For those among us who feel Rap has become too much of an accessory, a merchandising tool in this weary world where auto-tune nightmares like Future and the flat, artificial stylings of Troy Avenue and his various, interchangeable counterparts (like Drake, Lil’ Wayne, Nicki Minaj etc.) can have a thriving career, twenty-four year old Chicago representative Mick Jenkins could not have come at a better time. The nine tracks which compose his latest thirty-two minute EP, Wave(s), (his fifth official ‘Mickstape’, as he so cleverly described it in the title of his first release which arrived January 13th of 2012, which will be officially released to digital services on August 21st of 2015) are proof that, even though the flame of sheer creative artistry in sound and lyricism are a near extinct beast, there are some who bring this conflagration to light to such an incredible degree that it makes the Pop influenced drought the genre has gone through well worth the patience we invested as we waited for that one talented newcomer to grab us by the ears and the hearts and remind us why we fell in love with the musical form to begin with. With Jenkins’ deep, bracing inflection and the way he combines haunting turns of occasional singing over soulful, menacing melodies he draws immediate comparisons to Tyler the Creator. In so doing, it just makes the general impression he leaves all the more admirable.
He begins the EP with the imaginative fusion of hard-hitting and funky bass, menace, touches of Rock and an overall Horror movie vibe on the amazing track, “Alchemy”. The first words we hear are something of a spoken word bit, which in many ways reiterates the same statements I utilized in the paragraph above, and from this we are instantly gripped, caught raptly listening to what he has to say and nodding our heads in agreement throughout. The poetry he instills into his initial declarations about the “thirst” (an attachment to the EP title, Wave(s), which is also amazingly utilized throughout in a variety of ways that are guaranteed to make one envious) we have as a culture for genuine music (a line that comes a mere five seconds into the EP declaring: “We need to start from scratch and redefine what society thinks is quality” is especially felt) is a promise he delivers upon throughout and the depth, anger and smartness for what he does with the craft. This message is only heightened when with an astonishing, multi-layered, pun-filled, yet literate and intellectual, rap combining unbridled heart and full-throttle emcee prowess on “Alchemy” that only cements the idea that you are about to get a dose of real Hip Hop (one Jenkins fulfills immensely and often in tremendously unpredictable ways).
“Slumber” is a continuation of sorts of the themes held in “Alchemy” as Jenkins calls us to “Wake up/ Wake up/ We’ve been asleep to long.” Over a collection of ill drum beats Jenkins builds beautifully, and with forthright power and a sense of conjuring our personal victories, upon finding and being ones true self as he motivates us to find success in our failures. The result is a monumentally uplifting piece, and a reflection on such songs which seem to also be all but lost in the age of ego which has been our musical timeframe and a call to bring them back, which is appreciated all the more because of how distinct and classically underground the quality of lyrics, transfer of voice from track to our ears is and how masterfully done the overall construction of this anthem resonates.
The third track, “Get Up, Get Down”, “40 Below” and the massive seven minute long sixth track, “The Giver”, is where the Tyler the Creator comparisons become undeniable. In these enjoyably unique, uncharacteristically cheerful oddities Jenkins conforms his lyrics, as Tyler the Creator often did in his most recent work, to come off as an attempt at an R&B flavored, retro 1980’s love ballad that is inadvertently made more amusing because it is impossible to tell if he is being serious, parodying such a tune or, perhaps, both. Like much of the material on Tyler the Creator’s bitingly brilliant Cherry Bomb from earlier this year, it focuses more on the explosion of old school melodies and taking what could come off on paper as a clichéd romantic dance track (most evident in the actuality that “40 Below” is essentially three minutes and twenty seven seconds of Jenkins singing “So cold”, after a skit which sets up the scandalous nature slyly winked at in the title, in a continual loop) and juxtaposing the emphasis so that it comes off as fresh, infectious and, occasionally, unsettling.
“Your Love”, a track so catchy you will find yourself compelled to sing it for hours afterward, is where this formula is the most evident. The hook is simply Jenkins singing off-key, “I want to love you, love you, love you!” for most of its radio friendly length of three minutes and fourteen seconds but, there is so much energy in the way the melody washes over us and in the conviction that goes into the way he belts out the otherwise cringe-worthy words which compose the refrain that screams of a man completely content with, and not afraid of, invention.
Though the EP seems to be torn down the middle by two opposing personalities when Jenkins takes a break from appealing to his more sensitive side and rhymes again on “Piano” the illusion of him as a sonic brainchild is just as strong. Bar after witty bar relating to the title instrument and “moving a piano” as a way of addressing his attempts to sell his music with “his people”, mixed with serene changes in pitch throughout, evoke the perfect atmosphere for what is an extended metaphor utilized throughout the song as the piano being his music and its keys and bars his attempts to make it as a musician. This is a showcase of jazzy lyrical expertise at its coolest and sophisticated and “Piano” is undoubtedly a highlight of Wave(s).
In the concluding tracks, “P’s and Q’s” (where Jenkins uses alliteration with the title letters so effortlessly throughout that will make the most egotistic wordsmith humble) and the sharp, violent string plucking (which reminds one more of Bernard Herman’s theme for Hitchcock’s Psycho from 1960 than a Rap song and is appreciated all the more because of how unconventional it all is) of “Perception”, Jenkins finishes his most recent EP by abandoning his singing impulses and turning to the unbridled power of emcee wizardry. Both songs are supremely lyrical rhyme fests that end these nine tracks on the same daring, abrasive manner it commenced with and, in so doing, Jenkins gives equal time to both sides of his musical disposition in the process. The result makes this phenomenal, ear-perking, take notice effort all the more well-rounded, in turn, and worthy of our affections.
Mick Jenkins has a gargantuan talent and could well be the artist we need to breathe life back into the slowly dying state of Hip Hop. On Wave(s) he has the attitude, the creative and risk-taking spirit which is sadly lacking for music in general and his wonderfully odd takes on R&B are just as effective as when he lets his high-caliber emcee instincts take the wheel. Jenkins’ latest may be only nine tracks in length but it shows infinitely more range than most artists showcase in their entire catalogue. It is reported that he will be dropping his debut album later this year, currently titled The Healing Component, and I can only hope that the wonders inside of his latest endeavor are just a hint of the variety and stylistic chance taking that will be perceived in his upcoming release and in his future works. Jenkins is the latest on my list of “Artists to Keep an Eye Out For” and, if there is any fairness left in Rap for a real rhymer, will be a name real Hip Hoppers will be hearing often.