[Warner Bros.; 2016]
You’ve got to hand it to Makonnen. The dude has found a way to take trap music — an essentially fucked, grimey, claustrophobic approach to rap — and transform it into something like a lysergic fantasyland. Even as he dishes on all the same old shit (selling dope, hailing Gucci, “fucking yo bitch”), through his eyes, this lifestyle of hedonism becomes one big drug-induced laughing fit. He’s a boyish party animal with the soul of a crooner, and part of his charm is how willing he is to get down in a way that’s teary but also, like, not that big of a deal. iLoveMakonnen is a social type of artist, not so much a mysterious flirt as a welcoming host who does real work to make sure everybody is comfortable at his party.
And yet, it’s bizarre that, for how successful he’s been over the past few years, we still have precious few real-deal releases from the guy. Yeah, yeah, he’s been guesting like that kid you knew in high school who constantly jumped between cliques, perhaps adrift in their lack of a real crew (spoiler: me), but after his massive rise in 2014, all we got last year was an OVO EP that, besides having two total slappers (“Trust Me Danny” and “Where Your Girl At?” — HHHUUAAUGGH), felt mostly like a consolation prize. Oh yeah, we also got Drink More Water 5, a rad but random mixtape that read like a retreat from the limelight back into murkier, stranger, and, hey why not, wetter territory.
Drink More Water 6 is the couped-out flipside to 5: way heavier and funner all around, but also a bit redundant. For all his originality, Makonnen’s fairly content to trot out the same tropes from track to track (and mixtape to mixtape), and it’s hard not to get the feeling that he might be a bit stalled in his tracks right now in light of all the eyes currently on him. On “Solo,” he even laments, “I swear my album better drop this fall/ Don’t try to play me for another EP.” As much as Makonnnen may ride the wave of Dirty South’s great revival, for every undeniable banger he has, there’s about four or five serious downer tracks, and I can’t help but wonder what drives Makonnen to keep on trapping even as he constantly laments his own feelings of loneliness and frustration within the scene.
With that said, guy still knows how to go in. “UWONTEVA” is a splatter-paint summer-sixteener that only Makonnen could deliver, and “Sellin” totally hits at the goofy meaninglessness pioneered by longtime influence Lil B. Tracks like “Back Again” and “Want You” get at that perfect meeting of Makonnen’s lighter and darker sides that since “Tuesday” have, for whatever reason, become increasingly isolated from one another. Even “Big Gucci,” a slugger that worked way better as a standalone single than it does surrounded by two heavier hitters, is a friendly reminder of what a singular flow Makonnen possesses, swaying back and forth on the chorus with a confident kind of stoned clumsiness.
Even if there are more than a few moments on Drink More Water 6 that feel like obligatory retreads, there’s a lot to be said for iLoveMakonnen’s sheer charisma and for the immensely unique voice that he flaunts here more effortlessly than ever. His cadence and energy is entirely his own, and his resumé of genuinely forward-thinking jammers just keeps getting longer. But for all of this come-up, Makonnen’s potential still feels weirdly untapped, and only moreso with each consecutively inconsistent mixtape. He’s still lacking for a truly cohesive vision, and although I’m more than stoked to bump another episode of Drink More Water while we wait for the album, I hope that what’s coming fulfills all the promise of the project rather than continuing to leave us thirsty.
01. Back Again
03. Big Gucci
05. Want You
06. Turn Off The Lies
09. Live For Real
10. I Only Trip With U
11. Where I’m At
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