Credit where it’s due to iLoveMakonnen — I said his career peaked in 2014 but here he is still making music a decade later. In fact when his long awaited collaboration with Lil Peep dropped, I was pleasantly surprised by it while simultaneously mourning the fact Gustav wasn’t here to see it. His resilience and persistence in the face of critics who say his best work is behind him is admirable. In fact given he reportedly came out in a now deleted tweet from 2017, you can even argue it’s defiant and proud. He won’t let haters, critics, or homophobes get in the way of continuing his career however he wants.

The title track of “Pink Nails” reflects that sass. “I’m still having the, last laugh” raps Makonnen in a start stop manner that perfectly matches the drum track. Lacking producer notes (I could only find this digitally) I don’t know who to credit, but I like both the style and the swagger on display here. When he says “broke, bitch, outta my face” it’s entirely gender-fluid. Any hater can be the “bitch” in question. If Makonnen banked the money from “Tuesday” and any subsequent royalties, then he can definitely laugh at anyone questioning his music or his life. The cover art also reflects a fact many people don’t know about Makonnen — he went to cosmetology school. You wouldn’t guess that from “Outside.”

The song and video both feel deliberately post-pandemic — a large social gathering with plenty of drinking, dancing, and playing sports. This would have been the norm when he started his career, but COVID-19 shook the world in ways no one could’ve anticipated, so now instead of just being a flex that your shooting budget is big it’s a message that everyone really IS outside. Now I’m not the type to care if Makonnen is gay, straight or otherwise but the lines “Got your bitch dancing on me for the big face hundreds/you know we outside, like some motherfucking homeless” make me wonder if he’s a switch hitter? And that’s fine! You live your truth bro, it’s all good.

“Moved On” also feels like a statement. “Don’t worry where I’ve been to, just know I moved on.” Translation — if you’re still fucking with Makonnen’s music it’s cool. If you stepped away for a decade and just now realized he’s still here, don’t ask where he’s been. He never left. Unfortunately I think a lot of the fans left once he left OVO Sound. Most rappers who had a super viral song can coast on it for a long-ass time (Soulja Boy we looking at you). It’s a little disconcerting to see most tracks here have very few spins on YouTube. I don’t have access to Spotify or Apple Music metrics but I can’t think the numbers are that different. 20,000 for a music video and sub-10K for any random song here.

There is one thing to say about that — sometimes marketing is greater than music. Jadakiss may have said “dead rappers get better promotion” but living ones get more if there’s a big artist or label behind them with deep pockets. In fairness I can’t say that “Pink Nails” should get it anyway. There’s nothing bad here, but there’s nothing exceptional here. Makonnen’s music sounds like a party, but also sounds like the background music at one that everybody’s talking over loudly. It doesn’t make your ears bleed but it also doesn’t shout “Who’s that? I love that shit” and make you pull out a phone for Shazam to identify it. To put it bluntly I love that Makonnen is still here but I understand why other people aren’t into him when there are more trendy or controversial rappers hogging the spotlight.

iLoveMakonnen :: Pink Nails
6.5Overall Score