With the poetic prowess of Mick Jenkins prevalent throughout his new mixtape, The Water[s], it seems fitting to enter the project with an assessment of its central metaphor. Mick emphasizes water’s power on “THC,” stating, “Water is the most important natural component that we have today. It makes up our world, our bodies, and has the ability to destroy and create. It is the healing component.”
Water’s strength is unquestionable, either for creation or destruction—however, he has chosen to create, using the strength that this rejuvenating force has given him. The metaphor, of course, extends beyond the literal droplets that rain, flood, and rehydrate. By harnessing his artistic strength, Jenkins can survive and try to provide an ark for others to traverse the flooded cultural landscape.
It is certainly refreshing to hear a young artist take up this challenge. Much of the buzz surrounding the album’s release was in response to his video for “Martyrs,” the final track on Waters[s]. As Billie Holiday’s haunting, oft-remade reprise of “strange fruit hanging” echoes in the background, Mick builds a story of juxtaposition and oxymoron around a singular double entendre.
Paired in part with a tongue-in-cheek representation of a video befitting Chief Keef, complete with shaky camerawork and a crew of shirtless friends, the track identifies the dark absurdity of the images we all take in every day. On this track, as well as throughout the project, Mick refuses to eschew complexity in the name of clarity. Rather, he diligently exposes ironies, joys, and pains though clear, engaging lyrical play that isn’t obsessed with being clever for clever’s sake. His formidable ability serves as a means to latch on to listeners and ensure they hear his words.
Yet as he attempts to grow the pool of people tuning in, he dances dangerously close to some of the landmines that have befallen many a talented young artist. The Statik Selektah-produced “Black Sheep” is perhaps the least engaging song on the project not because it is a bad song, but rather because the listener is jolted after hearing Mick in his comfort zone for the first seven tracks—one does not expect to hear him sound out of place. For all his emphasis on lyricism, Mick is explicitly not a “throwback” or “boom-bap” rapper, and the attempt to jam his innovative flow on a relatively standard Statik beat feels awkward, if well-intentioned. The James Baldwin clip at its conclusion, though thought-provoking, is not as well woven into the production of the tape in comparison to its cousin tracks.
Though this moment might be unnoticeable on a less ambitious project, it sticks out like an iceberg in the middle of the ocean here; Mick seems to be battling this sort of compromise throughout. The same can be said for the nouveau-M.O.P. bonus track “Jerome,” which features fellow Cinematic Music Group artist Joey Bada$$. These missteps are understandable for a young artist trying to accomplish a balance between thoughtful complexity and engaging clarity that few artists find, especially on their first few projects. The listener is left excited for the next set of stories he will tell and the inevitable risks he will undertake as he builds. The Water[s] is not an ark–it is a sailboat with a strong wind behind it, winding its way into scarcely charted seas. A few pitstops and additional planks to Jenkins’ vessel could make for a formidable ship indeed.
4 out of 5
You can download The Water[s] here.