But his first headlines came for something far different: In 2008, the rising star was involved in an incident where a friend was accidentally shot. Makonnen was later found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, though the exact details of what happened still remain unclear.
The Los Angeles native was hanging out with a couple friends, enjoying their last night together as he prepared to head out to join the Air Force.
“We’re in the car, and they’re rolling up, smoking, and I’m sitting in the back seat," he recalled in an interview with The Fader. "[My friend] Anthony [Godoy] is on the phone with his girlfriend, and they’re arguing about some petty sh--: ‘No, I’m not getting you these Jordans,’ or something like that. High school sh--. So I’m like, ‘Dude, get off the phone. Let’s chill. It’s our last day hanging out.’ He hangs up and pulls out a gun, cocks it, and points it at me, like, ‘You’re getting on my f--king nerves. How do you want it?’"
Makonnen says he told his friend to put down the weapon -- and he did.
"Anthony puts the gun in his lap and unclips it," he explained. "I run out of the car. I leave to go pee. I’m scared, like, This motherf--ker be tripping. I don’t know anything about guns, because I never had a gun, but I see the clip in his hand, so I think the gun is empty. My plan is to get the gun and put it in this trash can, so we can finish smoking and sh--. I go back to the car, and the door is open, and the gun’s on his leg, and I go to reach for it, and he feels it move and...
“He didn’t know I was coming," the singer and rapper recalled. "He just felt it moving, and the sh-- just popped. I remember the smoke, but I don’t even remember having my hand on the gun. It was just, like, falling and boof! I saw the flash, and I saw him bleeding out of his head. The blood is starting to leak, and the other guy gets out of the car -- he’s trying not to get his shoes covered with blood. We’re just freaking out, so we run in the house to get Anthony’s older brother, and I’m like, ‘Dude, your brother just got shot.’ I see Anthony over in the car, just shaking and dying and sh--. I felt like I had exploded and died myself.”
Makonnen turned himself in, and was placed on house arrest for two years while the case was being sorted out. In 2009, he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to five years probation.
Despite his friendship with the victim, Makonnen didn't seem to get any sympathy from Godoy's parents when the incident happened.
"He shot my son," Anthony's father, Oscar Godoy, said back in 2008, according to Clayton News Daily. "He executed my son -- he shot him in the head. If it's an accident, you're not going to point it into the head and shoot... 'Oh it was an accident,' that makes it like he had nothing to do with it. He shot my son."
For his part, Makonnen traces the tragedy to the moment he began to take music seriously.
"You have to understand: I was facing my life being taken away," he said. "I liked doing music, but the confidence came from knowing that this was my last chance. It’s sad that a tragedy had to happen for me to put as much force into it as I am.”