[Review] Mick Jenkins: “The Water(s)”

Chicago’s Mick Jenkins has some pretty serious thoughts about water.

Aside from being the namesake for his highly-anticipated project, The Water(s), the natural resource is also the first thing listeners hear on the opening track “Shipwrecked.” The 22-year-old rapper is the latest to rise from the city with poignant lyricism and a clear aesthetic that is understood throughout his catalog. The difference with Jenkins has been his ability to migrate from the city and grow his brand elsewhere in the process.

Whereas many artists feel the need to stay firmly in front of the camera lens at all times, Jenkins has been comfortable in the background, his 6-foot-5 frame juxtaposing against a personality that keeps him within thoughtful circles. On The Water(s) he employs a powerful metaphor between the idea of free water as a right, playing it against the practice of doling out tracks for the low.

If nothing else, Mick Jenkins can tell a story. On “Shipwrecked” he channels the flow of turn-of-the-millennium artists as he immediately brings listeners into his world with distinct yet subtle asides, employing a slew of under-the-table storytelling techniques to achieve a sort of patchwork image of himself.  The stripped-down production on the track, provided by local outfit THEMPeople, allows Jenkins to be the energy, pacing the song throughout. Proving he doesn’t need big drums or oversized samples, he creates the most with little existent to prop him up.

It’s on “The Waters,” though, that Jenkins really begins to open things up. Whereas the first couple of tracks feature a quick in and out from Jenkins, it’s here that he seems to let the faucet run. His voice begs for attention without really needing it while espousing a message that touches on issues socioeconomic and beyond.

In the chorus he lets listeners know: “Water more important than gold/people save your souls.” It’s a condemnation of our increasingly manufactured society within which we exist and a call for change. At a time when a concept matters as much as the music, Mick underlines his overarching metaphor in thick red ink.

Nowhere is this evident moreso than the project’s standout track, “Jazz.” Whereas most would have opted for shots of a stand-up bass; dark, smokey rooms and the stereotypical “jazz” motifs, he and directorial team GoodBoy Media put together a movie-like visual that takes viewers to a drought-ridden city where H20 is at a premium, appropriate given Jenkins’ recent signing to Cinematic Music Group.

At a time when strong voices are dearly needed in this country, Mick provides listeners with a baritone of truth and honesty. I was disappointed to not see his “Treat Me Caucasian” collaboration with Hurt Everybody make the tape, but semblances of Hurt’s winnowing vocals and the shared bran of conscious Hip-Hop are evident on songs like “Dehydration,” “Martyrs,” and “Canada Dry.” As far as features go, new label mate Joey Bada$$ makes an appearance, as do fellow Chicagoans NoNameGypsy and Jean Deaux while OnGaud provides the majority of production on the project.

More than anything, Mick Jenkins stepped out into the world with The Water(s). The project, over a year in the making, is a complete look at one of the more interesting acts to come out of Chicago as of late. At the end of the video for “Jazz”, the sky opens and the rain falls, true to his overall aesthetic, Jenkins dropped the tape on a rainy Monday in his hometown.

If nothing else, Mick knows his water.

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