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Review: Mick Jenkins Obeys His Thirst on the H2O-Obsessed ‘Wave(s)’

8
SPIN Rating: 8 of 10
Release Date: August 21, 2015
Label: Self-Released

Chicago-via-Huntsville rapper Mick Jenkins was a conspicuously missing name from the Social Experiment’s Surf this year, considering the breezy float of traditional easy-listening instruments that emanated from his 2014 breakthrough mixtape, The Water(s); he even named a single “Jazz,” wherein he shouts out Count Basie and Dave Brubeck. His impressive Jenga stacks of syllables are less speedy and more leaden than Chance the Rapper, but Jenkins’ flow is more basso and spittle-flecked, reminiscent of the long-lost fellow Chi-Town rapper Rhymefest if he came up in the cloud.

On The Water(s) and previous singles, there was a hint of condescension; Jenkins mimicked hometown antihero Chief Keef in the “Martyrs” video with a noose around his throat in lieu of a chain. It didn’t help that the song wrapped its poetic gravitas around such hectoring scolds as “All these little girls give it up now / Shame I could see the cherry stems in the fucking street.” But on the plus side, the journalist’s son set aside time for female verses to respond to his own, and his raps, often inspired by people-watching, know of what they speak, whether discussing the segregation in his city or sipping ginger ale from champagne flutes.

As he prepares his first studio album, The Healing Component, though, Jenkins has dropped the nine-song Wave(s), which is louder, catchier, and about half the length of The Water(s). A song like “Slumber,” with julienned drums collapsing all over it, can no longer position Jenkins as the Anti-Drill, and the wafting saxes don’t reduce his forcefulness to a whisper like, say, Isaiah Rashad. “Get Up Get Down” utilizes siren-like synths as Jenkins crams in as many rhymes for “-onic” as he can. He’s surprised to find his audience is all white, he misses his dad, he throws the typically displaced platitudes of city-rap into sharper relief while still indulging his penchant for water imagery. (The video for “Jazz” featured people literally hustling H20 in the streets before the city’s saved by a baptism of rain at the end.)

“Your Love” is the first thing he’s done that sounds like a hit though, with warped synth chords, a chorus guaranteed to stick in your head, and choppy, menacing verses. Wave(s) makes clear that the man who once rapped self-daring witticisms on the order of “Like cleft lips I stay on the upper level” is interested in something much bigger, possibly even breaking pop. The two-minute “Piano” likens trapping and rapping to moving the title instrument while tucking the word “queso” into “caseload.” And “40 Below” is a love plaint that begins with a sample castigating men for being the cold bastards. There’s a lot to unpack in just half an hour of Wave(s) and this rising talent doesn’t plan to make it any easier as he learns to hone hooks. Except on the ears that is.