Photos by Durty Harry
Mick Jenkins is not your typical Chicago rapper. Having grown up two blocks away from where the Glo Boyz reside, Mick has a completely different outlook on the world than his neighbors.
Mick’s video for “Martyrs” is the best example of that contrast. His imitation of Chicago rap videos isn’t about poking fun at his competitors, but poking everyone’s cerebellum to try to wake them up.
We sat down with the 23-year-old emcee to talk about his upcoming project The Water[s], his purpose as an artist, and the moving “Martyrs” video.
Mass Appeal: When did you start rapping?
Mick Jenkins: During my sophomore year in college at Oakwood University. There was a rap competition called “Who Got Bars” and a couple homies were in it. I always had been a creative writer, my mother was a journalist, and because they were taking rap so serious, I just started taking it more seriously. I really became a student of what it is to rap and make music. That’s what’s gotten me here today.
MA: Were you listening to a lot of rap at a young age though?
MJ: Well, my father would played a lot of Christian music. I’m a Seventh-day Adventist. He played a lot of Fred Hampton and stuff. My mother played a lot of neo-soul; Jill Scott, Erykah, Prince, and whoever else you could think of.
My older cousin got me into a lot of hip hop via Talib, Little Brother— I really like Phonte, Q-Tip, Common. The first album I bought was College Dropout, like a lot of people coming up with me, just because we all the same age and shit. Those were the musical influences I was listening to. I wasn’t into the radio heavy, and that’s continued into today. It’s just… the same shit over and over.
MA: You’re from the South, you must’ve listened to Wayne.
MJ: I mean, we listened to Wayne heavy. Who didn’t? But the way I think about music now…
MA: How do you think about music now?
MJ: You’re not going to make it on my iPod if you’re not talking about anything. I understand the culture, and I tolerate the music when it’s around, but how many songs can I hear about the exact same shit? And that’s what they make. Wayne’s making music about the same shit he’s been making music for the past 15 years, and the radio is doing the same thing. I don’t really listen to mainstream music.
MA: What constitutes as meaning to you?
MJ: A purpose. It doesn’t even have to be my purpose. Just a focus. For example, I feel like Beyoncé wants to be more personal with this album and release it in a way she’s never done before. And that’s because she’s done this seven times already. We’re looking for new ways to do things and be more innovative. I feel like a lot of, at least with [hip hop], isn’t looking for new ways to be innovative. We really just recycling the same formula for these new artists that come out.
Migos and, what’s that boy? “Danny Glover”?
MA: Young Thug?
MJ: Yeah, Young Thug. They could have been interchanged and nobody would’ve known the difference. It’s the same shit over and over.
MA: What’s your meaning as an artist?
MJ: I want to wake people up to the ways of the music industry and the ways of the world. I feel like there’s very jaded views as to what love is, what being real is, what happiness is. I feel like the world, society in general, people have the the wrong idea about how to achieve these things and what will bring you happiness. I just want to poke people’s brains and be like, ‘Hey, this is definitely a better way than what they’ve been telling you.’ That’s the goal.
“Klondike Shit” is a song off Trees & Truths, and it’s blended in to make you want to listen to it, but it’s really talking about the beauty of a woman. There’s real messages in it. It’s challenging what we define as beautiful.
MA: Talking about Trees & Truths, what’s the difference between that project and The Water[s]?
MJ: The Water[s] has just been taking so much more time. Trees & Truths is the first 14 songs I recorded and we put them out. The Water[s] is choosing from a group of songs. What is really going to make this tape the best? Making sure that sonically they’re all in sync.
On Trees & Truths the production is all over the place, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I want a project to be a project. To be more in sync and thought out on the sonic side rather than just on the conceptual side.
A lot of the songs on Trees & Truths I felt like I couldn’t perform. I wouldn’t perform them just because I didn’t feel absolutely comfortable performing them. I want people to leave with a certain amount of appreciation for my live performance, and the music needs to cater to that. It’s only so hype someone can get to some chill shit. With The Water[s] there’s definitely a lot more upbeat shit like “Martyrs.”
MA: How did the concept for the video “Martyrs” come about?
MJ: With “Martyrs” I knew I had to do the house scene, where I imitate the typical Chicago rappers. Just because the statement that I’m actually trying to make in “Martyrs” is that we used to be martyrs. Martyrs is usually associated with people who have died for a good purpose. That’s what we used to be. We were actually being hung, being persecuted just for being black. For different reasons, but we were standing up for ourselves, fighting back. Sometimes that would result in not so pleasurable outcomes.
I feel like these days we’re killing ourselves for no reason. A lot of that is fueled by the music. Not to say that it is the inception for it, but in that clip during the “Marytrs” video, that guy, I really should have put this on there, when they asked him what else would you say to the families of the men that you killed he said, “Fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em, fuck ‘em. Even if they celibate. I know the game is crazy, it’s more crazy than it’s ever been. I’m married to that crazy bitch. Call me Kevin Federline.” What more proof do you need that this music influences you?
It may not be the reason he did that shit, but he was asked what would he say to the families of the victims he killed and he recited Wayne. That’s not an accident. That shit really effects you and that’s the statement I was trying to say. I knew I wanted to do that that scene.
MA: It’s interesting that you decided to imitate the Chicago rap scene being that you’re from there. There seems to be two sides to it; these kids are shining light on what’s happening, or they’re fueling the violence out there. What do you think is happening?
MJ: It starts with that drill shit because that’s what’s made this surge of attention come to Chicago. People turn their heads to Chief Keef and drill music, and that in turn had people listening to Chance The Rapper. It’s definitely not nationally realized, but you know.
I feel like it starts with that shit, and that does bring light to the situation— just not in the way you would think. People are having the discussion because of Chief Keef. I think three of them aren’t even allowed to perform in Chicago right now because of the violence their shows might incite.
But then, on the other side of it, myself and other artists who are my friends– it’s real. We grew up in Chicago two blocks away from where Glo Boys be at. I went to a terrible school. I grew up in the same thing, but I am not the same. We have the same stories we just see it from different angles. Me personally, I want to figure out solutions and think of what we can to do create change. I think Common and Kanye helped with like 20,000 jobs in Chicago with the project that they’re working on. I want to do things like that.
MA: How were you able to come out of a situation that was bleak and have a more solution based outlook than other artists?
MJ: I couldn’t even say because I don’t know what goes on in those people’s lives. I attribute it to my parents and the way I was raised. I’ve definitely had my fair share of hardships. My parents are divorced. My mother got lupus and I thought she might die. There’s a lot of different things that have happened in my life. But whatever I want I’m going to work at it. That’s just my past.
Here is a new track featuring Mick Jenkins and Supa Bwe titled “Treat Me (Caucasian).” Produced by Mulatto Beats and Supa Bwe, the beat is lackluster but the hook provides some excitement. Jenkins saves the track with his bombastic voice and engaging wordplay.
“Treat Me (Caucasian)” is off the Hurt Everybody EP set to drop next week.