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In conversation with Mick Jenkins

We met with the rapper to talk about his recent single and his next album Pieces of a Man

Fittingly for an artist who made a name waxing about water, Mick Jenkins’ recent output has resembled a cracked New York City fire hydrant on a summer day. Jenkins has taken the better part of two years since his debut album, The Healing Component, to write and record material for its follow-up, Pieces of a Man, due out later this year.

To tide over his audience and pull back the curtain on his current creative process, Jenkins has released two impressive mixtapes: or more; the anxious in late 2017 and or more; the frustration in February. On the latter, Jenkins takes umbrage with some current trends in hip hop, but makes an effort to provide some sugar with his medicine on songs like the trap-tinged “Same Ol” or the darkly funny “Earl Sweatshirt Type Beat”, where he brags about still dredging YouTube for undiscovered talent. Jenkins wants to educate and elevate, but the last thing he wants to be is a “finger-pointer”.

And while the healing power of water was a frequent motif on his early projects The Water[s] and Waves, Jenkins scorched earth with his recent COLORS performance of “What Am I To Do”. Recorded in collaboration with Clarks Originals as part of a series that also features 070 Shake, Ama Lou, and Snoh Aalegra, the clip is a reminder that the Chicago MC is a first-rate writer and a needed voice in these corrosive, chaotic times.

Ahead of the release of his new record, Jenkins chatted with Dazed about lessons learned from his debut LP, collaborating with Kaytranada, and why he still searches the web for beats.

You’ve stressed that you’re a writer first, and that rap is the vehicle for what you’re saying. How do you think your messages have been received over your career?

Mick Jenkins: Like most messages, unless they’re super simple, the majority of people have eschewed what I’m trying to say, or completely misinterpreted it – and then there’s a small pocket of people who truly understand exactly what I’m trying to convey most of the time. I think that’s normal. I have now started to react to it, whereas before I was hard-headed, and purely doing what I felt like doing. But I’ve come to understand the game, and have my reasons for why I changed that.

Of the recent tracks you’ve released, one that really stands out is “Earl Sweatshirt Type Beat”. Did you actually find that beat on YouTube?

Mick Jenkins: That’s something that I honestly still do. I still rummage through YouTube and SoundCloud beats without a problem. Six records off my album come from people that you’ve never heard of, and they’re fire beats. And they were pretty cheap (laughs). I like rummaging through YouTube and SoundCloud because what I find is more than just a beat, it’s a whole person, a producer who usually isn’t in that room, isn’t in this world of linking up with rappers and coming to the studio and playing instrumentals. By bringing somebody into that space, I feel like you develop a relationship, they’re appreciative of you exposing them to more of the intricacies of this world, and they’re also people who make good music. I was a SoundCloud rapper (laughs). I know people who are amazing producers who were on SoundCloud. Those types of people are still out there.

On the other hand, when you work with big producers, you often pull them out of their comfort zones to create unique tracks, like your Kaytranada collaboration “What Am I To Do.” How did that song come together?

Mick Jenkins: I was in the studio with him, and he was like, ‘Yo, I don’t know what I’m doing with these because I’m in an R&B mood right now, but I know you would fuck with this shit.’ And it was just a bunch of beats like “What Am I To Do”. Oh my God, when I get a batch (of instrumentals) from Kaytra, it’s like heaven. It’s really a marriage of influence and style, because I feel like no matter what he plays for me, I usually can do something really dope over it, even if it’s the uptempo shit like “Your Love” or something super stripped down and boom bap like “What Am I To Do.”

Both “What Am I To Do” and “Bruce Banner” feel like you getting some things off your chest.

Mick Jenkins: I’ve been working for almost two years, not really releasing a ton of music after The Healing Component. But it’s not because I wasn’t doing anything. I’m now in a space where I’m ready to come back out, and hell yeah I’ve got some shit I want to get off my chest! In every aspect, in relation to conceptual things, in relation to the state of the game across the underground and mainstream platforms… Y’all haven’t heard from me in a long time, and I think I understand a lot about, in my opinion, what went wrong with The Healing Component, even though there were a lot of things that went right about it. Obviously, the biggest thing is the tone of my raps, so I think this is me with a tone that more people want, and the biggest thing that I’m getting off my chest is that I’m so much better at this shit than y’all think I am… That’s the state I was in writing this music. I was frustrated about dealing with all that, as you can see with the frustration.

What do you feel went wrong with The Healing Component?

Mick Jenkins: If you really want to get into some hip hop shit, then this album is amazing, but I think I understand more why it didn’t cross. What I’m saying is that I was on a trajectory up, and I feel that when that album came out that trajectory slowed down, and then I started to assess why. A bigger part of my audience wanted The Water[s] Pt. 2.

Would you say that Pieces of a Man functions as The Water[s] Pt. 2?

Mick Jenkins: No, I feel it’s much better than that… It’s Pieces of a Man, with that man being me. You’ve got segments of who I am, portions of what makes me whole, and I think that – to speak on a social issue – we forget about that. People forget that what we see of somebody at work is a work persona. What we see of somebody out or somebody in a grocery store are personas – most of the time we’re only getting pieces of people, but we do not refrain from making that be the whole you.

Where did you record the album? Did any specific places inspire it?

Mick Jenkins: We chose to do the album in certain places, so those places influenced it, but when I come up with a song, I wasn’t (just) inspired today. If I did three records for the album in one day, that wasn’t because it was a fire ass Thursday (laughs). It was the culmination of the last three months of me thinking about these records just arriving at one day. None of this shit is on-the-spot created, even if I on-the-spot write it. I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I’ve had this beat for five months, I’ve been considering what concepts, what topics, what features are going to go on the album for months. I’ve been thinking about what stories I’m going to tell to invoke what message for a long time, so when it all comes out on one day, it wasn’t just that I was on fire today. I don’t ever look at it as one moment. But for your question, we were in LA and Chicago, so that definitely affected how the music came together as well.

Your output recently has been really notable both for its quality and quantity.

Mick Jenkins: This is the first time I’ve been in this place. I’ve always been against the clock, I’ve always been where the album date is out there and I’ve still got two more records to do. This is the first time that I’ve been so far ahead, and I think people are going to see how that’s going to be more effective for a rollout, for my own confidence, and for post-album as well. I don’t ever expect to fall into a rut of dropping an album and then being gone for a year-and-a-half. That’s not happening anymore (laughs).

Anything else you want to share?

Mick Jenkins: There’s a lot of new music coming out, but the first single from the album is releasing within the next few weeks, that’s as much as I can say. It’s called “Understood”.