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Mick Jenkins - Pieces Of A Man (Album Review)

Tuesday, 20 November 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

Mick Jenkins was riding the crest of a wave when his breakout mixtape 'The Water[s]' dropped in the summer of 2014. Talented heads like Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa, Noname and Saba would all go on to emerge from the same bubbling Chicago hip-hop scene, but Jenkins had positioned himself in critics' minds as the moody and technically gifted older brother. He already appeared fully formed in an artistic sense, framing highly conceptual songwriting with jazz-influenced verses and a raspy vocal delivery.

However, his various projects in the four years since haven't quite set the world alight. For one, he spent much of 'The Healing Component', his debut full-length LP, retelling his own personal narrative, flexing his obvious rapping abilities and overselling heavy handed metaphors. It's a trap he manages to avoid on follow-up 'Pieces of a Man'. As he puts it on the track Barcelona: “I be on my show and prove, not my show and tell.”

For the most part, Jenkins does come across as highly charismatic, comfortable and engaging. His authoritative and articulate style means he naturally sounds at home on many of the beats here, particularly more immersive pieces like Stress Fracture and U-Turn.

Live instrumentation, courtesy of the experimental outfit THEMpeople, keep things relatively fresh with tasteful mellotron and slide guitar licks, but this diversity is also a practical necessity given Jenkins' dense flow and propensity to use associative wordplay.

This mode of writing is immaculate at points—“They couldn’t fuck with the vision/ and now you see me in vintage frames / Percentage rose when the interest came/ All the hate just fanned a bigger flame,” on Ghost—and his relentless flow complements the contemplative production. On style alone, the album being titled 'Pieces of a Man' as a homage to jazz poet Gil-Scott Heron makes perfect sense. Like Heron, Jenkins runs through a myriad ideas amid a loose structure.

He also follows through on Heron's thematic emphasis on a person's layered personality and how he navigates that as a young black man in capitalist America. That is summed up best on Reginald: “Don't spend much time in mirrors / Reflections will get you caught up …  You basing everything you know about me from moments / I'm more a compilation of composition, it's complicated.” Jenkins presents multiple snapshots into his soul throughout, whether he's vulnerable (Plain Clothes) or charged up (Soft Porn).

If there's a limitation to this approach, it's how he applies it. Whereas Heron famously targeted the causes of his trauma, most famously on The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Jenkins is more impressionistic and only focuses on the symptoms. Where there are barbed political statements, they're more on the nose—Ghostface Killah calls Donald Trump a “piece of shit” on his Padded Locks guest verse, for example.

It's often difficult to pinpoint the motivations for Jenkins' state of mind at any given time due to the album's sprawling nature and free form palette, which is a problem if he's trying to emotionally connect with the listener in any meaningful way. He probably needs a better editor to make sense of the fragments of his mind—that might just mean littering a few more hooks here and there because, in truth, his messages are profound when they're distilled enough to be discernible.

Mick Jenkins Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Sat March 16 2019 - LONDON Electric Brixton
Sun March 17 2019 - BRISTOL Bristol Trinity
Mon March 18 2019 - MANCHESTER Manchester Academy 2
Wed March 20 2019 - GLASGOW SWG3

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