WAVE[S] by Mick Jenkins
Genre: Abstract Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Slumber (featuring Saba, Sean Deaux, and Donnie Trumpet)”, “Your Love”
Having officially been contributing to the local Chicago scene since 2012, Mick Jenkins eschews the drill-heavy leanings of many of his contemporaries, often being grouped under the somewhat controversial “conscious hip hop” label. While 2012’s (regrettably entitled) mixtapes THE MICKSTAPE and THE PURSUIT OF HAPPYNESS: THE STORY OF MICKALASCAGE were largely ignored, Jenkins finally managed to garner some attention with 2013’s TREES AND TRUTH. However, virtually no one was prepared for the release of 2014’s THE WATER[S]. Featuring jazz-y instrumentation that flirted precariously with cloud rap, and Jenkins’ signature complex flows detailing his search for truth by way of his obsessively favored water metaphor, THE WATER[S] became a surprise favorite project of many. Unfortunately, with THE WATER[S]highly anticipated follow-up WAVE[S], Jenkins crafts a much less lasting impression, favoring musical experimentation over a coalesced artistic vision.
Although the expected aqueous thematics are to be found in spades, Jenkins doesn’t formulate an outing with an instrumental through-line. The beats are, in terms of tone and overall aesthetics, all over the place. Several songs (“Alchemy”, “Get Up Get Down”, “Piano”) feature more heavy-handed nods to cloud rap than his previous projects, often being unable to shake the overall impression of a second-tier Soundcloud effort. Considering that this is the face of virtually every rap album to gain any attention on the internet, Jenkins can’t necessarily be docked for this aspect alone; his fallacy lays in his refusal to turn this atmosphere into something palpable and consistent. “Your Love” comes out of left field with a William Onyeabor-inflected rhythm that borders on disco. “The Giver” features a beat that wouldn’t be out of place on an alternative R&B track, before segwaying into a funky, slap bass synth. “P’s and Q’s” starts off with an introspective guitar sample before electing to focus the entirety of the beat on the guitar player performing a hammer-on between notes. “Slumber” is straight off of a Donnie Trumpet effort (appropriate, since he features), and possesses a beat consisting mostly of a frenetic drum solo. Although “Slumber” and “Your Love” are highlights in their own rights, they don’t feel like album highlights so much as successful singles that happened to be tacked on to a tangential collection of songs.
All that being said, Mick Jenkins continues to impress in terms of vocal delivery. Possessing a notably intricate style, Jenkins constantly crams much more than initially thought possible into his verses, utilizing obscure rhyme schemes in order to do so (“I take the little dipper, as long as the ladle full/I wanted to be an actor but I couldn’t play the fool at all/Miseducated, could give a fuck about no school of thought, if you hate it”). “Slumber” is the shining example, and both Jenkins and feature guest Saba manage against all odds to hold the free-flowing and obtuse jazz-oriented beat. However, “verses” must be highlighted above due to Jenkins’ predilection for reserving a large portion of track space for hooks and bridges. Although he’s a better hook-writer than many of his peers, the listener will find themselves frustrated by how many of the tracks on WAVE[S] relegate his superior technical abilities to a scant one verse (“The Giver”, “40 Below”, “Perception”, etc.). What’s even more frustrating is that the one track where Jenkins allows himself to cut loose with a free-form verse features a half-baked, ill-formed instrumental backing that would leave any rap veteran hanging out to dry (“P’s and Q’s”). Thematically, Jenkins stands out from the majority of the pack with his focus on inner truth and wisdom over wealth (“Alchemy”, “The Giver”). Although he makes an unfortunately reductive step backwards with the gold-digger shaming “40 Below”, even when Jenkins raps about relationships, he makes it a point to establish his desire for a woman who places a personal value on personal value. Although many complain about the constant reference of a certain hydrating liquid, at this point, we should know exactly what we’re getting with Mick Jenkins.
With WAVE[S], Jenkins continues to demonstrate that he’s an idiosyncratic, intellectual rapper with a clear and distinct message to deliver to the people. Although tonally inconsistent and featuring comparably incongruous tracks revolving around relationships, there’s still enough on WAVE[S] to keep listeners engaged until the end. However, after WAVE[S] ends, it’s unlikely to be played anytime again in the near future, and the release succeeds more as a promise of good things to come than a current realization of such.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend