Mick Jenkins Wave[s]

[Cinematic; 2015]

Styles: rap, alternative hip-hop, art-trap, brain-rap
Others: iLoveMakonnen, Flying Lotus, Kendrick Lamar, Young Thug

Have you ever noticed how rap tends to organize itself around two contrary poles? Orbiting around the first of these, you have the quintessential hip-hop “Warriors,” the competitive-aggressive toughs hardened by life on the streets of some glorified civil warzone. Orbiting around the second, you have the quintessential hip-hop “Wise Guys,” the all-knowing street-poets who define themselves in opposition to the Warriors and who attempt to transcend the narrow limits imposed on them by their warring counterparts. Together, these two classes are the expression of the same bitten environments neither can quite seem to escape, and even if they’ve arguably been around since the days when De La Soul and The Pharcyde offered non-threatening alternatives to the belligerent likes of N.W.A. and the Wu-Tang Clan, there seems to have been an upsurge recently of fresh-faced Wise Guys striving to break free of confrontation and violence.

To name only a few, these emergent Wise Guys include the likes of iLoveMakonnen, Kendrick Lamar, and Danny Brown, daring rappers whose streaks of unapologetic difference have already set them apart from the caricatured pack. To this ever-expanding list we can now also add Mick Jenkins, a 24-year-old MC who hails from the “Chiraq” of Lil Herb and Katie Got Bandz, but who’s more interested in harnessing the mind-expanding powers of “water” than gearing himself up for “4 Minutes of Hell.” His latest mixtape, Wave[s], arrives fresh after last year’s excellent Water[s], a record of woozy mirages and submarine beats that marked a gaping departure from the drier jazz-hop of his 2013 debut tape, Trees & Truth. This new one is no less heady and singular, and even if it doesn’t do much to advance Jenkins’s captivating line in brain-hop, it solidifies his reputation as one of the most intriguing Wise Guy critics of the “thug life” still branding far too many rappers today.

Like many other meditative Wise Guys, Jenkins’s chief goal on Wave[s] is self-development and growth. During opener “Alchemy,” he weaves such lines as “Wait until I turn on the high beams” and “Creating this gold/ From the lead in my pistol” through the cavernous textures furnished by Lee Bannon and ThemPeople. The cut’s bottomless drones mirror the idea that Jenkins is plunging deep within his own psyche, dredging up the wisdom, revelations, and “conversation profound” that will set him free from the shackles of his destructive milieu.

It’s precisely this milieu and the gangbangers populating it that benefits from his spleen in the bubbling “Slumber.” Over restless drumming, he indicts its mindless conformity when he raps, “Most of this shit is really procession/ There’s no perspective.” Not only that, but he admonishes his neighbors to “Wake up, wake up, wake up/ We can’t sleep too long,” his flow during such rhymes exhibiting a concentration and determination that’s every bit as focused as his quest for self-realization.

This impression of intense focus is heightened by the sampled horns that rise into the air and the shimmering atmospherics that follow them skyward, inciting the sense that Jenkins is waking up from the eponymous “Slumber,” relocating himself via a mixture of psychoactive agents and prolonged contemplation. After resurfacing from such a cocktail, he advises us, “Don’t ever be scared to make mistakes/ That’s how you grow.”

Of course, Jenkins doesn’t spend the entirety of Wave[s] reflecting on reflection and how it can transform your life. In fact, he presents another interesting parallel with other “Wise Guys” by how much of the tape he devotes to the ladies, with women forming the centerpiece of trips like the club-infused “Your Love” and the phase-shifted yearning of “The Giver.” This romantic attention is common to many other rappers who cut themselves off from the “Warrior” huddle, and it’s a widespread trait precisely because these rappers lack the community and togetherness this huddle provides, depending instead on the closeness a woman can offer beyond mere sexual gratification. Given this substitution, it’s plausible to suggest that emotionally heavier numbers like the dramatized “40 Below” express not so much the desire to reunite with a lost love, but the sublimated desire to reunite with the group Jenkins had to renounce in his bid for personal independence.

Either way, even though such blurry love letters endow Wave[s] with a welcome source of melancholic variety, they lack the intensity and incisiveness of flexes like “Alchemist” or dogged closer “Perception.” With the latter, Jenkins recommits himself to enlightenment and evolution when he tenaciously lips, “I’m gonna lead the break in monotony/ Treat the game like Monopoly,” and when he blearily chants, “Tell me what you see/ Tell me what you know.” The underlying production here is suitably laden with wide-lensed, incipient keyboards to usher the suspicion that something big lies around the corner of his world, that a change is going to come.

What form this change might take is nigh-on impossible to predict, what with Jenkins’s unpredictable and mercurial nature at the helm. Needless to say, his distinction as one of the most compelling Wise Guys in hip-hop will only deepen, despite the potential argument that the distinction itself between Warriors and Wise Guys is fundamentally hollow, insofar as Wise Guys are merely Warriors who are forced by their own “weakness” to use the pen rather than the sword to fight all their battles. Maybe so, but there can be little doubt that Mick Jenkins is wise and a guy, and that his music is already putting many so-called Warriors to shame.

Links: Mick Jenkins - Cinematic

Most Read