For Jenkins, the song “Martyrs” was the first release to propel him onto a bigger platform. The video was picked up by Worldstar at the beginning of 2014 and is currently repping 250,000 views, as well as another 250,000 views over at YouTube. The song is a prime example of Jenkins’ accessibility and skill. Combining harsh truths about racial troubles in the world with catchy hooks, he is able to make an intellectual single that some might rhyme along to without understanding the larger message. In past interviews, Jenkins has acknowledged this style of blending cleverness with commerciality, likening it to that of Kendrick Lamar’s “Swimming Pools (Drank)”.
“It’s always surprising,” Jenkins tells me. “It’s bigger than all of us. We knew [‘Martyrs’] was gonna be crazy. It’s done so much to shape my career now. I knew I wanted to imitate the standard drill video, and when I saw one of the early edits, I knew I wanted to add the interview of James Broadnax. It’s very pertinent to the message. Ever since the release, it’s been full speed ahead. So many people have reached out. Timbaland reached out. Just to give you an idea of the scope. The video hit Worldstar three weeks after it dropped and it was crazy. Since then, it’s been a big fast forward. Now we’re preparing The Water[s], trying to funnel our music into new content and platforms.”
For new platforms, Jenkins mentions Billboard, the staple music magazine that interviewed him in May and the first to announce his release date for The Water[s], a date since changed. I ask him about Earl mentioning his sharp lyricism on Twitter.
“It is definitely surreal,” the emcee acknowledges. “It’s humbling. It lets me know that people are real. It makes me feel good, like Taco hit me up when I was out in L.A. and we just chilled for a bit. Those aren’t the tales you hear.”
Mick Jenkins is certainly humble and aware. He rarely says “I” about his music and instead uses “we,” meaning himself and OnGaud, a Chicago production trio. Not only do they provide the majority of the production for Jenkins, but they also assist with the vision, with engineering, and with live instrumentation when performing for sold out crowds. Jenkins tells me how he met OnGaud, that he was buying weed and one of the members told him to come through. Bryan, the OnGaud producer who assists as Mick Jenkins’ engineer, is playing Super Smash Brothers during the interview and laughs at this.
“From there, the relationship was born,” Jenkins says. “Billy sent me two beats and when I did my thing, it was validation. We began to work from there.”
I tell Jenkins that I’ve heard whispers about him recently working with Johnny Shipes, the Smoker’s Club mastermind and CEO of Cinematic Music Group. When I hear “Shipes,” I think Big KRIT and Joey Bada$$.
“He’s working with me right now,” says the Chicago native. “On a monthly basis, just to see where it goes. Taking it slow,” he laughs. He doesn’t say much, perhaps because it should still be kept quiet, but I mention how he went to New York to open for Joey Bada$$.
“Yeah, yeah. I fuck with Joey a lot. I was freestyling with the Pros. Actually, this song ‘Jerome’ I’m about to drop is produced by Kirk Knight.”