My little brother just put me on to the south side Chicago emcee Mick Jenkins. He wanted me to be as juiced about Mick as he was, so he led off by texting me a Boy Meets World reference. “It’s been tragic/ Ever since Boy Meets World, it’s Ben (been) Savage/ But the goal was never really to beef, it’s been cabbage.” Sending me a BMW reference to whet my palate is like sending Ricky Henderson to the plate to lead off the game. My interest was piqued. I still didn’t know just how special Mick Jenkins was though until I cued up his new video for “Jazz.”
The theme of the video is a water shortage and folks are selling water in Chicago like it’s heroine. Except that not just fiends are pining for it–everyone is as though it’s the elixir of life. I mean, I suppose it is. It’s a tad hyperbolic, but is a vivid representation of Jenkins’s belief that “Water is the most important natural component we have today.” He goes on to say, “It makes up our world, our bodies. It has the ability to destroy and create.”
With that much power, how valuable does water become in a drought? We here in Cali are enduring this plight right now. Our commitment to mitigating the present drought is half-assed because in the back of our minds we can’t really fathom a world in which we don’t have one of its most basic resources. There are radio PSAs about taking “power showers” and not watering our lawns, but imagine if we had to each live on only a few gallons of water per day. I’m talking to drink, cook with, bathe in, wash dishes and clothes with, etc. It’s a plight faced by many third world nations, but isn’t real to us. But imagine if the rains don’t come, the reservoirs dry up, LA’s swimming pools become skate parks, and you don’t have running water in your house. How would that change things? Would you not be another knock searching for a sip?
“We need water, our world needs water, our bodies need water, it’s probably the most essential element to life… I chose water specifically because I feel like it can metaphorically be taken into a lot of directions.” No matter which track you listen to, you’ll hear him riffing off water, while also exploring the plight of America’s black community, the music industry, and life in the Chi over chill instrumentals. Sometimes, he has a laid back KRIT vibe to him and sometimes he revs up, but he consistently bodies verses and challenges listeners not to fall for the okey doke.
On “Martyrs” he shares the results of a community coping with racism, violence, and trauma. The result? A tongue-in-cheek chorus that mirrors the self-hatred that bleeds through so much hip-hop these days. I hate to invoke radio rap as a comparison, because we all know what a low bar that is, but it’s hard not to listen to Mick Jenkins and imagine how much better off we would be if the airwaves were flooded with this brand of wisdom, rather than a steady diet of hyper-capitalist misogyny. I realize that such a statement officially makes me a hating-ass old head with a vintage Jansport, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
“We’ve been ready to take off for like 400 years now / But we’re blinded through our ears now.”
Also, be sure to check out some highlights from first mixtape Trees and Truths below.
Here is an introduction to Mick. Tell me he doesn’t look like Basquiat and sound a tad like 3 Stacks in his video for “Chicago.”
On “Value Village” Jenkins implores listeners without the means, like himself, to reject brand name dependency with his refrain, “Don’t listen, save money” and “Fuck the mall.” Mind you that this thrift store anthem was recorded and released before Macklemore & Ryan Lewis rode the concept to stardom. #ThingsThatMakeYouGoHmmmm
Plenty more dope music from Mick can be found on Youtube. Seek him out, spread the word, and save water!