• Teresa Xie


Mick Jenkins was my introduction to the Chicago rap scene, and specifically, the integration of poetry in Chicago rap. Like most, the first track that drew me in was “Jazz,” from Jenkins' 2014 breakout project, The Waters. From the get go, I was fascinated by the way his raps sounded like stand-alone stories, layered onto entrancing and mesmerizing instrumentals. Jenkins’ instrumentals on The Waters seem to mimic the hazy way voices sound when your head is immersed underwater.

Growing up in the South Side of Chicago, Jenkins was heavily involved in Young Chicago Authors, a youth literary arts organization that cultivates the voices of diverse teen writers through workshops and performance opportunities. Its alumni include Mick Jenkins, Jamila Woods, Noname, Saba, Nico Segal, and Chance the Rapper. After dropping out of college, Jenkins joined the YCA poetry collective, garnering the attention of Chicago rapper Saba.

The features on The Waters reveal Jenkins’ deep ties to the Chicago music scene, with neo soul artist Jean Deaux, rapper noname, and rapper The Mind. These features compliment Jenkins without resistance, moving the album in a more linear direction. In fact, The Mind starts off the album with “Shipwrecked,” rapping, “But we've been shipwrecked, since we were born.” Metaphorically, this presents the idea that the earth is largely composed of water and the world needs it to survive and heal, just as much as we do. We, as inhabitants, are born immersed in this water, shipwrecked in its wrath.

However, the intro to “Jazz“ is the most compelling out of all the tracks on the album, as Jenkins begins with the line, “Drink more water, or you might die.” The thesis of the project becomes clear through “Jazz.” Water represents Truth, or at best, the search for Truth. In stating, “Water more important than the gold,” Jenkins suggests that chasing the truth is more important than chasing material items like wealth. Similar to what “Healer” alludes to, water is the most essential of substances and acts as a physical and spiritual medicinal healing.

The Waters excels at integrating its concept with its music. Anyone could listen to The Waters and assume the project’s concept, not only because its lyrics incorporate themes of water such as rain and dehydration, but also its melodies have a liquid feel. Jenkins’ steady and deep baritone grounds the otherwise flowy and constantly moving melodies. He is confident in his raps, spitting them out like ultimate truths.

Other songs like “Drink More” are calls to action. The Waters not only reflects Jenkins’ own spiritual journey and awakening, but also his belief that if others focused on finding truth, the world would be a much fairer place. He raps, “I couldn't afford to get my girl into this open mic that I performed for / But somewhere in the world there's a Riff Raff concert that people gon' swarm for / I never understand that shit.”

The Waters was not only an integral piece of work for my discovery of Chicago music, but also set the tone for future Chicago rappers to come. Honesty ages well, revealing that from the start, Jenkins has been unafraid to reveal his truth, while pushing others to do the same.

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