Mick Jenkins has made a bold return with ‘Elephant In The Room’, his most mature and complete album to date. “I think my poetry and my raps are therapy. Without rap I don’t know where I would be.”
Mick displays the proficient lyricism that he has become known for, illustrating in detail the topics we all know too well but never speak of. Mick tackles them head on, reflecting on his own personal experiences in life in the hopes that others can identify with the spaces Mick is spotlighting. "It just takes a little bit of exploration and exclamation about those things to understand” he tells me. Mick even raps about this on the song ‘Reflect’ with the lines “If it wasn’t for rap... this shits a mirror of sorts, got me seeing myself.” admitting that he doesn't know what would remain unpossessed if he didn’t have rap music, "I put everything through that filter.” What he does know however is his ability to turn inwards and share aspects of his life so openly. It is what he would be writing about if he was going to write anything. "I think it's what I know the best about.” he affirms.
The majority of the album was written pre-pandemic, but obviously halted the creative flow Mick had. "I didn’t write at all for the entire pandemic for real" he admits, “I am definitely a person who needs to live my life and experience things to move from a certain space as far as creatively, and I wasn’t allowed to do that for real, so I definitely wasn’t writing.” Though it was an interruptive halt to his creativity, he found himself flourishing in his personal life, finding opportunities to spend time with his wife. “Not being on the road and not focusing on writing all the time, just having time to work on my relationship and other things that are personal to me was a breath of fresh air". They weren't going anywhere, just spending more time having picnics, going for bike rides, his wife plays softball so they went and bought a pair of gloves. I think for a lot of us, things like this felt like a real refresh after being suffocated by a cabin-fever inducing year. “Just because we had the opportunity to do them more, things became really refreshing. Those aren't things we didn't do already... we just had a different type of focus.”
Another six months later, Mick tapped back into his writing process. “That kind of put a battery back in my back and had me creating again...” he pauses, taken back by that moment. He lets out a deep chuckle, “That shit felt really good!” - it was exactly what he was waiting for. Picking up then pen, the words began to pour out, finishing up the album in just a few weeks.
Mick Jenkins is Tenner Magazine's October digital cover.
Photography by Bryan Lamb
Words by Oli Spencer
How are you feeling about the record right now?
I feel great! I’m really excited about it, I’m excited to be able to put it out after working on it for about two years now. I really love the ‘Elephant In The Room’ concept, these are things that I have wanted to talk about and address, and I think they are things that people don’t talk about and address so I was happy to put a spotlight on it. When I set out to make the album, I didn’t think it would be this dope in the end! It's not to say that I won’t start any less of the music I was making, but once we got it finally mixed and everything and I sat in the studio and listened to it I was like damn! This is so much better than what I thought when I sent the music off individually. I’m super happy with it.
What kind of headspace were you in when you started the album?
Mostly just knowing that this would be my last album with Cinematic. Knowing that after this album I am going to step into a different space in my career, and what that means to me and how I want to sign off on this part of my life and career and business situation. How do I want to end that? What kind of things do I want to talk about? What space do I want to be speaking from? And I think that’s why I landed on the things we never really talk about, and so that’s what that became, that was the space I was coming from when I started making the album.
And then you took time off over the Covid lockdown. After taking that time off, how did writing for the first time again feel?
It was definitely weird! I didn’t write at all for the entire pandemic for real, I am definitely a person who needs to live my life and experience things to move from a certain space as far as creatively, and I wasn’t allowed to do that for real, so I definitely wasn’t writing. Towards the end of 2020 I started to write a little more, but just not with the same intentionality that I’m used to creating with. I might dabble here and there, and I think May of this year is when I started getting the inspiration to finish the ideas I had before the quarantine and take it somewhere else. I got inspiration to write a bunch of new stuff, which is common to how I create. Stuff just started pouring out of me! I was able to go outside, we weren't going anywhere really, just picnicking and biking way more, playing baseball... my wife plays softball so we went and got some gloves and we were throwing a baseball around. Those things became really refreshing, just because we had the opportunity to do them more, those aren't things we didn't do already, we just had a different type of focus. That kind of put a battery back in my back and had me creating again. Like I said, stuff just poured out of me! That shit felt really good, I think the whole pandemic was a weird thing for me as somebody who’s been working non-stop for five or six years, travelling six months out of the year you know? To just go cold turkey, that shit was definitely weird, but coming out of it and back into writing felt really good. I will say, not doing that type of work and not being on the road and not focusing on writing all the time, just having time to work on my relationship and other things that are personal to me was a breath of fresh air as well. I think overall it went well, but definitely getting back to writing and creating in a way that I like too, I’ve been waiting on that!
When you came back to the album, did the lyrics feel the same?
Yeah! You know what, me and one of my good homies who raps Stock Marley were talking about how it's kind of uncanny and weird how things you wrote before the pandemic actually still do apply. I actually still speak to some of the experiences I was having in the pandemic, even though I wrote these things before it had even happened. I think that just kind of speaks to how there are things that kind of make you feel limited and boxed in whether you see them or notice them or not – things outside of something like a pandemic that can physically make you feel that as well. He’s also had some pretty crazy verses that match up so perfectly with things that were happening before he wrote them. It's really wild.
“I’ve been able to do this a lot with this album and a lot of the music that I’ve been making lately. I feel like that this album hits close to home, it is what I have the most knowledge about, so it makes the most sense to write about it.”
You said you want to “speak directly to the things that aren't spoken about often” - how does it feel to write about aspects of your life so openly?
It's cool, I think it's what I know the best about. It is what I would be writing about if I was going to write anything you know? I feel like there are a lot of experiences we have all had that a lot of people can identify with or relate to. It just takes a little bit of exploration and exclamation about those things to understand, otherwise how do you ever know. I think it keeps me and my own personal life reflective, because I’m constantly reviewing myself and judging myself, exploring my own thought process when I'm telling stories about things that happened a year ago or two years ago. That’s how its personal to me and outside of that it's an easier space to play around in. I was just talking to my wife about this yesterday, I constantly find joy and creative challenges in taking simple and mundane situations, and making a song out of those experiences. The simple and mundane things are very relatable because people have absolutely been through that. I’ve been able to do this a lot with this album and a lot of the music that I’ve been making lately. I feel like that this album hits close to home, it is what I have the most knowledge about, so it makes the most sense to write about it.
Did you learn anything about yourself during that time?
Definitely, definitely. I learned a ton about myself just because it’s another space for me to be reflective... and I think that however much time you give to self-reflect, is a direct result about what you learn about yourself. So, absolutely! I think my poetry and my raps are therapy, I even rap about that. Without rap I don’t know where I would be. I don’t know what would be unprocessed you know what I’m saying? Because I put everything through that filter.
What puts this album apart from your others?
I think the production is some of the best production from top to bottom. I feel like there is a maturity to how I’m approaching records. Speaking to the songs, I personally feel like I have found a good marriage between singing and rapping on this album... and I'm super proud of it. I aim for a lot of my music to be cinematic, and have a space for people to get lost in, have chords and arrangements that set the mood for a visual for people to have. I want ‘Reflections’ to feel like a heavy song, I want ‘Scottie Pippen’ to be moody, and I want it to make you think about your significant other. I think there are things within the soundscape with the production that we’ve done to achieve that. For myself, just the marriage of song structure and learning how to do that balance the best way possible. I think I kind of nailed it home on this album. I feel like it's something I've tried to do on previous albums but once I get the final masters, I feel like there's something missing or I feel like I could do better. And when I step back and listen to this, I feel like it is very, very complete. Waters was complete... ahhh... ‘Jerome’ at the end was kind of like “where the fuck did this one come from?” ‘The Healing Component’ lacked some more upbeat, bouncy feel-good shit. I think ‘Pieces of a Man’ was a really complete project, but I felt like man, there's something else missing... and it was that balance that I struck on this album. It wasn’t even something I was trying to do – it's something that I only saw after everything was done. I was like, damn! This is way better than I thought it was going to be!
“There is a maturity to how I’m approaching records. I personally feel like I have found a good marriage between singing and rapping on this album...
I'm super proud of it.”
That is amazing to hear. It’s cool you brought up the album’s production – I actually read in an interview from back in 2018 with Saba, he said he wanted to start producing more music. It was cool to see his production credit on your album, what was it like working with him?
It was pretty seamless, we talked about how we hadn't talked in a while, linked up just in a sense of trying to hang, and that song came from a very real conversation we had, again of something I think is very relatable. Two friends that have no problem with each other, but they haven't spoken in three years! For this reason, or that reason, or this reason... you know? I think it’s a very relatable position to be in. We used to hang out all the time and now we’re not? And there's no real reason that you can put your finger on. I feel like people don’t talk about that space, within relationships, whether that be a friendship or a cousin or whatever. And so that is literally what happened with Saba and I making that song, so it came really easily and really seamless. I can see him being more of a producer, I think he has really good chord progressions, I think he can sing really well. It's always really cool to work with in the studio.
He grew up in Chicago too, right? The talent coming out of that city is insane!
Yeah man, something is in the water for sure. I think from all sides of the spectrum not just music, there is a lot of talent coming out of Chicago. It is definitely diverse, it definitely pushed me as a person to be more diverse. I look at a lot of Chicago artists as a barometer for my own work.
You just moved from Chicago to LA right?
Yeah, I felt like I had been there for a while, I just moved to LA because I'd been there for so long and I felt like I have exhausted a lot of what was available to me, and so I’m looking to find a certain type of community out here and recreate it. I think there is a lot of people from Chicago doing the same, Saba actually just moved to LA maybe a year ago. It is a place that a lot of people pass through and so we get a lot of opportunities to work with people that aren't passing through Chicago. Even my time in Chicago gave me enough confidence to come and do something like that, the people who have come out here before me like Noname and Saba are doing the same thing, looking for that same kind of community. They gave me the confidence to do that as well.
Tell me a little about your photography?
I like photography a lot, I think people know that I like clothes and fashion and photos. If you’ve been following me for a while and you’ve seen my Instagram, you’ll know that. With photos and videos, I think I have a lot to offer. I think I have a good eye, and I am usually instrumental in those things. I got into it a little more, I started off with polaroid photography – I had boxes full of polaroid's that I had been taking for a long time, then I went and got a film camera. I play around, I have a lot to learn and a long way to go, I’m the type of person that likes to do things at a high level, and so I'm doing the playing around and the growing that I need to be doing as someone who’s been interested in photography for about a year or two, I’ll consider ramping that up into classes or taking my camera with me everywhere. Any kind of hobby that I have I always want to do it at a high level and so I have to wait until I can give it the proper time and attention it deserves, and that is something I want to do with photography. I think that it can be seen through the Instagram I started, and just some of the ways I approach my visuals in general. I’m definitely interested, a fan, trying to learn more.