Artist Spotlight By: Evan Mack

 

Chicago’s gun violence is a problem with national attention.  Though the death statistics oscillate between high and low, they always tell the same story: Chicago’s south and west sides have been the home of relentless misfortune. The issue is often amplified by local and national media whose coverage adds fire to the misperceptions surrounding the “root cause” of Chicago’s problems.  However, a more intimate depiction of Chicago is found in the stories told by the city’s musicians.

Enter Mick Jenkins, a 6’5 rapper hailing from Chicago whose voice is as deep as his writing. Jenkins released his mixtape, The Water[s], in August and has since seen fantastic growth in popularity. His unrelenting grasp on poetry shocks the listener. Haunting, subtle melodies accompany his unmistakable baritone voice on most of his tracks; the two fuse effortlessly every time. However, its Jenkins’s authenticity and honesty that has propelled him into the playlists of so many hip-hop fans, especially those “conscious” hip-hop fans who never hesitate to include “listen to the lyrics” in every sentence describing an artist. This is exactly the notion that makes Jenkins so different.

Take Jenkins’s visuals for “Dehydration,” which dropped earlier today. The video depicts an unapologetic look at a conflicted self.  In it, he battles with the perils of retaliation and anger and the allure of the promise of change (Note Jenkins’s solemn looks throughout the video) – “I keep a pistol and a bible, If they try me ain’t no killer but guarantee that they’ll see God here.”

The video, directed by Nathan R. Smith, starts with a compilation of quotes about gun violence while images of Chicago flash on the screen.  Amidst the scenes, Jenkins is seen hanging out with friends when a drive-by shooting ends with one of his friends dead.  A soulful chorus accompanies Jenkins considerations about how he will respond. Jenkins writes “I know that I’m wrong, but the Chi is all I’ve known (I know you know).”  He writes about his Chicago influence throughout The Water[s]; this track was no exception.  Frank and stern, characteristic of Jenkins’s style, he writes “Spark ‘to yo’ light bulb, just call me Confucius, we causin’ concussions / They callin’ me conscious, a Jimminy Cricket / Unfortunate events, got me writin’ it like Lemony Snicket.” Indeed, the terrible choice between revenge and progress that faces Jenkins in his visuals is one that is all too real for many in Chicago.

Rappers like Common, Chance The Rapper and Chief Keef have long contributed to the conversation about Chicago, as well.  Keef unabashadly conveys his reality through his drill, banger hits while more understated attempts at describing Chicago by Chano (for example) take a much more emotional form. But Jenkins has proven that he can balance these two styles brilliantly.  His poetic verses stretch the significance and thought of his songs, while his unforgiving tones and aggressive delivery paradoxically imbues a combination of passion and vulnerability in his voice.  This is perfectly represented in tracks like “Jazz,” “Healer,” “The Waters.” Jenkins is a necessary addition to the conversation in Chicago.  

“Dehydration” ends with the narration of ominous quotes about gun violence, much like how it started, Jenkins tells a story of a Chicago – his Chicago – bound by two outcomes riddled with difficulty.  Saluting the beauties of juxtaposition, “Dehydration” encapsulates his story with a national story, one that is inexplicably pervasive, yet unsolved and marred by the reality that “Bullets ain’t got no name.”

Listen to The Water[s]:

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