ILoveMakonnen's queerness brought out rap's worst behavior : Louder Than A Riot How has hip-hop affected perceptions of Black masculinity? We unpack that question through the story of iLoveMakonnen, a rapper who has navigated different realms of masculinity his entire life, and faced backlash from the industry for being unapologetically himself.

Real n****s go hard (pause, no homo): iLoveMakonnen

Real n****s go hard (pause, no homo): iLoveMakonnen

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ILoveMakonnen. Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR hide caption

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Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR


Amanda Howell Whitehurst for NPR

The night of the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards was ... a time. Viewers watched Rihanna win the career-spanning Video Vanguard Award and appear to dodge a kiss from presenter Drake. Britney Spears performed on the program for the first time since her controversial 2007 appearance. Key & Peele, in character as semi-clueless influencers, slung jokes from the stands. But for at least one artist in attendance, the real fireworks took place after the show was over.

Atlanta rapper iLoveMakonnen says everything seemed fine when he first showed up to that evening's VMA afterparty at the New York nightclub Up & Down. All the stars were in the room; there were bottles and balloons everywhere. Makonnen had taken some shrooms, and was vibing with a few of his fashion friends. It was shaping up to be a good time — until Drake walked in. At the time, Makonnen was on the outs with Drake's label OVO, which had signed him back in 2014 on the strength of his single "Tuesday." Though they hadn't seen each other in a while, Makonnen had no reason to think there was any bad blood between them. "I was like, 'Drake, what's up?' " Makonnen recalls. "And then he looked at me like, Look, next time I see you, I'm gonna f*** you up."

No one knows for certain what led to the hostility of that moment. But one thing is for sure: Throughout his career, even before he officially came out in 2017, Makonnen's presence as a queer artist in the hyper-masculine trenches of hip-hop has been a subject of extreme scrutiny, and at times a source of tension.

On this episode, we explore hip-hop's relationship to masculinity through the story of Makonnen. We dig into the early days in Atlanta's alternative rap scene, with stories from Awful Records founder Father and Makonnen's first collaborator, his own mom. We chat with author and scholar Mark Anthony Neal about how hip-hop has historically enforced "legible" and "illegible" forms of Black masculinity. Finally, we examine Makonnen's impact on the style that would come to be known as emo rap, and how his mentorship of artists like Juice WRLD and Lil Peep queered the trap and created more space for everyone.

To follow along with the music in this episode, check out the Louder Than A Riot playlists on Apple Music & Spotify. We'll update them every week.

To connect with us, follow the show on Twitter @LouderThanARiot, or send us an email at

Audio story produced by Mano Sundaresan
Audio story edited by Soraya Shockley and Sam J. Leeds
Audio story engineered by Gilly Moon
Podcast theme and original music by Suzi Analogue, Ramtin Arablouei and Kassa Overall
Fact-checking by Candice Vo Kortkamp