“Back on my bullshit / You know i’m preaching, don’t need a pulpit,” Mick Jenkins proclaims on the song “Ghost.” The Chicago poet has embraced one of hip-hop’s premier features, which is providing a platform for artists to relay certain messages — “preach” — to the masses, in more elegant and poetic ways than most other genres. Any listeners familiar with his music up to this point are probably aware of the fact that he doesn’t make music just for the sake of making music; from his ultra-aquatic mixtape The Water[s], which was an allegorical search for truth, to his debut album The Healing Component, which found him exploring the concept of love and its countless manifestations, it’s abundantly clear that Mick Jenkins’ music is incredibly thoughtful, and his messages are very intentional.
Artists like Mick Jenkins sometimes feel like a rarity these days. Few rappers are quite as ambitious, or conceptual, or insightful as Jenkins tries to be in his music.
It’s been over two years since The Healing Component, and Jenkins has had time to evaluate the response to what was/is his most ambitious project — generally favorable reception, but some criticism concerning its concept and its deviation away from the sounds of The Water[s] and Wave[s]. Even though he’s dropped two mixtapes within that break (or more; the anxious and or more; the frustration), Mick Jenkins has felt distant from the music scene, and his return comes with an urgency to “preach” about a lot more.
“Hell yeah I’ve got some shit I want to get off my chest!” Mick exclaimed, in an interview with Dazed Magazine. “In every aspect, in relation to conceptual things, in relation to the state of the game across the underground and mainstream platforms… 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.”
As if it wasn’t clear enough from some of the singles he dropped earlier this year, such as “What Am I To Do,” Mick Jenkins makes it crystal on Pieces of a Man that he isn’t going to mince his words for anybody. “Don’t call me a hater just because I wasn’t fuckin’ with the flow,” he raps on the chorus of “Reginald.” “If it’s reggie then I gotta let you know.” On his sophomore album, the Chicago rapper sounds bold and dauntless, growing comfortable with the fact that he is so far ahead of the curve (“I supersede all them niggas that go with the grain”).
While Mick Jenkins isn’t afraid to “spit the naked truth,” he also tries to use his critiques as opportunities to reflect on his past and detail his own pursuit of self-improvement and growth. In an interview with Pitchfork, Jenkins talked about the meditative nature of some of his latest songs, saying, “it forces you to look at yourself and really understand why and how you came to be who you are and move the way that you do.”
“Gwendolyn’s Apprehension,” a song that references Gwendolyn Brook’s poem “We Real Cool,” can be read partially as a critique of the rebellious, fake “cool-kid” antics Mick observes across his own generation (“You niggas too cool for me / Too many social rules for me / That superficial shit ain’t fooling me”), but also as a reflection on Jenkins’ journey from a superficial trend-follower to becoming his own autonomous personality (“This was way before followers when I was following / Wasn’t til a bit later when I was flowering”). The same goes for the song “Soft Porn,” in which he sounds unimpressed with the inauthentic nature of modern celebrity (“They call you by your username offline / I usually pay no mind / I just cannot get used to niggas using that shit to define themselves”), but also looks inward and acknowledges the disingenuousness of his own past (“Pointed out social constructs I foolishly honored / I booted these false concepts that diluted these waters / Was trying to be true to the nigga I was claiming to be / Now I’m really real”).
Pieces of a Man really offers a nuanced, introspective look at these different “pieces” that make up the complex being that is Mick Jenkins — a man thinking more progressively and welcoming the recent conversations surrounding #MeToo and sexual consent (“Consensual Seduction”), finding confidence in his embrace of his Christian faith (“Grace & Mercy”), and realizing the importance of understanding and communication, especially between the older and younger generations (“Understood”).
Over a jazzier backdrop, courtesy of producers like Black Milk, Kaytranada, THEMPeople, and others, Mick Jenkins is able to improve upon the quality of his debut album and deliver his most mature project to date.