An interview with Mick Jenkins.
“In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity (leaving me my eye), which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part and parcel of God.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Nature”
While the rest of the rap game dwelled on material gain, Mick Jenkins’ 2014 breakout tape The Water[s] explored water as a metaphor for wisdom, clarity, & rebirth. His outstanding new debut album The Healing Component goes deeper and explores the bedrock of his existence: his faith.
The album is fiery sermon throughout which Jenkins preaches self-love and advises his congregation of listeners to extend a “middle finger to the pessimistic.” Seldom has a rap album been so explicitly instructive, or lyrically stunning. The Healing Component distinguishes Jenkins, even among the remarkable new generation of Chicago hip hop artists. He currently resides in a two-bedroom apartment on the Southside with his cousin Denzel and his cat Shikamaru. It won’t be long before he’s moved to a nicer place.
Shortly before the release of The Healing Component, Jenkins spoke to HNHH about the making of the album, how he has strengthened his relationship with God, and how he embodies the truism: a writer is working when he stares out the window.
Do you attend church regularly?
I do now. I was raised in the [Seventh-day Adventist] church, but I got away from the practices and going to church and really being around church people because of how people feel about what I do. And I just didn't want the judgement, or something. But just cause all of the stuff that was happening in my life, and how far removed I felt from God, I just kind of turned around. I was going through the motions a lot as opposed to really feeling and believing and setting aside a time to like acknowledge and reflect on my spirituality as I walk in that.
So I've definitely restarted in the last three months going to church every week as far as when I'm at home in Chicago. But more than that, I think it was more important to just rebuild a genuine relationship with God. I don't think just going to church is anything. A ton of people who go to church are completely missing it.
How do you go about rebuilding your relationship with God?
Being honest, talking to God, prayer. A lot of times when I came to God in prayer, it was a lot of, "I want, I want, I want. Take care of me, help me.” And I never really thanked him. It was just a lot of -- If you mirror it to a real life relationship, it was like only hitting someone up when you want something. It's just very much not the way it's supposed to be. It's a two-way street. And it takes the stillness to be able to sit, and reflect, and discern what is coming from there. I think a big part of that is reading the Bible and trying to understand it. At least for me, and my Christian faith.
The Healing Component is more explicitly religious than your past projects.
Yeah, because the healing component was love, and part of that is coming from mirroring Jesus's message while he was on Earth. In the face of some very hateful things -- all the way to getting killed on the cross, he was very loving and very meek mannered. He was trying to display a way that people should be. And in trying to figure out the definitive statement I'm trying to make for my debut album, I thought that was one to mirror perfectly.
If we look around at all the hate and negativity that is very easy to focus on, we're looking for what to do and what to do about it. I don't have a lot of faith in the conventional ways of fighting the injustices in the world. There are systems in place that are keeping the injustices of the world booming for years and years to come.
So you think a bottom-up approach is more effective than top-down?
At least for me. Ground level. If I'm in a room with 1,700 people, and we got a song like "Drink More Water" that would light up a room, we've got "Spread Love" playing -- and people are really feeling that, that kind of energy is what you leave the show with. If 25 people do something different, do something better in an attempt to spread love, then I'm doing my job on a very groundwork, grassroots level. I think that's the resolve to have.
Psychedelic drugs can have a spiritual component. Have you had any experiences with shrooms or LSD?
I did mushrooms before, it was dope. I probably won't do it again, i didn't like the come down. I just wanted to try it and I did. It was great actually. All the drugs I've done, I've had a literal interest. I've done weed, shrooms, and -- I actually use Xanax for what it's for. [Laughs] Every once in awhile I might hit a quarter bar before I get on a plane or some shit. I've never taken a full Xan. I'm just not into harder drugs at all, not interested. But still smoking everyday.
What sort of values did your parents instill in you?
My father actually wasn't super, super present in my life. My parents split when I was seven and I moved to Chicago [from Alabama] when I was 10. I stopped seeing him as much.
My mother -- I'd probably say the biggest thing she tried to instill in me was to speak up for myself. She never really wanted me to adhere to people or rules or following the crowd just because. And she was very adamant about telling me that even in my defiance, I should remain respectful, just because I don't agree or I don't see what is wrong about a situation doesn't mean that I get to be however the fuck I want to be. But she was definitely very adamant about me not going for anything and understanding and researching - going out and figuring out the truth of the matter for myself. I just took that and applied it to everything -- government, police -- different systems that are in place.
You often cite James Baldwin as your favorite writer. What do you admire about him and how has he influenced your music?
I really like his writing style, the way he speaks. The carefulness. I've watched a lot more interviews and speeches than books that I've read. I've actually only read “The Fire Next Time.” Read it in school, and on tour twice. It's two letters, one to his son, one to his nephew -- about the state of things, and it's crazy how it's ringing true today. Affirmations of self, and blackness that are necessary for anyone growing up in American society.
I think he arrived at a point much earlier than MLK and Malcolm X -- they both shifted their messages a bit as they approached their deaths. But James Baldwin was there already. He talks a lot about MLK's perspective and Malcolm's perspective, and that's what kind of endeared me to his opinions and thoughts about things. I admire him a lot.
Baldwin had that fire.
Which is to say. "Which is to say" -- he said that a lot. I fuck with that shit. [Laughs] He's dope.
Are you still a vegetarian?
Yeah, been one my whole life. I've had meat, I've tasted meat. I've never had beef or pork, but when I was old enough I was able to choose so I stayed vegetarian.
Do you cook?
I do cook. The other day, with my band in Chicago, we cooked, and I made a potato gratin ratatouille thing. I just sliced up some zucchini and squash really thin, as thin as the potatoes and laid them all out with vegetarian sausage between, and then layered it up with cheese. It was fire.
What do you like to do for fun?
I skate a lot. Pokemon Go is something to do while I skate. They work well together. I got a longboard, I don't skate for flips and tricks and shit like that, I just be cruising. I actually took all my longboard hardware off the longboard and put it on a regular skateboard.
I do so much already, when I'm at the crib or have free time I don't do a lot at all. I just smoke, try to clean the crib. If the house is clean, I'm gonna smoke in the living room and watch shit. If I go out and do stuff, I'm gonna skate and spend time with my girl - go to a museum. We can do 50 million different things cause that's my best friend. I go out with friends every once in awhile. When I do have time, I just wanna sit.
I went to the Bahamas on vacation, and we didn't do shit. Our AirBNB provided us with kayaks and we had a private beach. We chilled on that private beach all day everyday. I wasn't down there trying to turn up. I found some weed, we had a private beach, and we made the best out of that.
How long were you there for?
Seven days. That was in May. Some people go on vacation and live it up, but nah, I was really just tryna chill.
You've said that Wave[s] was concept-free and experimental compared to The Water[s]. How do you characterize The Healing Component in those terms?
As a merging of the two. I definitely was doing Wave[s] to practice some of the more melodic elements on “Spread Love.” Knowing that I wanted to be better in that, I think those are the most endearing parts of a song. Not necessarily the 16, but the chorus or the bridge - those catchy parts that keep people reciting the words and coming back when they don't even fully know everything about the song or understand everything about the song. Taking that with the great emotion and lyricism of The Water[s], I think that consciously thinking about that while creating it is exactly what The Healing Component is.
It's definitely a more diverse, and warmer sound than The Water[s].
The Water[s] was a little dark. I feel like personally. The sound and the feel to it. Not in the context so much.
It was blue.
I would agree with that.
How have you grown as an artist since you made The Water[s]?
Just growing as a man. I think there's been a lot of learning in the last three years. Not just the music and carving these messages and what I have to say -- I think when I do a project that is conceptual I learn a lot over the course of creating the project as I try to make this idea come together and be a cohesive -- but life is happening at the same time. I've done five tours since The Water[s] dropped. I have a business manager, and three businesses, and I do interviews and photoshoots and I have nine people pulling from me for different informations at different times throughout the day. I just had to learn how to deal with all of that, and move through those spaces and adjust. I think that's the most significant part of change in me, is learning how to adjust and balance all of these things. I think with all of that I still have family and friends who still wanna feel like family and friends.
What would you say is your greatest strength as an artist? What makes you different?
I don't know. I would just say my mind.
When were you the furthest away from God? Was it a singular moment?
It was gradual. I was just crumbling under a lot of the pressure of -- not crumbling but figuring out what to do. I don't know how to respond and I don't know how to address these things that I can't do nothing about that also aren't my fault that also aren't what I want. I don't know how to balance my time, emotions that people keep coming at me with and it was just feeling like trapped under all this pressure, not knowing what to do. God knows what to do, God can relieve some of it.
When did you start working on the album?
I started the album in February of last year. The first song I made was “Drowning.” I continued hashing out the message -- songs came out in spurts, three songs at a time. One song here, one song there.
People don't realize how much of the process is thinking. When I get into the studio and record three or four songs for the album, and two of them are “Spread Love” and “Plugged” -- that's not just, "oh this is a hot session" -- it's arriving at all that I'd been thinking about and it came out in those songs.
On the opening track of the on the album, you say that you’ve been meditating. Is that literal?
Yes, I've literally been meditating. It's that time to be alone, and really reflect on everything that's going on in my life. The decisions I've made and who they might affect. To really consider these things, and sit down and think. There's a lot of waking up at 6AM in my living room, smoking, and thinking.
Does the weed help your creative process?
Weed doesn't help me, I just like to smoke. The way I think about weed and how it affects you is that it makes you think differently. No better or worse. In my experience, everything is on a plane. Things have different dimensions. It's not better or worse.
I could think about a shoestring high as hell and focus on a shoestring in a way that I've never done before. Why? ‘Cause I'm trippin'. But if I pull some metaphor from the colors or suede on the shoestring -- if a valuable idea comes from that -- why is that stupid or lesser? It's not. I've got great ideas that I got while high. Do I think I could've arrived at them without being high? No.
There’s no discernible trend in your cover art. What was the idea behind the cover for The Healing Component?
It's just the heart. I used a real heart instead of [the heart symbol] because I wanted to be taken serious. What it's all about is what's in your heart and what you put into the world. And that's really it.