at his most explosive.
Some releases represent a leap forward for an artist, while others serve to solidify their current standing; both types are important, and DMW5 falls into the second category. You’ll find piano-man-Makonnen, singing in the stream-of-conscious, out-of-tune style that few artists are brave enough to attempt. You’ll also encounter freestyle-Makonnen, rambling away without a hook in sight. For the sake of continuity, Migos and Rich The Kid stop by to remix DMW4‘s “Whip It.”
“Super Clean,” which has been floating around the Internet for a while now, is the track that points towards a possible new path — this is the work of an artist clearly interested in playing with electronic music and faster tempos. Look at his non-rap collaborators: in addition to Brodinski and DJ Carnage, Diplo and Skrillex will reportedly assist with the forthcoming Makonnen full-length effort. While these artists favor hefty, pummeling textures, “Super Clean” stays light as a feather, with an airy synth and a skeletal beat.
But Makonnen’s tone — which is often quavery and purposefully maddeningly ambiguous about where it wants to land — blends especially well with its polar opposite: a beat with the force and determination of a sledgehammer. That’s found on “No Ma’am,” as a keyboard loop and a thunderous rattle mingle with Makonnen’s percussive gargle. Is he worried about 2015? No Ma’am.