Who the Hell Is Mick Jenkins?

The Chicago rapper will release 'Wave[s]' next week. 

René Marban

Mick Jenkins is a 24-year-old rapper from Chicago’s South Side. Last year, he earned prominence with his second mixtape, The Water[s], the followup to 2013’s Trees & Truths. Jenkins will release his next project, Wave[s], on August 21 via Cinematic Music Group, as well as on his own imprint Free Nation, and on the indie label Good Years. You can stream the mixtape now at NPR.

Although he’s just now getting national attention, Jenkins has been a Chicago mainstay for a few years. He’s worked with Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa before any of the three of them were close to the stars they are now. In July 2013 (just two months after Chance released Acid Rap) they combined for “Cross Roads,” a smooth SoundCloud loosie that functions as a microcosm of each of their strengths — Mick’s straightforward delivery, Chance’s calculated absurdity, and Vic’s rapidfire coolness.

On The Water[s], Jenkins sought to establish himself as distinct from his city’s more wild reputation. Drill music, popularized by Chief Keef, glamorized the violence “Chiraq,” circa 2012. More recently, bop music, made by the likes of Sicko Mobb, is a non-stop party — hardly a break for some. Jenkins is not a preachy rapper, but he certainly believes there’s more to life and music than aggression. He’s not afraid to pick fights, though, rapping, “Shorty told me she do not do the fakes / Same bitch got weave” on “Martyrs.”

The Water[s] was an exercise in contrast for Jenkins. His voice is gruff and powerful, his delivery confident, but he spent a great deal of time telling the world about its issues without revealing his own alternatives. He was scratching at the surface of something — an entertaining process to listen to — but hadn’t quite figured out how to break through.

On Wave[s]’s early singles, it sounds like Jenkins has better figured out what he’s about. He begins the Kaytranada-produced “P’s & Q’s,” for example, with an absolute alliterative assault, which he continues throughout.

I been on my P’s and Q’s, quantum leaps ahead of my peers/ They not even in my peripheral, pray I keep it proper/ ‘Cause they playin’ so political, the petty is so pitiful/ Niggas Peter Pettigrew, I’m of a higher pedigree/ I’m peddling this penmanship, appreciate the pleasantries

Previously, Jenkins could talk a big game, having only his potential to show for the boasting. If “P’s & Q’s” is any indication, Jenkins has taken his skills to another level, legitimizing everything he’s got to say. Watch out.