Words About Music
Mick Jenkins “The Water[s]”
Rappers like to rap about drinks. Usually, that drink is either lean, an alcoholic beverage, or—on some occasions—Arizona iced tea. It’s rare that you hear a rapper attempt to conceptualize an album based on something as ordinary and common as water or something as strange and idiosyncratic as ginger ale. Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins, though, is no ordinary rapper. He combines several different styles and aesthetics into his latest mixtape “The Water[s].” There’s New York aggression, Atlanta hooks, and Chicago atmosphere all over this thing. Mick Jenkins is also an incredibly thought-provoking lyricist that can be intelligent without being even remotely boring. Something like this usually would not strike a chord with me, but something about “The Water[s]” works so well for me that I wouldn’t mind calling this one of the best—if not the best—hip-hop projects of the year.
Mick Jenkins has the makings of what a lot of people would call a “struggle rapper.” Someone who only raps about how they should be big and famous when they’re not, or someone who complains about the way things and people are these days. While Jenkins does seem a bit disillusioned with the current state of hip-hop—he mentions how he barely scrapes by while people flock to RiFF RAFF concerts—and of some people in general, I think he goes about airing his grievances in a way that is creative and productive. He could just as easily be the corny pretentious dictionary rapper that uses big words to show how smart he is while complaining about how not a single good hip-hop album has been released since “Illmatic,” but instead he takes his intelligence and faith and puts it into messages of positivity. Sort of.
Let’s talk about the biggest element of this album; the element that brings every song on here together into one cohesive project: water. On this album, water is a metaphor for truth, enlightenment, and knowledge. Something we all need in this day and age. Something that’s very easy to avoid when there’s so much crap on the Internet that isn’t true. We all spend so much time focusing on our opinions and making sure they’re heard that we often ignore the simple realities and truths. We can escape the truth with alcohol or lean or even Arizona iced tea, but at the end of the day we all need water or else we’ll die. Jenkins’ extended metaphor, surprisingly enough, works for the entirety of this album. It doesn’t get boring or worn out, it only becomes more clear what he’s trying to say. It’s a fascinating concept that is a refreshing way of relating “conscious hip-hop” to a legion of new hip-hop fans that don’t want to be isolated or condescended.
When I first heard some of the songs from this mixtape on YouTube, like “Jazz” and “Martyrs,” I was sort of impressed but not really sold. After listening to “The Water[s],” though, it became apparent that this is a mixtape that must be heard front-to-back. Listening to one track off of this does not do Mick Jenkins justice. The mixtape is conceptual, gradual, and sort of slow, but Mick uses the mixtape format to show you that he is way more than a one-trick pony like some of the standalone tracks may have you believe. He is a skilled lyricist, technically proficient rapper, great hook writer, and amazing storyteller. This project could have been done incorrectly in so many ways, but I think that “The Water[s]” was handled in a way that makes it difficult not to pay attention to. The production is phenomenal, the songs themselves are memorable and wonderful in their own ways, and the project as a whole is the most bold and ambitious mixtape I’ve heard in a long time.
SCORE – 9.2
FAVORITE TRACKS – Shipwrecked, The Waters, Healer, Vibe, Jazz, Black Sheep, Drink More Water, Canada Dry, Who Else, Dehydration, Martyrs, Jerome