Atlanta hip-hop artist Makonnen Sheran, aka iLoveMakonnen, is better at drug songs than love songs. His quavering, melodramatic voice is perfect for expressing fuzzier feelings, but his love songs retreat too far into his own head, leading to endless slogs like “Being Alone With U” and “I Loved You” from last year’s disheartening EP iLoveMakonnen 2. Luckily, his latest tape, Drink More Water 6, focuses mostly on drug songs. It’s tighter and more focused than either of his EPs in spite of a sometimes distractingly thin sound and a lack of any great singles or standouts.

Throughout Drink More Water 6, Makonnen is sellin’, trappin’, pushin’, cookin’, and whippin’ just about anything he can get his hands on – even molly, despite a claim on one of his best tracks that “I Don’t Sell Molly No More.” Though these songs can be comically generic, they’re hooky and brisk, and there’s something to be said about the novelty of hearing that voice sing about slinging drugs with such disarming glee. He even lets a bit of Future-istic paranoia slip in on “Solo” : “My best friend might be the grim reaper/ He taught me many and I brought him plenty.

There are love songs too, and they hold up better here than on iLoveMakonnen 2, mostly because they’re short. But they still constitute the weakest material here, mostly because Makonnen really isn’t a great lyricist; his primary strengths are as a vocalist and a hooksmith. Most of his romantic lyrics are platitudes or solipsistic, stream-of-consciousness rants that aren’t much fun to hear. Of course, his drug lyrics are pretty generic too. But at least it’s easy to shout along to those songs.

Yet the main issue with Drink More Water 6 is the production, which eschews the blaring maximalism of his EPs or evenDrink More Water 5 for a lo-fi mixtape-worthy minimalism. Many of its tracks feel like stripped-down versions of songs he’s done before. “UWONTEVA” sounds a lot like “Trust Me Danny” with the volume turned down. “Want You” rides a beat not unlike that on his breakout hit “Tuesday” with a hook that’s pretty similar to the one on “Second Chance.” It’s not hard to get a sense of déjà vu.

This stripped-down approach is appealing at first, but it makes Makonnen’s voice, which can be grating at times, stick out like a sore thumb. This is most glaring on the caterwauling mid-album duo of “Want You” and “Turn Off The Lies.” It also reduces these songs’ potential as bangers, and nothing here will sound as good blasting out of car windows as “I Don’t Sell Molly No More,” “Tuesday,” or any of his other career peaks. iLoveMakonnen 2 isn’t Makonnen’s most satisfying release. In fact it’s not particularly satisfying at all. But it’s proof he can still deliver as long as he plays to his strengths.

  • iLoveMakonnen: iLoveMakonnen 2

    It’s hard to tell why Makonnen sounds so disassociated here. …

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