ABOVE: MICK JENKINS. PHOTO COURTESY OF BRYAN ALLEN LAMB.
Chicago-based rapper Mick Jenkins first emerged in 2012 with his mixtapes The Mickstape and The Pursuit of HappyNess: The Story of Mickalascage, but it wasn’t until last year’s project The Water[s] that he quickly gained hype. His force returned last month with the release of his debut EP Wave[s] and this past weekend, he kicked off his first-ever (not to mention headlining) European tour. Deeply embedded within the hip-hop scene, the 24-year-old, born Jayson Jenkins, continuously works with the likes of Chance the Rapper, Saba, Jean Deaux, and more, and had his first official tour earlier this year in support of Pro Era’s Kirk Knight and later Joey Bada$$. Next year, Mick Jenkins will also release [T]he [H]ealing [C]omponent, his first full-length, via Jonny Shipes’s label Cinematic.
Inspired by the likes of Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, and the artists with whom he collaborates, Mick Jenkins maintains a wide range of capabilities live and in the studio. Having written creatively his whole life—be it poetry in high school or rap contests in college before dropping out—he has an experienced voice that spits incredibly honest lyrics. Throughout his work, truth is a recurring theme. On the EP’s titular track, he raps, “Shit comes straight from the heart / Not a record exec / in the back with a remote,” over a mechanical beat produced by High Klassified. On a song like “Alchemy,” backed by an aggressive yet thoughtful sound produced by ThemPeople and Lee Bannon, he raps, “When you’re sick and you’re tired / And you’re hungry and you’re thirsty / And you take that first bite or drink, you sip slow / Because truth is harsh and it burns, but it’s also addictive / You want more ‘til you… Drink more water.”
Taking a break from the North American portion of his tour, Mick Jenkins spoke with us over the phone about Wave[s], music in Chicago, police brutality, his inspiration, and more.
NAME: Mick Jenkins
MUSIC IN CHICAGO: I have always been a creative writer. It was poetry in high school, then a rap competition in college, and then making a couple of mixtapes. Once I got back to the creative environment in Chicago I watched other artists work and that was definitely inspiring. What I wanted to do really changed because the playing field changed, I had moved back to Chicago from Alabama. I was looking at all these other people; Saba, Noname Gypsy, Thempeople, Chance the Rapper, and Jean Deaux. They were helping me, they were putting me in the studio, I was inspired by them. I liked what they were doing with me and what they were doing on their own. Those were the people that I was running into on a regular basis, they were regularly inspiring my creative process. I really just wanted to up the caliber and it found me again. It was a much longer and gradual process.
HIS UNIQUE FASHION: I was interested in clothing in general, I was always trying to differ myself, wearing crazy shit. It wasn’t always coordinating or anything but I was trying to find myself. It was an area where I could express myself freely so I gravitated towards that.
THE FIRST CD I PURCHASED WITH MY OWN MONEY WAS…College Dropout. Kanye is an inspiration. I looked up to him, I think we all did. The way he achieved in pop culture inspired a lot of people my age, whether they acknowledge it or not. He was doing a lot of different shit. Whether it was from wearing his collar up, to sunshades, to the way he raps or produces, and his attitude, theres a lot of things Kanye has done that’s inspired the culture. I definitely am inspired by Kanye.
OUTSIDE OF RAPPING: For video games, I played Sega Golden Axe when I was younger. Sports I played were basketball and tennis—I played tennis all the way through high school and I still play basketball. My tour is scheduled so I can make it back to Chicago for the season.
RACIAL TENSION AND POLICE BRUTALITY: I started to notice it when I got to Chicago, really. When I was around 11 or 12, that’s when I was able to see it. In high school there was a big let out—all the students would walk in the street, the police would try to keep students out of the street, [so] they would hit them upside the head with billy clubs trying to keep them in line. We weren’t being rowdy or anything; we just weren’t moving fast enough. It had been affecting me my whole life, I just never realized it. I do rap because black lives matter, but it is not the only reason. There’s a lot of things that I want to do, there’s a lot of people I know that are on the front lines of a lot of different movements, such as Black Lives Matter and the educational reform in Chicago, but right now I’m focused on music. It’s a gift that I’m able to display the energy surrounding me though art.
TOURING: I’m ridiculously tired. I’ve been performing hour-and-twenty-minute shows every day. My favorite places to do shows are Montreal and Seattle. From this tour specifically, my favorite spot was Toronto. Kid Cudi, Kendrick Lamar, and Chance the Rapper all inspire my shows. My favorite song to do live is “The Waters.”WAVE[S]: Waves was made exactly how we were feeling. Songs like “Your Love” was literally because I had a new relationship and that’s the state I was in. I like to be experimental with different sounds. I wasn’t looking for or purposely going to make a record like “Your Love”—it’s just kind of what happened. I definitely wouldn’t consider it pop, though; I wouldn’t categorize it. I don’t think there is a requirement for what the label is. I think it’s just dope; it’s my favorite song off of the project. Some people hate it, some people love it, some people like the singing, some people don’t think the singing is good—it varies.
H2O: Regarding water, in my art, it means truth. While I was making the mixtape I wasn’t fully aware of where I was going or what exactly I was trying to say. I definitely dug it out as I made music and created. Every time we got deeper and deeper into ways that we could pull metaphors from water itself and make it relative and tell stories through it. It definitely happened while it was happening. It is a theme in my work and we are constantly building around it.
UNDERGROUND, UNDERRATED: I always feel [like my music] is underrated. But I don’t feel like [music] has anything to do with reactions or people, it just has a lot to do with the sculpture, the landscape of the music, what gets popularized and what doesn’t. I generally feel that this shit is underrated. I would like to see it share faster, the way people talk about it. But I can’t really call it—I can’t say what I know would make me feel like the music is rated properly. I just kind of feel like I follow the nature of the game. It has to do a lot with the way my music sounds, what I’m talking about, what my persona is. I’m not worried about it, but underrated is generally what happens.
MICK JENKINS IS ON TOUR NOW. FOR DATES AND MORE INFORMATION, VISIT HIS WEBSITE.