Certain artists are able to tap into various wavelengths of inspiration, allowing different influences to course through their art and shape a special rhythm and flow. Mick Jenkins is such an artist. The Alabama-born, Chicago-based musician has always been drawn to expression—from drawing as a young child to sharing his poetry at open mics as a teenager, Jenkins has gravitated toward artistic release, especially toward language.
It was with his 2014 mixtape The Water[s] that Jenkins began to truly emerge as an MC, whose technical skills and lyrical strength were put on display and gaining wider respect. From racism and violence to poverty and classism, the themes of The Waters[s] possessed a conscientious fluidity.
With his most recent release The Wave[s], Jenkins takes us on a journey through various grooves, birthed from an openness to expression in all of its forms. He commissioned artist Hayveyah McGowan to create art for each track, adding another layer of experience to this project. The technical strength of “P’s & Q’s” and the poetisicm of “Alchemy” reflect Jenkins’ ebb and flow as he follows his artistic curiosities.
We recently met up with Jenkins in SoHo to discuss The Waves[s], Paolo Coelho and early influences. Jenkins will be performing at New York’s Highline Ballroom this Friday, Sept. 4th.
I first saw you on the Smoker’s Tour a few years ago with Joey Badass so I’ve seen the evolution of your work. It’s interesting how there was a natural fluidity from Waters[s] into Wave[s], like you’re finding your vibe.
“That’s exactly what it is and it’s just that natural. I did Water[s] knowing that my next actual effort, my debut The Healing Component would be just as conceptual. I wanted to explore and see what else I was able to do with other types of influences I’ve had aside from just rapping and exploring what I could do with that, and it was just natural. I didn’t intend to make a song like ‘Your Love;’ I wasn’t trying to do that. It just happened.”
What came first when you made the mixtape, the title, the concept or a certain song?
“It was gonna be called Feels at first because what we were doing was just going into the studio and creating exactly what we felt based on what we felt. Whereas with Water[s] I would do what I was feeling, do what I was thinking but I would doctor the songs or I would change songs. We would add melodies or add hooks to bring the concept to light. But with Wave[s]we left the concept in the background and just came into the studio with lines and then be like, “What are you feeling? Well I‘m feeling like this.” It was like, “Alright. What sounds match that?” and letting that be it and not being bound by a concept. So that’s how it came.”
Do you remember that first feeling you started with?
“‘Your Love’ was the first song that I recorded. I was actually on tour. I did a tour in February with Kirk Knight and Kaytranada sent me a batch of beats. It was the first one. My manager went to sleep, woke up an hour later and I had the song.”
In “Alchemy” I love the line, “Creating this gold from lead in my pencil / I think I’m an alchemist.” That’s like poetry.
“I had just finished Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. I just felt like that’s what I was doing. If that was the process, then I’m metaphorically kind of doing that with this music and I wanted to make that statement known on the first song.”
Within that book there’s so much about the “personal legend.” How do you feel about your own personal legend?
“I’ve actually read it twice now, to go back and see what I’ve missed and it’s definitely been a long road to find what that is. I’ve tried a couple different things. I wanted to do law at first. I was studying law and then interned at the federal building and I didn’t like that. I went into PR, I was doing copywriting, but that wasn’t what I was trying to do for my whole life. I moved into music and all of these things happened seamlessly and helped me figure out what I wanted to do and put some purpose into what I’m doing. That’s what the books about and that’s what inspired that song.”
How was it as a child in your household? Was there a lot of music and art?
“For sure. My mother listened to a lot of neo-soul and my father listened to contemporary gospel. I was drawing from a young age. When I was very young, I drew really well. I was in drama groups, my mother was very active at my school. Like she would be the mother at the school when I’m not in trouble, just there helping. She was very active in making sure that we blossomed in as many ways as we could.”
Do you remember an album you listened to non-stop?
“Who Is Jill Scott? My mother listened to that music and ‘A Long Walk’ was one of my favorite songs as a kid. I would just play that album. When she wasn’t home I would take her albums and play them. I still listen to that today, that’s my favorite album of all time, you know, I’m 14 years old bumping Jill Scott. That was some of my earliest memories of really attaching myself to an album or an artist out of my own fruition, my own desire.”
What about now? Are there certain things that have influenced you recently?
“Getting into production, for sure. Clothing. I really like design. I’ve been blessed to work really closely with some artists that I really appreciate. A close friend of mine is a Chicago designer; his name is Joe Freshgoods. I’m just trying to learn about it. I mean I’m still learning about music, but I’m definitely still learning about that as well. I have an affinity for it. I like to be stylish.”
You’re looking stylish.
“Art as well. That’s why we took the direction that we took with Wave[s], bringing in specific art for each song. I used to draw and I used to paint and that is such an important part of being able to tell a story and being able to have a listening party and have it tie in with the art gives it another visual aspect. To make it mean something more. The mediums are there.”
You commissioned the artist Hayveyah McGowan. What was your experience after you saw the first painting she created? What was the first one?
“‘Your Love.’ It’s really a dream for all of this to come to fruition. I just had a thought about it, so I sent it out to couple of people. I sent ‘Your Love’ to three different artists and got three different paintings back, and hers was the most striking. The colors, the brush strokes, all of that. The art that I put out inspired another artist to creative something equally as powerful and then evoke more emotion for the listeners. It’s wild. For me it’s like a thought, a dream.”
How did “P’s & Q’s” come about?
“I’m aware that the project is really different. There’s gonna be fans of mine who don’t like all the singing and I definitely wanted to just let people know that I can rap. I think I made that apparent previous to ‘P’s & Q’s.’ That is not to say that there is any shortage of rapping, this is just what I wanna do right now. And then thematically there’s been great hip hop songs like Nas’ ‘Rewind’ that have been used pretty creatively as literary devices and I wanted to do that as well. I was looking for some way to do that and when I was reading about different literary devices most of them were things that you can recognize through the written word and not necessarily hear. So alliteration was one that I was like, ‘I can definitely do that.’ The phrase ‘P’s & Q’s’ just means you’ve been on point and that’s how I really feel about what I’ve been producing, so from there on it was just a display of my artistry; what I can do with words.”
Do you have any favorite writers or certain people who you look up to?
“Paulo Coelho, a girl from the Southside of Chicago [named] Chris Thompson and James Baldwin. I’ve actually just started reading; I read the The Fire Next Time in school, but I’m reading it for leisure now. I watch a lot of his videos and interviews and speeches. I really like James Baldwin.”
With Wave[s] is there anything in particular you hope people get from it?
“No, and that’s what I think is the most beautiful thing about it. There was no concept necessarily to be delivered. This is just how I was feeling. This is supposed to hold people over until The Healing Component because The Healing Component’s not coming out until next year. This is an intermediate tape so that people will be satiated until the tape comes out. There’s not a lot to be received except for the music as it is because that’s how we made it. We made it as it is, we didn’t alter it because of a concept. We want it to be heard as such.”