Last week I had the chance to meet in Paris, France Mick Jenkins on his first-ever European tour. We talked about his three mixtapes, his « Water » concept, why he understand in a way Vince Staples comment on 90’s Hip-Hop, why Kanye West is the most influential artist, Chief Keef and of course his city Chicago. Sit Back Relax. (Picture by John Aku)
Nasir Jones was wrong. Hip-Hop isn’t dead. Maybe during a period Hip-Hop wasn’t in a very good place. But even back then there was always at least one MC that was able to fuel life in this culture. In this new millenial Mick Jenkins is one of them. This 6’ 5” young brother from Chicago is for a lack of a better term a « conscious rapper ». Not a preachy-boring one. Mick Jenkins is way too smart for that. His deep voice is wrapping up what might usually be deemed as conscious rap in a « not-so-conscious » style. It wasn’t until last year’s project The Water[s] that Mick Jenkins quickly gained a legitimate hype. Then he returned this summer with the release of his debut EP Wave[s] with a more lighter content. Yet, Mick Jenkins is far from being a household name, like Chance The Rapper or even Vic Mensa but he is without a doubt part of the musical renaissance that has swept through the Windy City.
You’re from Chicago which is very segregated city but you also lived in Alabama. How was it down there?
Yes I was in Alabama until I was 10 years old and then my parents split up. My mother went to Chicago and my father stayed there. It’s crazy because Alabama has more racial divide but it wasn’t anywhere near segregated the way Chicago was. I went to school there and it was pretty integrated. While in Chicago it’s so segregated. You can literally ride the train and see how the colors changing while you move in Chicago. Coming from the Southside that’s really something you can notice.
Does it affect you or your music?
I think it did probably subconsciously. I wasn’t always aware on how it affected me but now I can say that it’s definitely because of that. Being surrounded by all Black peoples in school, with all Black peoples going to the church… It’s kind of closes you in one experience. I wasn’t restricted to that, while some of my friends never been outside of the city or of the block. There is people who never been on the north side. There is people who never been on the Southside. Me I was blessed to go overseas from a young age and just go throughout the city from a young age.
I’ve read that your mom was a journalist. I guess that it influenced you in a way?
Again, subconsciously maybe. I definitely picked up writing from her. I was writing from a very young age. I was always a creative writer. I didn’t start writing poetry until high school and then I didn’t start rapping until college. I can say it came from her.
I’m a great rapper, I make great music. I’m blessed to be able to work with amazing producers and having ear for great production.
How would you define your style ? I know it’s a bit cliché…
I don’t. I think I do a lot of things. I think I’ve proven that. I’m a great rapper, I make great music. I’m blessed to be able to work with amazing producers and having ear for great production. I’m still trying to figure things out. You can’t define an artist style from just one project. You can’t even say it’s a style until he constantly puts out music that sounds the same…
Your two last projects The Water(s) and Wave(s) are really different… Trees and Truth before that was also very different. Did you do it on purpose?
No, no it was just the space that was in. I made Trees and Truth inspired by what I was inspired by, taking the concept where I wanted to take it and the producers that I was working with at the time. Water(s) was inspired by different peoples and I was inspired by different experiences. Subsequently it has a big play in choosing production and Wave(s) it’s the same thing. That’s the reality of the situation for me: different experiences fuel these stories and these songs. They’re going to sound different. Water(s) sounds like you under water and Wave(s) don’t. Because it’s not the same space. It’s that simple.
What space where you in when your wrote Your Love ?
I was inspired by my brand new girlfriend at that time.
It sounds like a new Mick Jenkins. [Laugh] In a good way...
I was tired of….the heavy concepts. I mean not « tired » : just exhausted. It took me a long time to write and conceptualize Trees and Truth and it took me a lot of time to figure out Water(s). Wave(s) was just a refreshing experience to be able to come to the studio and to be able to create exactly what I was feeling and not changing it because of a concept. Your Love was just how I felt about my girlfriend who was in school in New Orleans…It came very fast…It’s easy for me to talk about things that I’m very familiar with…I actually wrote that song in an hour.
I don’t think the world can say it hasn’t been inspired by Kanye !
I’ve read in an interview that you said College Dropout was the first album that you bought. Was this album an influence ?
Kanye is a big influence on my music on general. I actually think that he is a big influence on me and my peers as a group. He’s the most influential Hip-Hop artist of our adolescence, when we were all coming to be independent thinkers as teenagers…Kanye came out. Rap is pop you know what I’m saying? It was the biggest release of our adolescence. And then he followed up with Late Registration, and then he followed up with his persona. I don’t think the world can say it hasn’t been inspired by Kanye!
The people, the artists… They are all inspired by him…I’m sure there is people who aren’t… But they kind of are! [Laughs] I respect Kanye a lot for that ! No matter how much you feel about him as a person, he is an amazing artist and an amazing producer. He actually has a hold on the culture. He can shift the culture and he is doing it with his ideas and a lot of them are dope. I think it’s very hard to say that you are not inspired by Kanye. I was definitely inspired by Kanye. I’m still inspired by Kanye. You know him, Cudi, Chance, all these people with stage presence whose live shows are something to be seen and experience. They inspire me to put the same kind of effort in mine.
Did you saw on Twitter yesterday, what Vince Staples…
Yeah bro I think I saw it.. His tweet said « everybody be so thirsty for the 90s Hip-Hop. Why? » [Laughs] I get where is coming from. I think production…
I think in the 90’s they was a bigger lack of lyricism that people want to own up to !
He also said that it’s overrated…
I’m about to come to you…I think production and the true landscape of the hip-hop game as rappers go…I think it’s gotten better. I think in the 90’s they was a bigger lack of lyricism that people want to own up to. The greats ? That goes without saying: Biggie, 2 Pac, Big L… I don’t think he was trying to discredit them. But the whole of the 90s Hip-Hop gets credit because they get credit.
But it’s always how it goes…
Yeah it’s always how it goes. I understand where he might coming from even though I may not agree with him. I think that production specifically has gotten WAY better. That has a part to do with technology. That’s not necessarily the artists of that time fault. When people say “Hip-Hop Is Dead” I want to say just because you don’t know real Hip- Hop is doesn’t mean that it’s dead. I think that the landscape of rappers is a lot better. But in the other hands I didn’t even mention Jay-Z…It’s too much heat from the 90’s, there is too much greats to disrespect it.
How do you came up with your « Water » concept?
Water is synonymous with « Truth ».
So when you say « drink more water » it means : « get more truth »?
Yes. And when I say « Truth » it is truth of our basic life. Happiness, beauty, success, love…What these things are. How do you achieve it? This is the true essence of life. These are basics ideas of what everybody wants and trying to figure out how to get it. The medias, the government, everybody’ll got you thinking that it’s a house with a white picket fence with two kids a dog and a « Beamer ». And there is people who have that but yet are miserable. We’re fed the wrong ideas about life and the truth about that is as important as water.
If you had found me before Trees and Truth you‘ll have found someone who didn’t knew what he was trying to say.
How did you dealt with the success of Water(s) ? It kind of came out of nowhere….
« Kind Of » [Laugh]
I see what you are saying. I have seven mixtapes now but everybody only knows me for Trees and Truth and that’s a good thing. If you had found me before Trees and Truth you‘ll have found someone who didn’t knew what he was trying to say. Who was saying some things sometimes but I didn’t really know what I was trying to say. Trees And Truth was really the first step in the right direction. I’m really self critical. In Trees And Truth the production wasn’t cohesive. It was all over the place. It’s not a bad thing but it is. Jazz, soulful, boombap…There was no cohesiveness that’s why I made sure that in Water[s] the production sounds cohesive. In Trees And Truth there was a lot of songs that I didn’t want to perform some songs were way too chill. Some of the best songs in that mixtape are pretty relaxed: Negro League, Roots, Fuck With Me Famo…So I made sure that Water(s) had a little more bounce to it Martyrs, Five Room 4, Comfortable… Water(s) is the direct response to me evaluating Trees And Truth. I was really happy with Water(s). I’m glad that that’s the one that gain some national attention. It kind of freed me up to have the space and the creative space to do...
Yep, right before I cracked up over their head with THC. I thank god because it’s a natural progression. I think that Water(s) was the beginning. I think that Martyrs was the beginning. I think that Waters is a classic for me: it’s a Mick Jenkins classic. That’s like one of my children [laugh]
The chorus « I’mma get all this money, I’mma buy all this shit, I’mma fuck so many hoes » …that’s like every rap song on the radio in America.
How do you felt when the media tried to make Martyrs the « anti drill » song?
I speak more to the way that the black youth allowed the music to consume then. I don’t really have a problem with the music. I listen to the music, I know the lifestyle, I’m not unfamiliar. I’m from Chicago, I know the same places, I’ve got family, friends who live the same live in the same places. I went to one of the worst school of Chicago, I’m familiar you know… But it’s some differences to see peoples like influenced and their life directions starting to going in a certain way because of the influence of the music. It’s something that you can plainly see. It’s something that you can’t really deny. That’s more what I’m speaking about with Martyrs. I wasn’t just talking about drill. The chorus « I’mma get all this money, I’mma buy all this shit, I’mma fuck so many hoes » …That’s like every rap song on the radio in America. That’s not just drill you know. When I hear a song on the radio I can just bet that I’m going to hear at least two of these sentences and probably all of them. I am aware that the video for Martyrs ‘ll be perceived like that just because we are imitating the Don’t Like video. These were ideas to really hit you because it can’t be subtle. I got subtle records but they can’t be all like that. They are going to be in your face. The noose going to be in your face, the legs that are hanging it’s in your face. That interview is in your face and it has to be. So that people can ask questions so I can give answers.
It made me think on how Lupe Fiasco made a song with RondoNumbaNine. That’s the type of thing that can only happen in Chicago.
That’s very real. If you grew up on the Westside of Chicago or you grew on the Southside of Chicago and you weren’t on the best neighborhood then you’re familiar. You know what it is. You know how to move. You know how to walk around. You know how to act when you’re over there.
The fact that they can work together and respect each other is pretty cool
Yeah because this is more than artistry ! It’s more that what I’m saying to you, is more that what I’m saying to these people following me : it’s just that you’re a man. I’m a man and we are from the same place. We can identify each others. I can’t judge Chinky, I can’t change Fredro. I can talk to him as a man, if I have some advices or something that I can learn from him…I think it makes perfect sense. Lupe is from Chicago I’m sure his familiar. People don’t imagine how people are close in Chicago. I’ve seen GLC, I’ve seen Alex Wiley at the studio. We don’t use the same studio but there is a warehouse full of music studios and a lot of people go there it’s called Music Garage. I’ve seen everybody there. Literally. When me, Chance and Vic recorded Crossroads that was random. Chance one day brought out R.Kelly !
You know what im saying ? It’s Chicago !
How came the situation with Cinematic Music Group?
Everybody was approaching me the same way: the « classic-label » way. Now people are aware of this classic label way, to the point that I can say it and you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about…
« Let me fly you out to L.A, take that cash Imma take care of everything »...
That’s how everybody was kind of hollering at me. Johnny [Johnny Shipes, the head of Cinematic Music Group] was just different. I was working with him like for seven months just for the love. That’s how our relationship began. This made more sense to me. Even as a business partner yourself…For example if you don’t take the time to know Chief Keef, you sign Chief Keef and he starts fucking up appearances and not showing up to things he is supposed showing up to. Like gigs, like big money gigs…His manager had to pay him ten thousand dollars to do an interview for I think Rolling Stones ! You gets in business with someone like that ? That’s bad for you too. You’ve got to be real to me. You’ve got to be a man to me because this isn’t just a business relationship. For them, most of the time is just a business relationship. For me this is my life.
How does it feel to be a new artist from Chicago? I remember an old interview of Common where explained that he had to go to New York to get noticed. Now the labels are coming to your city to find talents. How do you feel to maybe be the next to blow?
I think that it’s cool that I have a lot of people’s attention and that peoples are listening to what I’m saying. Honestly I don’t care about « blowing » per se that’s not a thing to me. People think I’m blowed up already. What does that mean? I don’t think I blowed up at all. That’s not even something I’m thinking or concentrate about. Like « blowing up » and how « big » I am. I think it’s amazing to be around all these creative peoples, all these artists that I’m able to create with. I do what I love to do. Of course there are aspects of it that you don’t think about.
When you dream about your dream, you only dream about the dreaming part! [Laughs] There is a very real part to all of our dreams. Like being on the road and having no privacy and no sleep. Having to perform every night despite what may happen in your personal life. Doesn’t matter is somebody just dropped you on the phone. Doesn’t matter if you ate today. You don’t think about all these parts...