At Bibble & Sip in the midtown section of New York City, ILoveMakonnen walks in dressed in all red with dark black shades on, fitting since his nickname is the Red Dragon. There’s a glow about him as he enters the coffee shop, but he quickly exits to smoke weed before the conversation starts. He sits down on a brown bench outside and surveys the area around him, looking out for any police officers before he takes a deep inhale of his blunt. At that moment, the rapper begs to unwind. A few minutes later, a McHale’s Bar & Grill employee politely asks him to smoke down the street because the weed is too loud and their windows are open.
As he walks down the street, Makonnen vents about the lack of self-preservation and growth in today’s youth, the hip-hop industry and its hypocrisy plus life after his weight loss while bystanders return to their office after lunch. It’s evident that he’s confident in himself but also worried about where the next generation is heading.
2015 was pretty interesting for the Atlanta native. He moved to New York, lost a ton of weight and released two projects (Drink More Water 5 in March and ILoveMakonnen 2 EP in November). Since “Tuesday” and signing to OVO Sound, Makonnen hasn’t changed. He’s still dropping records of his own accord and marching to the beat of his own drum. Because of this, from the outside looking in, it appeared that his relationship with OVO and Drake is shaky. However, Mak has vehemently denied this claim and stated that he can’t change who he is or how he works.
“You got to make them labels want it,” he told XXL. “The label wanted me, my structure and the shit I was doing. They didn’t want no muthafucka who is just going to join the factory line so in case Makonnen is sick they had an early replacement. No, once Makonnen is out here, ain’t no replacements, nigga. That’s how it should be for all artists who want to join the music industry. Don’t be replaced, nigga.”
Throughout the hour-long conversation with XXL, Makonnen candidly discusses what’s wrong with the youth, homophobia in hip-hop, life after losing weight and why we all need to be stronger, mentally and physically. Honesty is his best policy.
XXL: How was 2015 for you?
ILoveMakonnen: 2015 was crazy, a lot of traveling and a lot of meeting new people. It was a whirlwind really.
Musically, XXL loves where you’re at. What space do you think you’re in right now?
I don’t know right now, I’m just trying to be myself, get back to myself and do stuff that I feel like is connecting with me and the people I see out here that’s living in real life. I just go out and travel and observe and subconsciously write songs and when I get to the studio I freestyle it out over beats. It’s all about shit I observe for however long. That’s just really how I do it. Musically I’m just whatever the world is right now. I’m just trying to be a part of the world, being in the world.
When you say musically you’re trying to be yourself, who is yourself?
ILoveMakonnen, Red Dragon, just making music without thinking, damn is this going to go off in the clubs? Is Drake going to jump on this and remix this? Is Lil Wayne going to want to fuck with this? Is Kanye going to want to play some drums on this? None of that, I just go back to myself. Like, nigga does Makonnen fuck with this? I know the drums are trash ’cause that’s how I like it. So if I fuck with it 100 percent, lets rock it, I get on stage and perform it as is. That’s getting back to me.
Did you feel that you lost yourself before?
Not really. I just find myself starting to do little shit for a check because I’m in this music business and the shit is a business. I was fooling around trying shit, even though, artistically, 100 percent, it was ILoveMakonnen for artistic shit; I really didn’t want to do that. But that’s how you kinda lose yourself a little bit, artistically.
You performed at No Fun three years ago in New York City when “Tuesday” originally came out. What are some of the things you learned about the music industry since then and what are some of the things you hate and love?
Some things I learned is you got to want this for yourself. It’s definitely a business and you need to be business-minded. Don’t come in here thinking about some friends and taking a whole bunch of pictures of Instagram likes. This is a music business, industry, and if you wan to be really successful out here, that’s how you need to treat it. Some shit I learned is you really can’t count on nobody but your goddamn self. That’s some shit I always knew. But I just had to go ahead and see if that lesson was still true out here in the music industry and it is. You got to count on yourself, you got to be up, get in contact with them folks. A nigga would say, “Hey, what’s up,” give you the contacts but if you don’t initiate it, they won’t initiate it. He be the VP at Warner [Records] or some major label, if you don’t hit them up, say I got this and I got that, they won’t hit you up. It’s a business.
You got to want this business. As far as the artistry goes, it’s been watered down and dead to me. A lot of imitation going on and trying to say that they are inspired by another but they really aren’t; they really just trying to imitate that person’s sound and watering it down and make it sound more than half bad. A real inspiration is you getting inspired by whoever that artist was and going to do you, do your real true stuff and not trying to sound and imitate somebody else. Not trying to talk about what everybody else is talking about. You’re just doing you. That’s what real rap is about and I feel like it’s just totally missing.
And hopefully I can be the new face of rap and help reignite the flame that it’s missing. A lot of these kids got it all wrong. They just want to be standing on the magazine cover so they can have whatever little famous girls or whoever is running around with a whole bunch of Instagram likes and shit to come around them so they can post pictures. It’s a whole bunch of flexing, frontin’ and fake shit going on and this is not what real hip-hop is about, nigga. All these niggas flexin’ about their designer clothes that’s really bootleg and fake and they really don’t know the designer and I can vouch for none of that bullshit, so miss me with all that. They don’t even know what they wearing.
One thing about hip-hop and rap that really gets on my nerve is that they got so much shit to say about gays, lesbians and so anti-gay, all that is just a lot of shit where they want to say faggot and gay bashing. All these designers that y’all are spending on are the gayest niggas in the world. And if you don’t know that you’re the dumbest niggas in the world. So y’all need to stop saying all that gay this, gay that like it’s something wrong with that shit when your bitch ass feels better about themselves in this gay designer shoes or this gay designer clothes. So you going to be bashing gay people, you know what I’m saying? I’m here to break all that bullshit. I may not personally be gay but I got gay friends and people on earth that do what the fuck they do and they need to be accepted as well.
Even though you’re a major artist, you still very much act like an indie artist.
Definitely, ’cause at the end of the day you got to be yourself. If a nigga is having a party somewhere and you having a party at the same time, they need to be at your party. That’s how you want. If you don’t want it like that don’t join this. Stay on the Vine and the Twitters and the forums. Make your ass a forum website, get some goddamn ads on there and start making money off of your shit. Other than that you just are wasting your money. You’re wasting your momma Internet connection or your daddy’s, ’cause your ass ain’t paying for it. You know if you were really paying for it, you won’t have no time to be online talking about nobody else and their fuckshit. That’s who you know who’s a fuckperson already.
How much has your image been focused on your weight loss? Before and after, how did people treat you?
People start treating you differently. A lot of people are very vain; the whole Hollywood industry is about the outer image. Before I was so-called “overweight” or wasn’t the standard of American beauty or attractiveness, people looked at me a little different. Now since I lost weight and got all fit, now they all on me; they showing they true colors. My image, this is me. I accepted me when I was fat and overweight, I fuck up a 20-piece from Wingstop right now, the same as I would when “Molly” came out and the little ice cream truck in Atlanta fuckin’ with Father and all of them.
I’m the same person. But these people out here, they are not real. Just be real with yourself. This is me, I didn’t get no surgery, I didn’t spend all my little two cents on no damn liposuction and all that bullshit that’s being put in the fuckin’ media on how to lose weight. I lost weight the natural way, god and the universe is my motherfucking plastic surgeon, nigga. All the information has been inside of us all, nigga. Stop eating that bullshit. Wake up, drink some water, do some push ups, go for a walk and build your mind. It ain’t hard, but y’all muthafuckas is so lazy out here you want a nigga to put it in a goddamn book or some shit. Don’t be mad when I charge your ass a thousand dollars a copy, the shit is free [laughs]. It’s free information inside yourself. Watch how many muthafuckas buy the copy.
Are you happy?
I am happy. I’m happy with myself. Right now what stressing me is the mindset of the world and young people. It’s a crisis going on out here and muthafuckas don’t even notice. The crisis is in us. Y’all too caught up in these phones, technologies. You always ready for a goddamn Snapchat update, Twitter update, iOS update, but nigga you ain’t updated. Take some time to power yourself up. Y’all need to start drinking some water. Y’all need to stop eating so many damn foods that’s going to have you lazy and put you in a bad attitude. It might taste good but all that sugary and salty shit isn’t good for your mind and body. Y’all need to start learning this now while you’re young before your 58 years old and needing a kidney replacement, goddamn pills with all these side effects and shit and can’t even enjoy life no more. Take care of yourself now.
We’ve got to do better and get back into our mind body and soul and update ourselves or we not going to be ready for the new world. Shit is changing. We all should be fit; we all shouldn’t be overweight. Y’alll talking overweight like it’s a goddamn average thing; it’s really not. I’ve been around the world and we are really abusing it the most here in America, we not conscious of the climate change and what’s really going on. Y’all really don’t care about the paradises we have left anyway, but it ain’t going to be none left.
If you want to listen to some rap shit. If you want to listen to some of the realest shit on earth then holla at Makonnen because what I’m telling is what you need to hear. Fuck about a nigga going to Supreme and standing in line to buy a shirt so a bitch ass nigga can think I’m cool. Fuck all that shit. Y’all need to be goddamn working out, training your body, get some more outside activity, turn that phone off and leave it in the house. Go run out there and sing your own damn song. That’s what the fuck we need to be on.
Other than that, stop hanging out with me. I done did al the ‘shrooms. I done did all the fuckin’ drugs. Y’all don’t need to see nobody about doing no drugs; I don’t even do that shit no more like that. If it ain’t about uplifting ourselves, I don’t want to be a part of it. Fuck hangin’ out, I’ve done hanged out enough. I’ve seen too many of my friends die, to these streets, to jealousy, to all this fuckery shit that’s going on in here. We got no time for that shit no more. That’s what hip-hop needs right now and if I’m going to be the new face of hip-hop, this is the shit I’m going to be goddamn speaking, state of the union shit; this what y’all got to be hearing.
Lil Wayne and all of them, they did their thing for us already but y’all ain’t even listening to them no more. It’s fucked up y’all don’t respect muthafuckas. If Lil Wayne came out and try to say we need to do this, do that, y’all ain’t even listening because y’all so wishy-washy in this game. Y’all respected a nigga for a 100 years and y’all drop his ass off in a month. Then want to bash a nigga, then when they die you come out the woodwork and showing your tattoos for a nigga and T-shirts and talking about how much a nigga positivity changed your life.
But right now if you look online I’m sure it’s some bashing going on on rappers that’s still alive. It’s fucked up. I made them same mistakes as being young and fucked up in my little situations before I‘m old enough to know that a nigga need to fix them mistakes. If I can tell another young muthafucka out there “Hey, this is what I’m telling you” other than that I ain’t shit if I’m up here and keeping it going. Niggas think it’s cool to let yourself go, it’s not. We all got the same amount of potential; we all come from so much more. But we out here settling.
Is that where the Drink More Water concept from your tapes comes from?
It came from my mom. She’s vegan and all that and when I was in Atlanta, she’s always like “Drink more water, drink more water.” It’s something that’s stuck in my head. Then I start going out on the scene partying with real drug users and abuser and it’s like you need to drink more water to survive. So I’m like, okay let me go ahead and bring both messages.
Everything you’re saying makes sense. Where do you think the youth should be?
We need to all be more physically and mentally stronger. We need to accept ourselves. That’s important because a lot of these parents are trying to relive their youth themselves. It’s fucked up, if the kid got to start raising themselves in this day and age, if your parents didn’t leave you with the fucking tools, god left your ass with tools to be the best damn human on earth. All the shit is inside yourself take some time and be with yourself and learning about yourself. We are making too many excuses about ourselves and why we can’t be the best on earth right now. And that’s with all humans. Education is key. It’s been looked at on some dumb shit and it’s not. Niggas don’t want to be in school but want to bout trappin’. But where your ass trappin’ too? The jailhouse. We need to start doing something else.
What do you want to do this year?
I want to be the face of hip-hop. I want to be the artist of the year. I want to be out here setting the new standard.