The Chicago-based artist on his first studio album and growing in his artistry
The Chicago-based artist on his first studio album and growing in his artistry
Text: AMIRA RASOOL
Mick Jenkins is a thinking man. At the age of 25, the Chicago, by-way-of Huntsville, Alabama, rapper’s thoughts pace with matters of human benevolence, government conspiracy, dauntless love, and his responsibility to expose the privileges and destructiveness of all three through his music and simple human interactions. On a Monday afternoon outside of his Chicago home, days away from the release of his debut album The Healing Component, Jenkins’ voice carried over the phone as pronounced and certain as it does in his music. His concentration and commitment to vocalizing his message rarely strayed except when an elementary school kid walked by kicking him in both knees (he laughed it off). There was a subtle confidence in his baritone pitch as he delivered a sermon about his music and the world he’s gifting it to.
Although Mick Jenkins first exploration into music came in 2012 as a Sophmore in college, he’s most widely recognized for the 2015 EP Wave[s] and 2014 mixtape The Water[s]. The projects garnered a steady fan base all committed to his reappearing mantra “drink more water.” For Jenkins water is a symbolism for truth, a truth he repeatedly encourages his listeners to seek out through his music and outside sources. Since his rise to prominence, critics and fans have championed him as a conscious rapper and social activist, partially because of his sociopolitical lyrical content but also due to the sonic influences of the neo-soul music he grew up listening to—these are labels he neither embraces or refutes.
The Healing Component is a two-year cultivation of theories and experiences expressed through 15 melodic tracks. Over jazzy and abstract disco beats from producers such as Kaytranada, Sango, BADBADNOTGOOD, and the album’s executive producers THEMpeople, Jenkins discusses the grueling challenges of Black male-hood, the building and destruction of personal relationships, and most eminently, the urgency for people to spread unconditional love in a world that’s lacking in it. “I don't think that people readily attach love to anything more than the pretty and romantic ideals about it,” said Jenkins. “These are the kind of things I'm trying to change the perspective on.” One of lead singles off the track entitled “Spread Love” ponders on this commitment, reaffirming its necessity, as do the interludes in which he discusses the subject with his sister.
If the candidness and vulnerability of the interludes are any indication of Mick Jenkins creativity, it would prove that not only is he a thinking man, he’s a man with the ability to skillfully think out loud.
Did you approach the creation of The Healing Component any differently than you approached The Water[s] or Wave[s]?
Yeah. Right after I finished The Water[s], I pretty much knew that I was going to be working on The Healing Component, but it wasn't something that I wanted to do right away just because of what making a conceptual album does to me. I'm usually learning a lot during the period and finding out a lot about myself and a lot of experiences that I'm trying to draw meaning out of that kind of parallel with what I'm trying to say on the project. Water[s] was a place of coming right after school and not really knowing where I was going to go while trying to go a lot of different places, realizing various things in culture and society that were holding me back. That's how the Water[s] was born. So right after that thinking about my debut album, I need to make a definitive statement for what it is I'm trying to say and searching for that I think “Spread Love” came out of more of a spiritual place.
What sort of headspace were you in while working on it?
I think as we look at all of this shit going on and all of these different injustices that are happening on such a frequent basis, I think a lot of people are looking for how to combat that and how to respond to that. I think that when people hear “Spread Love” it seems like a really cheesy or soft approach, or an approach that's not as effective. This is the headspace I was in, these are the things that I was considering and thinking about while trying to carve out the concept, but it absolutely is that necessary. I use to naively believe that if there’s like 1,300 people in the room that all 1,300 of those people were all hearing me and completely understanding where I'm coming from. In the very same way that drink more water took a hold of people's attention and it actually got people drinking more water and that was a mantra being sung and spread around the show, if “Spread Love” can be consumed in the same way, if that kind of energy is what were filling with 11,000 people in the room and at the end of the concert 20 people are moved or inspired to be better, or be different, or help someone because of hearing that, I think that's exactly the level of which I'm trying to fight the various injustices I'm speaking about where it be race or gender inequality or the government.
How did you come to grasp the concepts that you're speaking of?
Just life you know what I'm saying. With a song like “Daniel's Bloom” I told a story of these spaces that I move through all the time in Chicago. On the chorus, it says, "pray for me, holla at me I could pray for you try to make a play for you won't you show me love", and it's just expressing a simple idea that prayer can be an expression of love. I don't think that's something people readily look at and understand as such. That song came to fruition because I was having an argument with a friend and it was a serious discussion and we just were not agreeing. At the end of it I was like, well alright bro I'm a pray for you, I'm a pray for this situation, and he took so disrespectfully like I was being condescending. That has a lot to do with how much you believe in prayer but regardless of that, I think that prayer has become very nuanced, especially when you tell somebody I'm going to pray for you in that situation. It's not seen as sincere.
What made you experiment with singing more and tone variations?
When I decided right after Water[s] that it wasn't the best idea for me to go straight to The Healing Component, I started looking at what I could do better and be better at. That's where my attention really became something different for this album as opposed to anything else I did before. Wave[s] was a small project that I did to practice in those areas, singing more, and bridges, and choruses. These are part of songs that are really endearing a to a listener and make you remember and feel more so than these 16 bars do. I think that the verse actually takes a bit of unpacking a lot of the time and a chorus and a bridge and a catchy hook or saying is what really endears people to the song and having people listen to the song as well as the sonics even when they don't fully understand it. Wave[s] was an opportunity for me to work on that because it was a place where I was lacking. We ended up coming out with a song like “Your Love” and helping my self understand that this is a space that I can live in. The Healing Component was really like a merging of those things and those aspects of what I do. I figured out that I can do it pretty well, at least enough to make people like me. I'm not trying to bellow out or step into an arena of singing that I'm not really prepared for. I think it's super necessary to making better music. To remain just raping like I kind of was very one-track minded.
Are you still planning on reformatting your tour merchandise into your own proper clothing brand?
I think it takes a lot more effort and thought than I initially thought. I think just having a creative mind you often feel like you can do a lot of things yourself and that's just something that I can't do myself with the amount of time that I am left with to do it. I actually sew pretty well, I sew a lot my pants up I take a lot of pants in, I hem a lot of shit, I'm learning. It's not something that I do very well but it's something I've been doing for a while. I've fucked up a lot of pants to get where I'm at. Putting together a line takes a lot more than what I'm prepared to do and like what I have the time for. I've been in the space of trying to find somebody who I can give all my ideas and my drawings and a couple samples and be like, yo brings this to life because I can't do it. I'm still doing merch but this first round of merch that I'm having for this tour is not anything that I would be like yeah this is my clothing line. Dropping a collection is really like dropping an album.
If you had to work as a creative director for a specific brand that's out now what brand would it be?
I would want to fuck with Penguin, honestly or like Perry Ellis. I think that they could use like some life, some revising. They’re not dead at all, either one of those, but their very much what they are and existing in their space but I think it could be a little bit more obscure. You know when they do like Purple Label, Black label, I think there's like a black label Perry Ellis that could be a little bit more contemporary. A big part of that is I just like to be clean. I really like to be clean with like a dash of like, damn that's a cool color, or damn that's a different fabric, or damn that's a different cut on those pants. I like to be very preppy and classic in my style and just have a dash of something. I mean at anytime I can do anything. Personally, I feel like I do a lot of different shit but just like that clean aesthetic, well put together color blocking all the time and then just a dash of something unconventional I really like that. I think that brands like Perry Ellis or Penguin could stand to profit and benefit from that especially as far as connecting with a younger generation.
Mick Jenkins debut album The Healing Component is available today via Free Nation / Cinematic Music Group. Stream via Apple Music