Ayo “AyoChillMannn” Makinde Credit: Jeron Brown

A few weeks after COVID-19 shut down the country, Chicago engineer and producer Ayo “AyoChillMannn” Makinde lost his full-time job as a youth national teams administrator for U.S. Soccer. In an effort to stave off depression, he dedicated all his energy to making music, and within a year it became his career. He got a big boost from Chicago rapper Ty Made It, who enlisted Makinde as his engineer and producer and then introduced him to indescribable hip-hop phenomenon Valee (who’d performed at the last concert Makinde saw before the pandemic). They began hanging out and soon created the sumptuous, succinct AyoChillMannn and Valee album The Trappiest Elevator Music Ever! (Ayodele Media). As their collaboration took shape, Valee would frequently comb through Makinde’s catalog of beats and find tracks he was eager to rap over—most of which Makinde says he never expected Valee to want. The rapper’s crisp, half-whispered vocals and sidewinding, gymnastic flow tease out the dynamism in Makinde’s sparse and often graceful production. On “Kees,” Valee’s hushed, serrated lines mirror a watery, echoing keyboard melody and illuminate the contours of a quietly palpitating bass line. Makinde pours a lot into his compact instrumentals: his dreamlike work on the standout “HIMMYimmy” recalls classic film scores and lounge music with its twinkling, looped sample, and its sparse, steely percussion draws on boom-bap’s bluster and trap’s austerity. The Trappiest Elevator Music Ever! runs a mere 19 minutes, but Makinde and Valee accomplish a lot in that limited time—and the energy they bring to these songs could power a long, fruitful collaboration.   v