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.