Little Richard Of The Trap
Everybody loves ATL's Makonnen
Words by Adrian Nuñez Photos by Diwang Valdez
It’s nearing 3 a.m. on a humid Georgia night, and Makonnen Sheran has his arms perched over his kinky afro, head to the heavens searching for the answer to a crucial question: “What am I gonna do about these dogs?” It is late July, 2014, approximately two weeks before Makonnen’s life changed forever. But right now, all he’s worried about is how his dogs will fare once he makes the move to New York City.
Nothing has been the same since Drake applied his Midas touch to the 25-year-old crooner’s underground banger “Club Going Up On A Tuesday” and posted the remix to OVO’s SoundCloud on August 12th. Makonnen has a feeling that all the negativity and chaos that led up to this moment are about to be dwarfed by the roller-coaster ride that lies ahead.
Before he flipped the script on turn-up schedules, Makonnen lived a different life, one that was forever changed when he caught a manslaughter charge stemming from an unfortunate occurrence the day after he graduated high school in 2007.
“I was young and hanging out with the wrong crowd,” says the ATL-born artist who spent most of his childhood in South Central L.A. before returning to Georgia for high school. As he recalls, he was about to smoke some weed with a few friends in his car. One of the friends became annoyed with Makonnen’s demands to get off his phone and pulled out a loaded gun, seemingly without reason. The other people in the car pleaded with the gunman to chill, and he fell back, placing the gun in his lap.
Makonnen then tried to remove the gun from his friend’s hand, but a struggle ensued, and the gun went off, firing a lone bullet which hit his friend in the head, killing him instantly. The cops deemed the death accidental. However, when his deceased friend’s mother returned to town, she caused enough ruckus to insinuate foul play, resulting in a warrant for young Makonnen’s arrest.
After a long trial, Makonnen spent four weeks in solitary confinement, followed by two years of house arrest—during which the pit bulls were his constant companions—and five years of probation. “It was depressing. I was being blamed for my friend’s death and the judicial system was trying to take my life away.”
In the confines of his own home, Makonnen sought refuge in his creativity. He started a blog dubbed “iLoveMakonnen,” on which he broadcasted his favorite music. He also spent hours playing the piano and making beats in his room. Because he was unknown, other artists were hesitant to jump on his beats, so Makonnen began singing and rapping on the tracks himself, developing a unique sound that stood apart from the surrounding Atlanta music scene.
In early 2014, however, his music began gaining traction. His projects Drink More Water 4 and I Love Makonnen displayed his voice floating over solid production from Metro Boomin and Sonny Digital with starkly contrasted Auto- Tuned hooks and hard-hitting bars.
Makonnen is a special type of hybrid. One can find hints of Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Barry White, Billy Joel, Biz Markie, Meatloaf, and Little Richard in his music. Abandoning all structure, his experimentation gave birth to an obscure brand of music that he now proudly calls his own. And his big personality shines through with each new track, be it rapping about flipping bricks on “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” singing about failed relationships on tracks like “Tonight,” or testifying to his love of drug culture on songs like “I Mix My.”
“Club Going Up On A Tuesday,” however, has become the anthem of the summer, overshadowing his previous efforts. Dronedout synthesizers play host to Makonnen’s high-pitched sing-songy flow, creating an unprecedented storm of buzz around the young vocalist.
“We’ve been joking about it for years– Drake’s gonna hop on one of the tracks and make us blow,” says Makonnen’s manager, Prestley Snipes, sitting in a white Chevy Impala cruising down I-75. Now that once wild prediction has come true, and Makonnen is the newest signee to Drake’s OVO imprint, writing joints for Miley Cyrus and other notable artists. These days his phone is constantly ringing with calls from potential collaborators and old friends coming out of the woodwork to rekindle relationships. Though Makonnen still wonders what he’s going to do with his dogs, they will most likely live a life of leisure in a crisp pad suitable for one of music’s newest and most exciting figures… a figure we can all thank for having changed the way we see Tuesdays forever.