Nº15: Mick Jenkins
Photos By Dale Algo | Styling by Nick C. Mathis
Chicago is known for three things: their winters, deep dish pizza (which is still not better than NYC pizza) and their music. From Jazz to Blues to Rap. When thinking of music from Chicago you think of Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco and Common, some of the most celebrated artists in the rap game.
True to its Fashion, the Windy City has a new wave of young artists who are putting their hometown on the map all over again. Conscious rapper Mick Jenkins is one of those rising stars who has music fans gripping their seats in anticipation for what’s to come from Chi-Town.
After week’s of a tumultuous game of cat and mouse with Jenkins, I was finally able to get him on the phone out in Chicago for our interview. I took the scheduling conflicts as a sign that things are really picking up for him after the release of his acclaimed mixtape The Water[s].
Originally from Huntsville, Alabama, Jenkins spent time between Alabama and Florida during the school year and summer as a child. He eventually moved to Chicago in 2000 when his mother was diagnosed with Lupus “And I’ve been here ever since.”
Moving from a place that’s basically geologically flat to a big bustling city was a culture shock for the young Jenkins, but he was able to adapt at a quick pace to his new surroundings. “I was a smart kid, I just kind of got with it. Got in where I fit in, pretty quickly. So Chicago was pretty cool city.” Jenkins explains. “I had a lot of family here, so it wasn’t hard getting into the swing of things and I came to love it very fast.”
A staple in Jenkins’ music is his symbolization of water. Water plays a part in all of his projects, from The Water[s] to his current EP, Wave[s]. “It symbolizes truth, very simply, just as essential as water is, so it’s truth.”
Just as there are many ways of using water, jenkins plans on using it in as many different ways as he can. Either in his work, or in his shows, “the things that we can do with rain as far for the music and the vibe of the show.”
When asked if he’ll ever switch to a different element Avatar Airbender style, he says that’ll he’ll never do something as forceful as that. “Right now it (water) just really fits into everything that I’m trying to do, metaphorically. There’s just no reason to shy away from it.”
In Chicago, the drill music scene is the current face of the city, a musical embodiment of the high gang violence Chicago (Chiraq, as it’s affectionately called) is facing. As an artist, Jenkins is on a completely different spectrum from drill artists like Chief keef and Fredo Santana, but they aren’t mutually exclusive. Jenkins raps about the same plight that’s currently going on in the hoods of Chicago, just with a different tone.
He also speaks on what he calls media’s “violence fetish.” Basically, it’s how the news reports on all the violence in the city, but ignores the context that explains why that violence exists. “It’s really easy to see how people aren’t helping the situation, whether it be the news, whether that be politicians.”
He acknowledges that minorities take some fault in the situation that they’re in, but blames remnants of Jim Crow and segregation for holding minorities at a disadvantage. “The fact that in the same community that I live, there are food deserts, where niggas can’t get fresh fruit and real food close to them, conveniently,” Jenkins laments. “And we know that this is a problem, but they’re aren’t more ways to solve this problem from the people that created this problem. The city, the mayor, people who have the authority and ability to pull budgets and build and get permits, to people to build and create things necessary to keep a community healthy.”
Perception is a key tool in life, even if people want to admit it or not. That’s why Jenkins has a dislike of the term “Black on black violence.” The media portrays minorities as being prone to violence and crime, when crime between white people in Chicago is extreme as well. “It’s amazing, crime is high [everywhere]. It doesn’t make any sense. It’s all proximity.” Jenkins looks to bring attention to all of these issues with his music.
Besides the hardships in Chicago, Jenkins would not want to be from anywhere else. He attributes growing up in Chicago to developing the mindset that he has now, “It just showed me how to move, how to learn, how it’s best to lead the country at a young age,” Jenkins explains. “That’s what’s shaped me the most, and to have this kind of mindset that I have is an experience in seeing the world really.”
His time in Chicago taught him how to read people and understand why they do the things that they do. He believes being open-minded, you can learn new things from any environment, “When you pay attention you can apply that shit to other areas of life for sure.”
Like any young kid Jenkins played around with spitting rhymes and making beats on lunchroom tables, but his niche was writing poetry. His entry into poetry would come from necessity. The drama group Jenkins was apart of as a child needed a poem written, and he decided to write the poem himself. Ever since that first poem, his interest in the art grew, “After that I just kind of kept writing, you know what I’m saying?” Jenkins says. “That bug bit me for a little while and I was just in love with it, I still am.” Jenkins’ mother is also a writer, which also influenced his love of writing. He describes how his mother would enforce proper grammar in school work growing up, and how it shaped his affection for writing. “She was a stickler for making sure that punctuation and words were spelled correctly and all that.”
Once he discovered his love of poetry, Jenkins started performing his poems at Young Chicago Authors (a non-profit organization) open mic sessions. The YCA was a shining light in Chicago, drawing in young creatives from all over the city; like fellow rapper and collaborator Chance The Rapper. YCA became a foundation block for Jenkins’ creativity, also helping to develop a network of fellow artist that still play a part in his life to this day.
While being a strong creative writer, becoming a rapper was something that never crossed Jenkins’ mind at all growing up. Jenkins surprisingly was more attracted to practical careers more than anything involving the arts. Starting with a short stint as a law intern at the Chicago courthouse, until he realized that the life of a lawyer isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.
His next career jump was into the world of fashion, landing an internship at a Chicago boutique called Sir & Madame. Jenkins believed clothes would be his life calling, “I actually thought I was going to be doing that before music was ever even a notion.” Sadly his stay at Sir & Madame would also be short. After a run in with the law while out in Huntsville, Alabama, Jenkins spent a few days in jail in Alabama and lost his internship.
Currently out of the fashion world, style is still an important aspect for him. For a young artist he has a sound fashion sense. Jenkins describes his style as classic american, with J.Crew and Club Monaco being some of his go to brands. “I try to fix it like a classic American motif, just kind of go in and throw pieces here and there, for sure.” He admits to going home to change if he starts to dislike his outfit at times.
His love of fashion is the reason why he is holding out on creating merch. He wants his artist merch to be done in a sophisticated way. He wants his merch to be in the similar vein of a cut and sew capsule collection. “I’m just trying to figure that out right now, working with some solo artists and brands that I really fuck with to get some dope shit out.”
For years writing poetry was Jenkins passion, it wasn’t until he went back to Huntsville to attend Oakwood University, where his father worked, that he even considered being a rapper. Entering a rap competition at his school on a whim in an attempt to win some Beats By Dre headphones. Jenkins enjoyed the interaction and effect he had on the crowd. “[I] realized how I could impress people with the shit and how I could manipulate the feeling in the room.”
After that experience Jenkins started working on the process of constructing songs and eventually recording a mixtape. But it wasn’t until he moved back to Chicago that he really started taking rap serious. “When I started rapping I really just fell into it. I didn’t realize that I would get this serious, even when I made my first mixtape, you understand what I’m saying,” said Jenkins. “It was never I’m gonna be a rapper, it was just like I could rap and that shit has been history ever since, constantly working.”
Jenkins’ current collaborators are usually artists from Chicago, such as Hurt Everybody and THEMpeople. Jenkins has been working with THEMpeople ever since linking up with them for two tracks on The Water[s]. He works so well with them they ended up producing seven out of the nine tracks on his new Wave[s] EP. “They been hitting [it] on the head with the sound I’ve been looking for.” One of the only non-Chicago artists Jenkins works with is Montreal producer Kaytranada, who produced two tracks on his EP and who he also considers a mentor.
With his new EP receiving warm reviews, to his first 23-city headlining tour going on right now, the future looks bright for Mick Jenkins. When asked what artist he would really want to work with in the future, Mick responded with Jill Scott “She’s not fucking with me though, she just don’t know me yet that’s all.” Elevating at the pace he is now, it won’t be long until Jill Scott and the world learns who Mick Jenkins is.