At one point during a Vice Media mini-documentary about Atlanta rapper ILoveMakonnen, the rapper eats an hallucinogenic mushroom, and as it hits him, he remarks, “I need a goddamn bed with the booth, you know what I’m saying, just lay down and record some shit.” It’s a funny moment and seems to (mostly) be a joke. It also explains the appeal of Makonnen’s sound better than any formal interview can. A peak Makonnen track sounds somewhere between the thoughts of a rapper about to go to bed and the thoughts of a rapper who just took shrooms, all the while percolating in a brain raised on the Atlanta trap-rap sound.
Unfortunately, Makonnen’s most recent EP, Drink More Water 6, does not sound like the musings of a sleepy tripper. The tape, more than anything, sounds like the cold authenticity-killing power of a rapid rise to fame and a major record deal. This is Makonnen’s first major studio album. While it’s been marketed as a mixtape, and comes as the sixth installment of his Drink More Water series, this is his first commercial release. The album-mixtape ambiguity seems to manifest itself in the project. From top to bottom, Drink More Water 6 feels like a collection of Soundcloud releases, rather than an album. It’s not particularly unique, nor is it necessarily a misstep, for rappers to dump a bunch of tracks in a mixtape and release it without much thought — Lil Wayne seemingly did it every other month for a few years. If Drink More Water 6 was simply a free mixtape track dump, it still wouldn’t be very good, but it wouldn’t have been as much of a disappointment as it was.
Drink More Water 6 is, or at least should have been, Makonnen’s coming out party. He’s done the heavy lifting. He convinced the rap world that a goofy, shroom-popping rapper with repetitive pseudo-melodic choruses and hard Atlanta beats can be absolute fire. He’s been featured on a Drake song and rapped on DJ Mustard and Carnage beats. In spite of all his recent success, Makonnen feels strangely risk averse on Drink More Water 6, as if his response to a major studio deal was to just not mess anything up for himself. On “Sellin,” and “Pushin’,” Makonnen sticks with rapping broadly about the drugs he sells, without much nuance to his angle. Even his love songs “Back Again” and “Turn Off the Lies,” which are rapped to an elusive female (or females) he refers to as “you,” don’t contain the relatable boyish emotion that makes “Second Chance” work. His hyped-up braggadocio tracks like “Uwonteva” and “Live for Real” don’t come close to the snarl-inducing tracks like “Where Your Girl At?” and “I Live Tuh” from his 2015 campaign. It’s possible that “Solo,” probably Makonnen’s most unique track on the mixtape, could have worked if it were surrounded by equally strange songs. But on Drink More Water 6, the track alone doesn’t have a long shelf life, and by the third listen it starts to lose its initial appeal.
While the album is regrettably generic, it’s only generic by Makonnen’s standards. The album still has moments of the fun weirdness that characterize a peak Makonnen track. On the final track, where Makonnen best captures the hallucinogenic trap-rap fusion, he raps “two phones going ham, watch the bag triple double,” over a simple baseline, next to a subtle snare progression and under a whacky distorted set of echoing chimes. The line, along with the beat, is dripping with the duality of playful weirdness and serious subject matter.
Ultimately, though, this album does not exude the feeling that time or effort was put into it. It’s a set of throwaway tracks that aren’t even the good kind of throwaway tracks. Makonnen had the opportunity to harness all his pent-up strangeness and push the envelope on how far the Atlanta trap-rap sound can stretch. He had the opportunity to belt quirky yet witty lyrics in his tonally questionable voice and have the rap world eat it up. On Drink More Water 6, he did none of that, but the flop of an album will not come as a death sentence. Makonnen will have another chance to show the world what it’s like to fall asleep, trip, trap and rap, all at the same time.