In an era of hip-hop largely defined by immediacy and fueled by hedonism, Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins is a refreshing contradiction — gradually cementing his longevity one thought-provoking opus at a time.
Since his 2014 breakout mixtape The Water(s), Jenkins has steadily grown more philosophical and musically ambitious with each release. His poetic lyricism and ability to collaborate with a revolving door of incredibly talented producers has given him free reign to push both musical and conceptual boundaries. His best work to date, Pieces of a Man is as heady as it is satisfying, exploring the many complexities of Mick Jenkins’ state of mind.
An homage to legendary American poet Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971 jazz and funk masterpiece of the same title, Pieces of a Man is Mick Jenkins’ bold attempt to personify, and occasionally literally impersonate, the late poet’s voice. Just as Heron delicately observed and dissected every crevice of society around him, Jenkins carefully peels back each of his layers, analyzing the composition of himself within the context of an infallibly chaotic society.
The album’s intro skit, “Heron Flow” and the subsequent “Heron Flow 2” seemingly serve as the project’s axes; fracturing the album into two distinct sections. In both skits, Jenkins takes on Gil Scott-Heron’s vocal tone and poetic speech pattern as he addresses a group of people. Jenkins repeatedly talks about the “remorse code” which he says is “dot, dot, dit, dit, dot, dot, dash” or “damned if I do” in Morse code.
This cryptic remark helps Mick express his frustrations with the lack of control and autonomy much of the black community has over their lives; a well-executed ode to Scott-Heron’s decades of civil-rights activism through poetry.
Characteristically, Jenkins doesn’t hesitate to explore his perspective on somewhat contentious topics; offering a tasteful and well thought out meditation on consent in the aptly titled “Consensual Seduction.” Supplemented by a beautifully poignant feature from Corrine Bailey Rae, “Consensual Seduction” explores Jenkins’ personal experience with a girl he’s trying to seduce.
Cautiously looking for definitive consent from the girl without overstepping his boundaries, Jenkins raps “Fingers stray, try to handle love, she say oh behave/ I oblige, I don’t do the Obi-Wan Never have to force facts/ the vibe in the room as thick as a short stack.” Questionable Star Wars reference aside, Jenkins’ message comes across incredibly clearly without sacrificing potency. It’s always impressive/good when a rapper manages to project a positive message without sounding like an after-school special. I’m looking at you, Logic.
From a production standpoint, Pieces of a Man is impeccable. With soulful instrumentals from Black Milk, Kaytranada, THEMpeople, and BADBADNOTGOOD among others, each track sounds carefully tailored to Jenkins’ voice and is cohesive in context. Standouts like the Nassim produced “Barcelona” exhibit the symbiotic relationship Mick’s dizzying flow has with the syncopated jazzy instrumentals throughout this album. Evolving and free-roaming jazz drums driving the beat give Jenkins freedom to explore different pockets and patterns throughout his verse, making for one of many highlights on Pieces of a Man.
Another high point on the tracklist is the Kaytranada-produced “Padded Locks.” An instrumental that would’ve fit comfortably on many classic soul albums, “Padded Locks” is both pristine and minimal enough for Mick Jenkins and Ghostface Killah to shine through. With political bars criticizing president Trump and a fiery verse that sounds plucked from his prime, Ghostface fully capitalizes on being the album’s only featured rapper.
Consistent with the performances on his 2016 debut studio album, The Healing Component, most of Mick’s verses and hooks on Pieces of a Man are outright mind-boggling. His wordplay and lyrical themes are more fleshed out than before, giving each line and extended metaphor more impact.
Obviously, there are way too many amazing bars for me to quote in one review, but here’s one from the track “U Turn” that deserves some shine:
“The tragedy, a cacophony causin’ casualties/ I’m glad to be black as coffee bean, on my Master P/ My Cardi B, see, I’m takin’ off like the brace is off/ Niggas grillin’ like they all just got their fuckin’ braces off”
Regardless of your familiarity with Jenkins or opinions of his previous work, I cannot stress enough that you should listen to this album. Pieces of a Man is the rare experimental hip-hop album that’s both incredible substantive and highly replayable. This late album of the year contender is a well conceptualized and put-together album that points to a bright future for the young Chicago rapper.