If you’ve been following me at my day job at Louder Than A Riot these past few weeks, you’ve probably seen me post about iLoveMakonnen. We just dropped an episode I produced about the Atlanta rap-crooner and his circuitous path through the music industry, facing some of rap’s worst behavior due to his expression of masculinity. Last fall, we spent a few days reporting in Portland, OR, where Makonnen lives now. A lot of it didn’t make the cut, but I couldn’t resist sharing this little anecdote from Day 3.
“I don’t really even look at brands and stuff anymore,” Makonnen says, rifling through a rack of old T-shirts. “I just look at colors and clothes and materials that I’m into.”
When I called him a few weeks prior to figure out an interview location, Makonnen immediately mentioned this thrift store: Hollywood Vintage, a massive, warehouse-lookin’ spot in Portland, OR. On a beaming Saturday afternoon last September, he pulled up on us in black boots, a T-shirt that said “Portal To The Cat Dimension” and matching shorts and hat from his own brand Martha’s World. As he approached us in front of the store, a car whizzing by honked and waved at him.
In Portland, his home of over five years now, he gets noticed like this occasionally for his now-legendary run of 2010s hits. Usually, he says, someone will shove their phone in his face and cobble together an awkward sentence like, Yo, you “Tuesday?”
The thrift is his refuge from the noise. “I just come here by myself and zone out and don’t get bothered and shit,” he says, picking out a white tee that says “Gorgeous But Humble.”
Besides the awkward fan moments, Makonnen has grown to love Portland. He manifested his move to the city when he was a kid. “I remember being in my room. I had this map of, like, the whole United States,” he says. “And Oregon would be over there on the top left, and I would be rapping about shit like, ‘Movin’ out to Oregon, hangin’ with my new friends.’ I ain’t never been to Oregon, that shit just sounded cool. But then when I came to Oregon, I was going back through my old music and I heard that shit. I was like, Yo, that’s crazy!”
Having drifted apart from most of his old Atlanta scene, Makonnen’s slowly settled into a new creative community here. Local producer group Yellow Trash Can released an album with Makonnen in 2022, gloriously titled Everything Is Trash. “I’ve never seen anybody record as fast as Makonnen does,” their producer Jason said. “We’ll make a beat, and then he’ll just instantly walk in there and just start freestyling for anywhere from two minutes to eight minutes.”
Besides the city’s overwhelming whiteness, I kinda get the appeal of dropping everything and moving out here. In the fall, summer sighs its last breaths, and the distant wildfires turn the sky a pasty gray-orange in the morning—a strangely cozy dystopia. The evening before we met up with Makonnen, I had a slice of vegan pizza, then walked for a while along Sandy Blvd, a corridor on Portland’s east-side bustling with traffic. As the sun set and as the cars slowly cleared out for the night, it all briefly felt like a warm, wavering buzz, the fragile construction of a dream. A place you could disappear in.
Plus, Portland’s merch is awesome. For about 15 minutes at this thrift store, Makonnen searches for every Portland-branded piece he can find. “I’m always looking for Oregon stuff, ‘cause I like to rep for the home team,” he says.
Like everything once cool and creative, thrifting has turned into a cheap signifier, a trendy mad-dash amongst a new generation, and at worst, the meetinghouse of shameless resellers. But even though your local TikTok-recommended store is looking dry, thrifting is still what it’s always been: a sustainable way to experiment with your swag and style. “I just like to look and get inspired,” Makonnen says, thumbing through some records, “and it helps me to even think about stuff that I wanna do for Martha’s World.”
Just do your research before you buy something. Last Fourth of July, Makonnen wore a thrifted shirt with an image of a joker on it to a rodeo in St. Paul, OR. Little did he realize he was wearing the official attire of the Gypsy Jokers, a violent Oregon-based white supremacist biker gang. “I’m like, Oh shit! I didn’t even know. No wonder they was partin’ the ways when I walked through!”
Makonnen’s freewheeling philosophy at the thrift maps onto his approach to music the last few years. Maybe more than ever, he doesn’t seem to give a damn about nabbing co-signs, honing in on a specific sound or chasing after a bigger audience. Everything is in service of his exacting, independent vision. One day, he’ll make a freaky smash that’d make Timbaland do a stank face; the next, he might drop a song with NBA YoungBoy.
“It’s still trap inspired, but moving into alternative type stuff and pop, just trying all genres,” Makonnen says. “[In Portland,] we’ve been able to do more live instrumentation as we make stuff. It’s less loops and samples that are pre-built. I feel like it’s been a lot more collaborative.”
After he checks out at the register, Makonnen shows me his haul. A 1999 March of Dimes WalkAmerica sweatshirt; a Spud Mackenzie Bud Light sweatshirt; that Gorgeous But Humble T-shirt; and a Weakest Link merch tee that says, “You are the weakest link—goodbye!”
I ask him if he’d ever want his music to collect dust in a store like this someday. “Yeah, hopefully fucking way after I’m gone,” he says. “Or I’m so old that they’re like, Who is that guy?”