Nothing is as it seems with Mick Jenkins, the 25-year old ginger ale-loving, water enthusiast hailing from the Southside of Chicago. A sip of Canada Dry could lead to an hour of aimless reminiscing; a common element like water is not only a metaphor for how slick his own flow is, it doubles as the soul-cleansing fountain of self-improvement that Jenkins seems to derive his age-betraying wisdom from. He’s an old soul set on being the spark that inspires insight in others. If you’re a bit confused - that’s okay. So was his sister at the start of The Healing Component, the rapper’s debut under Cinematic Music Group. And so was I by the end of the ambitious hour-long runtime that saw Jenkins juggling faith and love to therapeutic results. He wants you to be confused, and urges you to question his motives and poke holes in his ideology - that keeps him on his toes. He lives for open dialogue - that’s where he believes the therapy lies. As he explicitly states during the monologue that closes out the titular opening track: “I don't think everybody even agrees on what love is or what love looks likes, whether it be in the street or personally. Um, and, that's just a conversation that needs to be had and that's just what I wanna do, is start a conversation.”

Cinematic boasts other roster members such as Pro Era founder, Joey Bada$$, so the type of cerebral raps and heady concepts Jenkins has to offer are to be expected. Jenkins is a storyteller and with The Healing Component he reins in his diverse subject matter, converging on the ever-elusive idea of love. Throughout the project, Jenkins and his sister lament about the differences between love in its various forms: a significant other’s embrace, a close friend’s acceptance, a relative’s support. Skits are abundant, but not overused. Sometimes they help introduce a new perspective, like on Kaytranada-produced “Communicate,” which sees the world-weary lyricist arguing that sometimes you really can’t put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It comes off as a bit selfish, but self-love often does. If anything, the skits are a welcomed respite, a tangible example of the human dialogue Jenkins claims to want to encourage.

Where Mac Miller’s recent exhibition on love (The Divine Feminine) mainly utilized the idea as a vehicle for passion, Jenkins approaches the concept with more nuance. He holds love above all else, like Mac, but it's not some flawless jewel in his hands: “Love is stronger than pride, but also love is a muscle, you gotta build from inside.” It’s an exposed element that is constantly combated by guilt, obscured by misconceptions and hindered by tunnel vision. For Mick Jenkins, love is what everyone should strive to achieve, even if its purest state eludes them. 

At his best, Jenkins is acutely self-aware in his insight; he’s gotten kids in his city to drink more water, therefore he’s proven his influence already. But at his worst, he can feel contrived; the kind of rapper to rap about how intricate his rapping is. Because he lets the idea of love remain so vague, verses can feel inconsequential, touching on too many disparate ideas and trailing off not long after they get started. He can sometimes seem sanctimonious in his tangents, forcing lines such as “used to hang from them trees, we abusing them now,” on “Strange Love.” Faith has always played a role in the rapper’s work, but it feels like a crutch this time around. The final track,  “Fucked Up Outro,” closes with these parting words: “Uh, love came to me as a, as, what should be a focus because that's the focus of Jesus' message on Earth. You know what I'm saying and if that's what leads my life, which is my faith then it only makes sense to start there.” Just as with his previous works, Jenkins remains true to this driving influence, almost to a fault. 

Regardless, The Healing Component still features quite a few intoxicating compositions, and proves to be his most rewarding experience to date. An eerily filtered Bollywood sample scratches at the surface of “Spread Love,” thanks to Seattle producer, Sango, while Rascal (who has credits on Coloring Book's “Juke Jam”) and Chicago outfit THEMpeople can be found maintaining an intimate groove on sparse tracks such as “Fall Through.” The psychedelic beats build up and break down at a moment's notice, rising and falling like the emotional stability of a lovestruck sap. The way he unravels over the bluesy backdrop of “Strange Love” is gripping and is one of the few moments where he questions religion along with the perception of black men (“how society not bruise your mental/both claim Jesus, we Jews and gentiles”). The freeform fluidity of BADBADNOTGOOD collaboration “Drowning” is an immediate highlight, as Jenkins is caught between the steady toll of a hollow drum and an equally measured bassline. The same water he’s relied on in the past betrays his trust as he trips over his doubts and stumbles upon insight: “I can’t breath, with this muthafuckin’  flag around my neck,” he whispers, barely able to keep his muffled vocals afloat. The refrain hinges on Eric Garner’s last words, making the inspiration clear, but the verses themselves are sprawling, insecurities attacking the rapper’s psyche in the form of culture vultures, as much as rogue cops.  

Jenkins has a drawl that recalls his southern roots, making it easier to liken him Chattanooga native Isaiah Rashad than any local Chicago act. Both are bards at their core, but both maintain an innate sense of melody that helps craft gritty yet soulful music, that not only preaches in the subtext, but moves the listener on a more visceral level. Jenkins seems comfortable crafting subdued mantras, and recruits long time collaborators, such as theMIND or Noname, to help flesh out his concepts. The latter, a budding yet enigmatic persona also hailing from Chicago, is a colorful lyricist who saw her breakthrough earlier this very year with Telefone. Noname returns in fantastic fashion on this collaboration, making the most out of her passage on “Angles.” She rejects everything from gender norms (“who could cook your dinner - me?”) to the opposite (“who could be the breadwinner - me?”), bargaining for a moment of solitude instead. “A little bit of love never hurt nobody,” she admits, but with her stock in the rap game skyrocketing and her day-to-day blurring by, she claims “only God and a blunt could help me.” However, since “Noname quit the weed,” she must fall back on her faith - just like the helpless romantic that’s been narrating this tale of fleeting companionship.

In modern times, Jenkins perceives a lack of love and an increase in apathetic consumerism. “Love ain't even appreciated these days, niggas depreciated the value,” he chastises on “As Seen In Bethesda.” For Mick Jenkins, “the self hate was incidental” on the Southside of Chicago - it came with the territory - so love is of utmost importance. It isn’t a given, so it’s authenticity should be sound. Faith, just as love, has no concrete definition, and Jenkins plays on our insecurities as a way to raise challenging questions. Together, we walk though his ultimately shapeless definition of love, discovering the cracks in the idealism and the shortcomings of our collective expectations. It is doubtful that the conversations Jenkins seeks to start will ever reach a proper conclusion, but he does a successful job at getting us involved in the discourse.