Smoking Up Backstage With iLoveMakonnen

“Can you light one of those up?” 

We’re in the greenroom with iLoveMakonnen at Mack Sennett Studios for his performance at Red Bull’s 30 Days in LA. It’s 20 minutes before show time. Before I can ask my first question, he overhears one of his friends debating on whether or not to spark up yet, and kindly asks him to do so. That’s LA life for Makonnen: big smoking, PCH coasting. It seems pretty good.

Makonnen, named after the last royal family of Ethiopia, is an African American, Indian, Irish, Belgian, German, and Chinese rapper ushered in by the Internet era, who both looks and sounds very current–he has some style. The 26-year-old was born and raised mostly in Los Angeles before moving to Atlanta, where after his mother bought him a keyboard, he started making beats. It’s been a decade since he started playing around in his living room, and in the intervening years, Makonnen sold weed, did a stint in cosmetology school (is he the first official male beautician/rapper?), and recorded hundreds and hundreds of songs. 

But for many, he’s still mostly associated with last year’s massive hit “Club Goin’ Up On A Tuesday”–the music video alone has amassed almost 115 million views on YouTube. People may mistake him for a one-hit wonder, but tracks like “I Don’t Sell Molly No More” and “Swerve” are bangers as well. He’s definitely going to live to see another “Tuesday.”

Eight months later, in his hometown, the visibly slimmer rapper delivered one of the most energetic performances I’ve seen from any artist in a long time. He managed to command a huge stage by himself, rapping and singing with no breaks, and executing never ending stage aerobics and dance moves. Back in Atlanta, Makonnen learned how to freestyle whole tracks in just one take, and the practice has clearly paid off.  Before he hit the stage, we found out what what’s actually on Makonnen’s wrist, his love for Taylor Swift, and how even though he doesn’t sell molly anymore, it hasn’t exactly disappeared from his life. 

Before all of this, you were in cosmetology school—what was your reason behind that?

I was on house arrest and I had to do something with my time. It was the best thing to do to be away from jail and my mom is a nail instructor, so I was already accustomed to going up to the school. I knew a lot of the teachers there and it was just a family environment; it wasn’t too odd for me.

How have those skills come in handy in your current career?

I get to do my hair and others at times. A lot of times, I’ll do my own hair because on the road I won’t have a barber or stylist–so it’s good to learn how to take care of and groom yourself.

Who’s your #1 fan?

I think my mom. For sure.

Who’s your top 5?

Kanye West, Tupac, Lady Gaga, Prince, and The Beach Boys.

On a scale of 1 to Drake, how sensitive of a rapper are you?

Hmm. Two.

Drake was one of the first artists to co-sign you. Who would be your dream artist to collaborate with?

Taylor Swift.

What do you wear on your wrist?

Bracelets from Nepal. And artist bands.

What’s the most memorable time you took Molly?

Probably just now, before this show. [Laughs]

All photography by Luke Lovell

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