ILOVEMAKONNEN is quiet, basking in the stillness of sunny suburbia. It’s mid-afternoon on a Friday and he’s sitting in the backyard of a home nestled in the sleepier parts of L.A.’s Atwater Village. The only sounds that cut the silence are dreamy beats coming from producer Chris Hartz’ small, converted car garage—Makonnen’s here for a songwriting session with Australian artist Nat Dunn.
Their rapport is gentle, reminiscent of a couple of old friends enjoying each other’s presence. They go over lines like an intimate discussion that matches their vibe in the booth. When Nat’s behind a mic, Makonnen’s on the keys, just inches away from her, experimenting with deeper, more ambient sounds—woodblocks, church organs, and the like. There’s no sense of urgency here, though. They’re here for creative expression and release.
As he carefully rolls a blunt, it’s easy to see MAKONNEN’s ready for some rest. He’s just gotten back from a visit to his hometown of Atlanta, and is on the grind here, where he’s promoting his new EP, M3, out June 21. The release date is strategic, as he calls it “the soundtrack to the summer.”
M3 is ILOVEMAKONNEN’s first project in three years, and in those three years, he’s been in and out of headlines having to explain and defend himself. But today, at 30, he’s burnt out by the noise, and is only interested in talking about the music, what he’s observing in the present moment, and how he can carry that into the future.
What inspired you to put out new music?
I haven’t had a body of work out since 2016. This is kind of what I was able to put out for now. I wanted to get something out so that I could—I just have a back-up of music and it keeps getting backed up. I needed to get new stuff out so I can make more. I have some songs from last summer, but most of the songs are from this year. I can’t believe it’s already June!
What motivated your writing this time around?
What motivated it is the social media interaction with humans and the younger generation trying to communicate. It’s a lot of feelings that I’ve studied from the fans, the people, the audience, the culture. Then I made my report with my music, my EP.
What have you learned?
All the songs are named “I’m not okay,” “Money fiend,” “Spendin,” “Shoot shoot,”— what’s applied daily. People are gonna be able to gravitate to one of them. “Drunk on Saturday”—that’s the report. That’s what they’re doing and enjoying. It’s a soundtrack to the summer—just have some fun, go make some memories, and let’s see each other in the fall and winter with the next report.
The bird’s eye view of things seems like a common theme. You mentioned earlier that there’s more to life than a broken heart.
Yeah, is there? I don’t know.
I’ve learned to just do what makes me happy because nobody really cares about my happiness as much as I do.
Have you ever been heartbroken?
Of course. All the time. Probably on the daily. I just started to learn to maybe not give my heart as much to so many and maybe it won’t get broken as much.
A lot has happened in your late 20s and you just turned 30. What’s different?
I’ve learned to just do what makes me happy because nobody really cares about my happiness as much as I do. I’ve learned that I have my own free will, as does everybody else. A lot of times in my life, I had to go on missions to please others and make other people feel comfortable in themselves. Now that I feel that my job is done there, I can go feel comfortable with myself.
You just came back from Atlanta. Can you talk about how being there as an out person felt different?
Going back as an out person has just sort of like, "I’ve put a lot of my information out there, so please don’t bother me with your bullshit." [Laughs.] That’s kind of what it was like for me; a lot of people didn’t want to bother me with they bullshit. They were just on some, “Oh much love Makonnen, we appreciate you, we thank you, you’re loved, appreciated, accepted, and thank you for doing what you do.” It just felt like, in a place where I’ve been trying so hard to exist at, I finally feel comfortable in my existence.
Do you think that was just a natural part of growing up, or had Portland changed you?
Yeah, a few places changed me. I start to think about moving a lot to new lands and doing new shit. Portland’s great. I love it. It’s my home. But really it was innerness that put me into doing these outer moves that I’ve made. I’ll be distracted with the outerness of LA, New York, Atlanta, all those other places, so I like to spend time with myself and figure out me before I start to figure out someone else.
What was your day-to-day like in Portland?
The rain. Going outside and getting wet in the rain and seeing the locals live and becoming local. Getting into farming and nature and letting time go with you rather than trying to race it or let it pass you by. Of course, I was online seeing all the mass hysteria all over the world, but I like to get off of that. That’s why I was there.
Do social media interactions deeply affect you?
Yeah. It’s weird. Since I’ve came out as gay, I think everybody feels like they know everything about me. But they don’t. [There’s all these] assumptions of how I’m supposed to be and how I’m supposed to act. But I just told you guys my personal sexual preference. I came out as gay for me, and hopefully it inspires young kids to accept themselves. I just want to be brave for younger people. People that are older than me and that are of my age, I don’t know why we talking about it. We should just really focus on having younger people in society be more comfortable in themselves, whatever they are. Maybe they’re not even gay or anything, let them experience and have their life without being so judgmental and group-y.
These young kids—a lot of them Are barely making it. They making a lot of content but they’re not making it to fucking 30. So I just try to keep learning at the end of the day
What’s the response been like from the youth then?
They fuckin’ adore me and and make me feel like I’m doing something right. A lot of them look up to me as an older sibling, an older experienced relative. A lot of them are afraid to talk to each other and a lot of them don’t have anyone older that wants to talk to them about what they want to talk about, so I just try to be that ear ‘cause that’s what older people were for me when I was coming up.
Who were some of those people for you?
My friend Marcus [Daniels], the one I told you about, he passed away. He was definitely one of those people. My mom, of course. But Marcus was somebody I could talk to about all things that I would never talk to my parents or family members about ‘cause it was embarrassing. You just wanna have people that are older and experienced have a conversation with you and give you good advice that can lead to better decisions.
Do you feel like you’ve experienced a lot of loss?
I’m used to it, sort of. I’ve dealt with a lot of loss in my life a lot of times, so I just take the good with it. These people always live in my heart. With Marcus, there’s nobody else in the world that knows the memories that me and him have. You had to be there. We had human interaction, a great relationship I feel like most people should get out there and experience, and I just hold on to that.
How do you keep things sacred for yourself if you’re a public figure?
I don’t share certain things. You can share it with friends, but just don’t share everything with the public. I could say something like, “I’m in the room with three guys and they’re all shirtless,” and [the public could] think it’s something sexual, [meanwhile] we’re probably just working out, taking Instagram pics. It’s just all how you put it. The public likes to perceive and twist things in their own fantasy. You just have to know what’s your truth.
What do you think is the most common misconception about you?
I really don’t know. Maybe that I’m full of myself because my name is ILOVEMAKONNEN. But after they’ve gotten to know me, they’re like, “Oh I thought you were just an asshole and self centered about you and shit.” It’s like, “Nah, I’m just trying to be a mirror for you. You should be proud of you, who you are.” Now, being proud of myself makes it easier for others to be like, “Oh shit, well I should be proud of myself too.” Yeah, you should!
Having faced some public scrutiny, do you think you’ve become more discerning about the way you answer things?
I just try not to say much that would offend others because I found out that when they say things about me, it doesn’t affect me as much as if I said something about them. I’ve started to know the power of my words. What’s the old saying all the grandparents tell me? If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say nothing at all.
I’m going into farming and more healthcare. I wanna help a lot of people get off of opioids. I’m just trying to put my time into saving lives rather than help influence destruction.
Going back to the music, who have you worked with this year? Who can we expect?
No one actually. Not many. I’ve just been working with myself, working with some songwriters like Nat Dunn. I really enjoy working with her. She really helps me to get out what I’m trying to say. It’s very therapeutic for me. I’ve been working with a lot of new producers. I got to meet Kio, who made “Old Town Road,” in the studio and he played me some beats and we send each other stuff back and forth. That’s about it though.
I’m always open to working with artists but I know where I’m at: I’m an urban trap artist that came out as gay. A lot of people choose not to come by my light anymore, so I just sit here with it on, waiting for the strong one to come through saying, “It doesn’t matter what they say about me under your light. I have my own light.”
What are you thinking of exploring for the fall?
This fall, maybe I’ll get in touch with some elders and figure out how they’ve been making it though. These young kids—a lot of them barely making it. They making a lot of content but they’re not making it to fucking 30. So I just try to keep learning at the end of the day. I like studying families. I just study the human. That’s really what I do. I just happen to make music on the side.
What’s next if you get tired of music?
I don’t ever really get tired of music itself, but of the industry and the job, the day-to-day cubicle kind of shit that everyone deals with. But I’m going into farming and more healthcare. I wanna help a lot of people get off of opioids. I’m just trying to put my time into saving lives rather than help influence destruction.
ILOVEMAKONNEN's new EP 'M3' is out June 21.