Mick Jenkins sits down to talk about the Chicago Renaissance, touring, and his progression into a mentor.
One of Chicago’s favorite sons, Mick Jenkins has been a powerhouse since his youth days in the Young Chicago Authors program. Since his start, he’s worked and grown alongside some of the city’s biggest names but has now grown into the role of a mentor to those just hitting their stride.
With a handful of mixtapes, an EP, and an album Mick has not only musically progressed over the years but has very candidly done so through his lyrics and vulnerability. Going from an angsty young man on his earlier mixtapes, where he first created his metaphor of water as truth, to the compassionate and thoughtful person he is on his debut album, The Healing Component, Mick questioned the status of hip-hop, contemplated the concept of love, and always returned to his roots.
Before his set, at The Promontory in Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood, Mick sat down to talk with me about the state of Chicago and his own progression. With each answer, Mick’s baritone voice carried the bravado of someone who spent his own time thinking about these questions long before that day. His words carried the same laid-back charisma of his stage performances while still being invested in the conversation.
The term “Chicago Renaissance” has been passed around by various publications and sites lately. How do you feel about that term being used?
I think there’s absolutely a Chicago rap renaissance, I think that’s a great term to use. I think it’s very valid. I think when you look at what we factually know as other great renaissance, the Harlem Renaissance in particular, its very similar. And we’re very… uh …the focus is usually on rap because we’re coming at it from a hip-hop angle, but it’s rappers, it’s photographers, it’s designers, it’s painters, it’s you know what I’m saying? It’s all types of art really taking off and really getting a share of the limelight all at the same time. You know what I’m saying? Through various different media outlets, whether it be Nike or Asghar getting Brown Girls on HBO, you know? Just all different types of things: all different types of people, all different types of art like working together, working collaboratively, growing from the same spaces, like a YCA, like a Lyricist Loft at the Chicago Public Library. I think it’s very indicative of a renaissance, it’s a happening, it’s not a moment. It’s definitely been over a stretch of at least five years so far and it seems like it’s going to continue to get stronger. It’s definitely not dying down so I think that it is a very accurate term.
You’ve been involved in this renaissance since its beginning, since your Mickalascage era. How did you see your role during the start of this renaissance and where do you see it now?
I don’t know. I was more adept at quantifying that when I wasn’t shit. you know what I’m saying? Around the time of the Mickalascage era. Like I was looking at it from the outside in for sure, and I just knew I had to get better. That was all I was focusing on was getting better. Now, I don’t really know where I am. I feel like I’m somewhere near the top. I definitely know there are people above me. I definitely think people look to me for like, a little bit of guidance. They know that I’ve been out here doing it independently. They know that I’ve been through a label situation. Like, I definitely have a couple of younger artists asking me questions on the business side, definitely asking my manager a lot of questions. I feel like we help people in the scene who’re just young and just getting that type of notoriety and don’t know what to do with it. You know what I’m saying? But I don’t know if I can speak to labeling a position, that I have, in the midst of that.
You mentioned that younger people are coming to you for advice. What sort of advice are you giving them? How do you approach that?
I really … the thing is just explaining how things work. There’s an idea that you have in your head right? There’s a reality that consists of… *coughs* … when you’re talking about business and how things work, there’s a reality that consists of a lot of different possibilities, and there’s the other side of whoever you’re getting into business with is their reality and all the different possibilities that could be. And the biggest one being it not being in your best interest or somebody doing you wrong or somebody doing you dirty. What does all that look like? What does all that mean? What are tell-tale signs? What are things I should be cautious of, even if it shouldn’t turn me away right away. You know what I’m saying? Like these are the kind of things I’m giving insight to, that I’m answering. I mean even when you do know, you still want that insight, to hear somebody else’s side and what they’ve gone through, to see what you think is accurate, or if anyone else is experiencing or seeing it from their perspective.
There were a lot of issues surrounding a song you did with Chance and Cam O’bi, “Grown Ass Kids.” How did that situation happen and where is that at?
I mean it’s a really common thing, I’m not sure where it’s at right now, but the initial thing was just a sample clearance. Which is shit you would think would be easier when something is free when it’s not a lot of money being made off of it. You feel like it’d be easier to get that done, it wasn’t so easy. I’m not hip to the particulars, but it was a song I did with Cam, Chance ended up coming on the record, and then owning the record. The idea of his album was liked by all of us. It was just unfortunate. It was as simple as a sample clearance. So, I still perform the song, it’s a great song, and I think he feels the same way.
When a lot of outside sources talk about the Chicago rap scene there is often a very strong Chance vs. Vic or Chance vs. Chief mentality that they have. How do you feel about that sort of dichotomy, and what do you think people are missing, whether it be artists like Pivot Gang or your own shit?
Just the truth honestly. People are slowly discovering it all. I think when you speak to narratives like that, it’s just like, somebody put that out there, and somebody is circulating a story like that, and once it catches fire, like, it’s up to the fire to burn however it burns now. I don’t know. I don’t put too much stock into it, cause I know these people and I know there’s not that much of a difference. A lot of us have the same story, a lot of us had the same upbringing, a lot of us have intertwining friends, we might even know each other. So, I don’t put too much faith into it. I don’t put too much credit to that.
Through your progression from The Water[s] to The Healing Component, you deal with the idea of truth a lot, but it changes from a young angst mentality to a much more welcoming and inclusive one. How did that progression come about?
It was just a progression of life. I’ve matured more. I’ve learned a lot of things, I’ve figured out who I was, went through a lot of serious experiences: went through a serious relationship, went to jail. Just… uh … had some real serious life experiences that kind of changed my perspective and I think the music is indicative of that. Like you said, even if you’re not hip to all of that, you do recognize that there is a significant change in what I was doing so.
You’ve progressed to the point where you are doing really big European tours like the one last year. How has that experience changed, in terms of touring the U.S. versus Europe?
It hasn’t really that much. The only difference between the two is there are more people who are not… standing around. Over in Europe, they really come to rage and have a good time, but it doesn’t change the fact that my biggest fan base is still in the U.S. So they’re always good, its pretty life. It’s not really changing too much honestly.
Performance and images courtesy of the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey Neighborhood Block Party.