Having shadowed the artistic lyricist all week, when it came to finally sitting down with the him I was intent on not veering remotely close to any of the generic questions I had already witnessed him fend off. Instead, we discuss how well he knows himself? What his family thinks about his musical career? How direct personal experiences attribute to his writing?
If you’re a fan of Mick Jenkins and don’t want to hear him regurgitate the same old chatter about his musical influences, Chicago contemporaries, switching up his sound, blah blah blah; then read on and you might just get to know more about Mr Jenkins himself. Alongside a whole host of general musings on life, he’s actually a bit of a clown (his words not mine)…
What do you think you’ve learned about yourself, since you became part of the music industry?
(Laughs) A lot but really more about who I am. You get presented with a lot of different situations and you have to make a lot of decisions. You’re almost running a business. Even though you feel like you’re not in control, there are a lot of things that you’re in control of and you make the last decision on if you recognise it as such.
Can you tell us about a particular situation that you’ve learned from?
I pay a lot of attention to people. The people around me aren’t around me by accident. I had a different drummer in February this year. He actually up to that moment hadn’t done anything to me but there were just things in his character that I didn’t really like. Having to think about how was this person going to react to certain things and are you going to be this person when money starts coming in? I could have ignored it unless some big sh*t happened but I just stepped to him like a man and told him exactly what I was thinking and how I was feeling. That essentially, I didn’t necessarily want him to be a part of my sh*t anymore. On some real sh*t, like the fact that I handled that, it forces me to grow. Even getting to a place where I feel like I can do that. I think somebody else might have played victim to it. I learned that I really have to protect myself, more than anything because if I don’t people are going to take advantage.
So maybe you haven’t had to change yourself as such but how have you had to acclimatise to the music industry?
You’ve got to be fake; I mean that’s what it is! People get hurt when I’m all the way real and I’m not even saying anything crazy. I just say what it is. I’ve just learned that I have to be a certain way and it’s because I trusted people that took advantage of me. It just shows me that people are for themselves. All people throughout this industry but I’m expected to like just jump. I’m at the f**king Boiler Room; and I can’t get a towel and some f**king water. I wasn’t asking for anything else, to other people nobody thought that was outrageous. I’m asking for that shit and my tour manager, label reps, promoter, everyone, is just standing there and it’s just like, am I asking for something crazy? But I’m crazy if I throw a fit because I can’t get a towel and some water in a sweatbox.
(Laughs) So it was just like the perception of what you’re supposed to be as an artist. If I do that, then I’m arrogant and when I do abide by your standards then it’s, ‘Oh he’s nice, and he’s real humble.’ It’s just like, get the f**k outta here. These energies, that come from other people; just shows you a lot about the world and how you choose to react if you think that critically about it; shows you a lot about yourself. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned, because it’s very easy for people to make you think you’re selfish and the reality is you’re not.
What does your family think about your music career?
I don’t really talk to my dad anymore. I was raised as a Seventh-day Adventist Christian, so to him it’s secular music. Point blank. Period. We’ve never had a conversation beyond that. He’s heard [my music] but his stance was just like, you know what it is, I raised you, you know you’re wrong. My mother is very supportive, almost my number one fan, she’ll be quoting my lyrics to me.
That’s really strange because you’re not like Bobby Shmurda; you’re out here talking about the harsh realities of life and trying to spread positivity.
That’s just how a lot of friends and family are. I grew up in the church, I know Noah (Mick’s drummer) from Seventh-day Adventist school. I just reached out to him like, ‘I know you drum, you wanna come play with me on tour.’ All of the people in my videos are my friends. The friends who were in the “Dehydration” video, had people in church hitting up their mom’s like, ‘Your son is in this rap music video with guns and weed’. (Laughs) It’s like, ‘did you actually watch the video? Because we were making a point.’ They completely missed that, so I get that reaction from extended family. But my mother and my sister, who are the closest family that I have really are super supportive.
You’re travelling around the world doing what you love to do but what else is on your bucket list?
I want to open up a clothing store not limited to my designs. I want to mentor some kids, literally mentor two or three over the years. I’ve had a lot of mentors that were in and out of my life, that I wish were still there; so I wanna be there for some kids. I mean once I’m older.
Do you still feel like you’ve got a lot to learn?
Hell yeah! Definitely.
So what about being a music artist and a young man in a long distance relationship, how are you handling that?
I wouldn’t call it a long distance relationship; work just has me leaving sometimes. For the past two months, it has felt like a long distance relationship because I’ve been gone but I’m home for four months after this. Either way just being in a relationship and doing this sh*t takes some understanding, that sh*t is difficult. I won’t even act like I’m dealing with it great; I’m very much still trying to figure it out. I am still doing things that I have never done before, like every day. It’s just something that I have to remind people because it’s easy for the music to put stress on relationships, just in general because the number one thing is absence. It’s not something that I figured out at all, it’s something that I’m waiting on the worst of because I haven’t peaked. People think I’m on; I’m not on, I haven’t made it! I’m still very much going to get busier, so I’m actually worried about that a lot.
When was the last time you doubted yourself?
I don’t doubt myself. I doubt the world. For example, when “Martyrs” was about to come out, I wasn’t sure about the views but my friends were sure it was going to get way more than I did. I know I’ve got something good on my hands as far as the music goes. I know the message that I’m putting in there is one of quality and it will affect people because it has affected people. But I just always feel like I’m going to be limited by that because of what people classically do to marginalise people who are trying to say something real. That’s not even just in hip-hop, that’s in general.
Words by Nardene Scott
Photography by Liam Ricketts