Whether it’s pondering the way water is being used as a political weapon (“The Waters”), the “strange love” that rappers show towards vulnerable women, or even the idea that the internet is our new nicotine (“Is, This Cigarettes?”), Mick Jenkins has made his name off jazz-enthused concept albums that powerfully probe at the collective subconscious. He consistently uncovers answers that push the listener away from the pitfalls of capitalism and onto more righteous paths.
Just like Marvin Gaye’s output in the 1970s, the South Side Chicago-raised rapper and singer-songwriter has prioritized records [2018’s Pieces of a Man, 2020’s The Circus] that feel like pep talks not only to himself but for wider Black America. His discography is filled with astonishing moments of virtue and honesty (on “Vibe” he admitted he missed out on saying goodbye to his grandma before she passed because “I was too busy rapping”). Jenkins’ ultimate goal has been to wake his people up from a slumber and make the dangerous city he emerged from be defined more for its shining intellect and less for the hopelessness of black-on-black violence.
Yet with new album, The Patience, Jenkins experimented with a new approach entirely; something he believes has resulted in career-best music. “A lot of these new songs were made when I stopped focusing on a concept and just wrote spontaneously to the beat,” says the 32-year-old. “It gave me a new level of freedom.” And this freedom has resulted in an exhilarating looseness to Jenkins’ raps, and the feeling you’re listening to an artist who has finally let go of the weight of corporate-driven expectations and said: fuck it.
Amid lighting some sage to stave off evil spirits (or major label A&Rs, depending on your perspective), Jenkins uses vibrant opener “Michelin Star” to juxtapose his rap career with a chef working their way up from the bottom; it’s basically TV’s The Bear as a rap song. “Guapanese”, which has a soul cleansing sound more indebted to elegant jazz pianists like Ahmad Jamal and John Coltrane than traditional hip hop, criticizes studio thug rappers who boast about money yet refuse to pay the bail money to get day-one friends out of prison.
On all these songs Jenkins tends to start from a place of anger, but his voice softens by the music’s conclusion, as clarity finally comes into sharp focus. This is something that recalls the up-and-down vocal textures of Nas on “One Mic”. Meanwhile, the gloomier “Sitting Ducks” carries a contagious hyper confidence despite its skittish, paranoid sound, as Jenkins spits the rewindable punchline: “Ain’t no stopping me / I’m above can’t; I’m apostrophes.” This song also contains the profound sentiment of “The day you plant the seed isn’t the day you eat the fruit”—just like the album’s title, this speaks directly to Jenkins’ endurance and where he now finds himself in the rap game.
“I spent a large part of my career being frustrated at not being able to secure big name features or even get the right budgets for a music video,” Jenkins admits with a trademark honesty. “I always felt like I was waiting on other people! But I feel like I planted a lot of seeds over the years, and they’re finally starting to bear fruit.”
He explains further: “I honestly feel like my career is only just starting now! Everything that came before The Patience was a different me. This is the first record where I own 100% of my masters and I don’t have to answer to someone else [at a label]. The industry is a fucked up place. It is an ocean filled with sharks who will chew you up and spit out your bones, but this project is about what it is like to endure through that and make it to the other side. From intentionality to ability to creativity and personal agency, I feel like the best shit I will ever create is now in front of me.”
Some of the new record’s most fascinating ideas can be found on lead single, “Smoke Break Dance” with JID, where the crux of smoking cannabis to deal with generational pain is both celebrated and doubted, and closer “Mop” where Jenkins compares the rap game to a pyramid scheme. “The fundamentals of a pyramid scheme is the system only working for the people at the top and not for the people at the bottom,” he says. “That’s especially true of hip hop.”
Jenkins is already planning a world tour and would like to perform these new live instrumentation-fuelled songs with a seven piece band at various global intimate venues. He’s also working on a new book, where he will dissect the lyrical meaning to 25 career-spanning best songs. The latter was something inspired by the dissatisfaction of Genius.com always misinterpreting his bars.
For years Mick Jenkins has felt underrated and like his diverse ability to shift between sage-like, wisdom-filled bars and chest-clearing neo soul melodies hasn’t been elevated to the plateau it truly deserves. However, with The Patience, you’re hit with the overwhelming feeling that Jenkins’ is going to experience a second wind and that a music industry devoid of consciously-minded artists is about to get a much-needed adrenaline shot.
“Just like the Migos, I am trying to blow up twice. I am entering a new phase in my life,” an excited Jenkins concludes before his attention once again returns to his brilliant new album’s opening song.
“Look, before it felt like I was fucking chopping onions for 5 hours a day, but now my sound is at Michelin star level and I’m sitting on the top of the totem pole. Once you plant a seed you need to spend years watering it and nurturing it. With this project I feel like all that patience is finally starting to pay off… it’s a beautiful feeling.” Words = 900 / By Thomas Hobbs.