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). Read part 1 here and follow the rest of our story below.
I read somewhere, that what you refer to as your fist official mixtape Trees And Truths was dark because of what was going on in your life? What was actually happening at the time?
I think somebody asked me why was Trees And Truths was so dark and I just agreed with him in saying that but I wouldn’t call it dark necessarily. I just got home from college, I thought I got cheated on, I couldn’t prove it but I had enough evidence; I had the evidence that I needed (laughs). I left that situation, like two days later, I wasn’t in school and was like all right, I’m out. I just came home, got a new job back in Chicago doing PR; it was a really good job. I was there for like five months and then I went back down to Alabama for the weekend and got locked up for 34 days and came back to Chicago.
When I got out of jail, I did the last few songs and throughout that whole process I was writing “Trees And Truths”. But that space, coming home from school, being alone, not knowing what you’re gonna do to sustain yourself; then working in a corporate world where I was the only black dude… it was a lot of real sh*t happening to me consecutively. So when you think about that stuff, it’s easy to be in a bad space.
When was the last time you told a lie?
Probably earlier on today, it would have only been to diffuse a situation.
When was the last time that you cried?
Well, I almost cried my eyes were definitely full of water, about a week ago. I was just expressing myself to my mom about how frustrated I was with the business aspect of music; it really gets to you. I’m not a f**king businessman and I definitely didn’t want to turn my art into business this way. It’s just really frustrating especially when other people in your life add to the stress because they don’t understand. I haven’t cried in a very long time but I’ve come close. I don’t ever hold back because it’s only ever when I’m emotionally exposing myself to someone. In those moments, I’m ready to cry but that shit don’t come all the way.
What has been your most prolific verse?
The opening to “Slumber” off of my Wave[s] EP…
Brush your teeth after the wake ‘n’ bake,
Drink more water watch your fake intake,
Don’t ever be scared to make mistakes that’s how you grow,
And avoidin’ the same mistakes you made is how you know,
You moving forward, it’s ‘bout progression I’m learning lessons,
Most of this shit is really perception; it’s no perceptive,
Most of my niggas is the exception, that water keeps us reflective,
That’s why I got to repeat it, pearls of wisdom repeated
I’m chiefin’ with people that I can trust, rolling, burning ‘til it’s depleted
Leave the ashes its dust.
They’re sayin’ cash is a must, I beg to differ,
I’ll take the little dipper, as long as the ladle full,
Wanted to be an actor but I couldn’t play the fool, at all
Miseducated could give a fuck about your school of thought if you hate it,
Food for thought, regurgitatin’, what they played it for me.
Cookin’ faded, look what we created, and then we catered for free.
There are not even really any metaphors in there. I always have to entice with metaphors, not always but I do so much that when I can get it out that honest and real and with that much advice in there, without doing too much flashy shit, that’s probably prolific for me.
Do you remember when you wrote that?
That was about February this year, right after we got off tour. It was going on tour and just watching people who knew all the words completely miss the point. That’s why the song is called “Slumber” because in this room full of people who love my sh*t they’re completely missing it. It’s like a slumber party (laughs) we’re all in here sleeping together.
Can you breakdown the rape metaphor in your song, “Drink More Water?”
I seen a rape taking place in my face in the hood,On some Drake shit I think I might have cared too much. I wasn’t talking about a literal rape. We are almost raped, in a sense, in the hood with the system. How it leaves you with no choices and no options but then persecutes you for the decisions that you make, in the face of having no choices or options. That’s what I was referring to and that’s what I mean, that’s sh*t is right in our faces but we don’t see it like that. It’s so in our faces but when I say it people assume that I must be talking about an actual rape, even though it’s crazy. People be like, ‘yeah man, I almost saw someone get raped too’ and it’s like ‘woah bro that is not what I was saying.’
If you could re-live a day of your life, what would it be?
Damn. I would probably relive a day where I was playing tennis. My dad plays tennis really good, he’s ranked in Alabama; well he was. At Christmas I would go to my grandmas in Milwaukee and all of my uncles are going crazy on the Ping-Pong tables, sweating up their shirts. I’ve been playing since I was a kid. My dad worked at the college that I went to (he was a carpenter) and I had this epic Ping-Pong match for like 40 bucks with this other guy who was really good. There were around 40 people in the room watching us. We were going at it, like really going at it and my dad was in there watching. I don’t really talk to him anymore, I fuck with him as a person, he’s a cool dude but as a father he’s an asshole. Even before the music he was in and out of my life, so it’s those times [playing Ping-Pong] that he was really proud of me. Not to say that he hasn’t been proud of me but if I could relive any, those would be the ones because that shit doesn’t happen anymore.
What kind of friend would you say people describe you as?
A clown, real, honest, vocal and very opinionated; I think that’s what people would say.
What is the question that you continually ask yourself?
‘Is this what I’m supposed to be doing?’ I pray that all the time and if it’s not what I’m meant to be doing that he takes it away. Some people don’t even think to ask that question. Some people are just doing whatever life brings them. Not that that’s bad but some people just don’t think about it and I’m only in the space to ask that question because of music. Before music, I was very immature personally but my growth as a man has also come with my growth as an artist.
What did you spend your first musical pay check on?
I probably paid some rent. I was getting features early on because people wanted to work with me but I couldn’t get a lot of money because I wasn’t that big. So I found that loophole and that’s how I was living.
If you could travel back to your 16 year-old self and offer him one piece of advice what would it be?
Start rapping right now. Don’t wait until you’re 20, you’ve got some sh*t to say (laughs). No I would say, be careful, use your head. That sh*t that you’re worried about don’t matter.
How did you stay on the right side of the tracks, growing up in the area that you did?
I didn’t always. I just had other influences around me. At the end of the day, I was in church events when my friends were out doing other shit. I had family in other places, so I would travel. I know other people that had never been outside of Chicago. I had been to other countries, I was just exposed to a lot more and I was being taught not just from my mother but also by other things. If you go through the same things every single day of your life, until you’re 18, you haven’t really been taught anything. You’ve got to be in different spaces, with different people and I think that’s what really kept my mind open.
What is the question that you always want to be asked and no one thinks of asking you?
I’ve never even thought about that. I don’t think there’s a question I ‘want’ to be asked. There are questions that I wish people would stop asking me for sure. I’m going to say, what gives me strength? I think people think about how you deal with it all but no one just outright asks me. They just assume what they want to assume and then they ask me questions that are consistent with their assumption. The answer is God. Like I said, I pray all the time and doors keep opening. [God is] absolutely the only thing that gives me strength to keep going sometimes; I definitely have felt like quitting rap a couple of times, like seriously considered it. Especially when I wasn’t making any money. But I could never go back to doing something like PR again. Like ever. After knowing this life, I mean I would if I had to but I would find some way to get back to doing something creative to make myself live.
What’s the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?
I don’t get embarrassed easily. I was going to say getting cheated on but no one really knows. Okay, I didn’t want this to be the thing but this is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened to me.
I liked this girl in Grade School (8th Grade) and we were talking so much; I was like, ‘yeah we talking now’ and she publically embarrassed the f**k out of me. She came to the park with a group of people behind her and everyone else knew why they were there. I thought I was just seeing her at the park, not a group of people that went to our school too. This one dude was like, ‘somebody about to get treeeaaaated’. (Treated is like getting disrespected, you would, getting mugged off here in the UK). So, I’m out here like, ‘damn who? Rubbing my hands together, like who is it?’ Then she walks straight up to me with: ‘So you’ve been telling people that we’re talking.’ I was just like, ‘we’re… not?’ (Laughs) ‘Nah, I never told you that, when did I tell you that?’ And I’m like ‘I… guess you didn’t.’
Words by Nardene Scott
Photography by Liam Ricketts