It is a brisk, sunny afternoon in early March, ten days before Makonnen Sheran is to move to San Francisco. A seven-block stroll down Broadway from the Flatiron Building has deposited him at Union Square. He now strolls through Union Square and surveys his surroundings.
He’s sleek, slimmed down from a 42-inch waist to a 32 in the past year, his hair shorn tight to the scalp. He warms his hands in the pockets of a custom Basquiat-ish bomber jacket made for him by a designer friend. Ornamental padlocks hang from the heels of his sneakers. Oversize reflective sunglasses swivel hither and yon. I walk beside him and comment on the surprising absence of people, litter, & sacks of garbage around us. It’s about a pleasant an urban tableau as you’ll find in New York. But Union Square’s mid-day serenity does not stir Makonnen. He shakes his head and wonders aloud: “Where is the reality?”
Makonnen’s current quest to locate reality is not the same quest he was on in early 2014 when he released “I Don’t Sell Molly No More.” Strawberita dreams turn to champagne reality. That quest was aspirational -- the quest of a budding artist with a modest yet passionate internet following.
A few months later, Drake’s “Tuesday” remix blew the lid off Makonnen’s industrious grassroots internet operation. Makonnen became famous overnight. He signed to OVO Sound and moved from Atlanta to New York City, thus making his formal entrance into the music industry. He has been in a tumultuous relationship with the music industry ever since. It demands much of him, and he demands much of it. Stardom is not the land of milk and honey he had hoped it would be.
Back at HNHH HQ after Union Square, Makonnen enumerates his industry frustrations. It’s not as lucrative as he would like (“I can’t even get a residency in Vegas off of my ‘Tuesday’,” he laments). It’s filled with simple-minded opportunists (“Rappers are fronts and fakes”). He must shoulder the burden of realness alone (“Unfortunately, it sucks that Makonnen is the realest person here”).
“I gave New York a chance,” he tells me. “I was searching for... I dunno, like the art scene, not the art scene, but something that I was searching for and I didn’t find it here. And I was just looking in Manhattan. I’m sure it’s out in Brooklyn.”