Clubs in Portland rarely turn up on a Tuesday. And for iLoveMakonnen—the man who wrote the anthem for getting lit on a weeknight—that's part of the city's appeal.
"I just really wanted to get away from the city, but still be kind of in a city," says the 27-year-old singer-rapper. "This was my No. 1 choice."
It's a common sentiment among transplants, though you wouldn't expect to hear it from a guy who's got Drake's number in his favorite contacts. In 2014, after years of pushing self-released mixtapes around Atlanta, Makonnen landed on the national radar with the slurry head trip "Tuesday," which hit No. 1 on the R&B charts after getting blessed with a remix featuring Champagne Papi himself.
You'd think someone with a platinum plaque and superstar co-signs would find the pace of life in the Pacific Northwest grindingly slow. But according to Makonnen, there's no place he'd rather spend his late 20s. And so he moved to town last September.
"I kind of fit in and just do my own thing, and that's what happens here in Portland," he says. "Out-of-towners call it weird, but I just call it normal."
For years, Portland acted as a homing beacon for indie rockers while earning a reputation for being inhospitable to musicians who play almost anything else. But that's starting to change. Gradually, the recent strides of the local hip-hop community have begun reverberating beyond the city's borders—at least enough to attract someone like Makonnen, whose eccentric style places him at the vanguard of his genre as much as Modest Mouse in the early 2000s.
Granted, it wasn't necessarily the rap scene that drew him here. He liked the proximity to nature, the plethora of vegan restaurants and the dog-friendly environment. And also the marijuana laws. In terms of music, he expected to discover a bunch of new punk bands. Once he started going out, though, he had his ears perked in ways he didn't expect. He attended the Thesis, the monthly hip-hop showcase at Kelly's Olympian, and got turned on to emerging acts like the Last Artful Dodgr and soul singer Blossom.
And as much as Makonnen's presence is indicative of an arts culture that's shifting for the good, living here has already had an impact on Makonnen. Last month, he made blog headlines by coming out as gay. He says being in Portland pushed him to stop hiding that part of himself and live as he's always wanted.
"Portland is a place where everyone is being themselves, so I just felt like, I'm living here, and I want to be able to be myself," Makonnen says. "I guess that's why I call it my home now."
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