ALBUM REVIEW: ILOVEMAKONNEN / Yellow Trash Can, Everything Is Trash
Updated: Feb 18
Whether you know it or not, the Atlanta-based ILoveMakonnen is partly responsible for the musical landscape we have today. Whether through his collaborations with Mike-Will-Made-It or the late Lil Peep throughout the 2010s, or by being the first subject of Drake’s snatch-and-grab flip campaigns (“Tuesday”), he has proven himself to be one of the more unappreciated songwriters in the field of hip-hop and R&B. The production and hedonistic style of “I Don’t Sell Molly No More” and “Flippin All Night” was SoundCloud rap before that was even a concept. Do you really think there would be a Lil Pump, SmokePurpp, Famous Dex or even a Playboi Carti without Makonnen first busting open the gate? Makonnen, like his frequent collaborator Lil B, is a truly unhinged outsider creative that has never been afraid to drop what he wants, when he wants. Considering that aspect of his personality, it’s very interesting that he never released a full length debut album until 2021. My Parade felt like a real change for him, moving away from his old commercial sound and toward ‘90s acoustic rock (“My Parade”), funk (“If It’s Cool”) and more dramatic piano-led trap (“I Can See It In Your Eyes”). With the help of guitar wizard Peter Laliach and a handful of under the radar producers, he brought his vision of his artistry to a more clear light. After influencing so much of what we listen to, My Parade was a welcome departure away from the blinding lights of the mainstream.
Before moving into speaking on what I consider to be his best project so far, I want to point out that Makonnen came out as gay in 2017. It was a brave decision for him, especially in a culture of hip-hop that is both toxically masculine and homophobic. He received a lot of support and praise, but also some notable hate from ignorant artists and hip-hop heads. Regardless, my point is that Makonnen is a fearless trailblazer in more ways than one. On his second full length album, he goes full based and doubles down on everything that makes him unique, whether that be his sexuality, off-the-cuff writing style or keen ear for interesting production. Drifting away from both the trap sounds of Atlanta and the emo rap of Los Angeles, Makonnen is continuing to help put his current city of Portland on the map with the local duo Yellow Trash Can. The singles preceding this record were unlike anything I’d ever heard in rap before, especially “My Girl Trans”. In the hands of a dumber, lesser artist, this song’s message would’ve been fumbled and bordered on fetishization. But Makonnen is nothing if not a risk taker, and I’d be damned if I said he didn’t absolutely nail this concept. Even trans pop deconstructionist and trans icon Arca praised the track on her Instagram story, and when Arca gives the seal of approval, you know you’re doing something right. It just does such an excellent job at normalizing trans existence, threading in trap drums, and classic brags about throwing cash along with lines like “And they know I’m big gay, all up in the USA,” and “my girl trans!”
“Yeah Yeah Yeah” was another slamming single that got me excited for the record. The sultry, pensive way that Makonnen raps just points to a general, all-inclusive sexual energy that really works. “Fuck you, fuck you all night, yeah yeah yeah,” he sings on the chorus, backed by some excellent guitar and bass work that gives the track this pretty ‘80s glam punk energy. While other cuts like “Fuck Yeah” also draws from rock music, it’s really the diversity on the production end that makes this album exciting for me. Take the Drain Gang-influenced “Tell Me What You Mad For” or the high-BPM banger “Pretty” with Matt Ox for example. This digital bath of synth sound is perfect for Makonnen’s unique vocal timbre and content, it’s fun just like him. The latter cut, “Pretty” might just be my favorite on the record. It has this crystal clear rave-ready beat to it and the best Matt Ox performance I’ve heard in my life. While Makonnen raps about roller skating down the block and being a “pretty bitch”, the beat supports him and elevates his sound to new heights. THIS SHIT IS JUST SO FUCKING COLORFUL! The following “Show It Off” has one of the more structured choruses I’ve heard from him in a while, it’s this runway strut of a pop song that encourages everyone listening to be a bad bitch. “Fuck me hard, love me, take me to the spaceship” he sings, as if he’s directing a scene. As if we didn’t get enough new ideas, “Buggin” is a Chicago 2-step callback that reminds me of something DJ Rashad would’ve mixed up, complete with looped and chopped vocals.
After the way he was put through the wringer by major labels and judged early on for embracing his gay identity, it is really beautiful to see him making music for himself and his core fanbase. This album not being promoted too much is a small price to pay, because once you find it, it’s really hard not to be at least partially captivated by it. Makonnen is moving in bold directions towards a sound that has never really been done in rap and R&B before, one that gravitates more towards hyperpop than hip-hop. Makonnen, if you’re reading this I have a suggestion for you. I know that your new album Gay Icon is coming next (first of all, great fucking title) and I’m excited to hear it. Keep this sound, keep writing the way you write, don’t change a thing. BUT, set a release date, get some big magazines like Paper, Interview, Office, etc. to do press beforehand and for the love of God, get Hannah Diamond to do a photoshoot. You are a gem and deserve to have your essence captured by her. Thank you, that is all. Everything Is Trash is a great time, and I can’t wait to review whatever you got coming next!