We chop it up with Free Nation leader Mick Jenkins about his upcoming mixtape "The Water[s]", Nicolas Cage, joining Cinematic Music Group and other randomness.
Mick Jenkins is far from being a household name, but with just one mixtape under his belt, he's already developed an extremely distinct style and a clear vision to go along with it. Trees And Truths first introduced us to the lyrical Chicago spitter, with a cohesive theme and thought-provoking lyrics enveloped in head-bobbing beats. It's his way of wrapping up what might usually be deemed as conscious rap in a not-so-conscious style. However, you won't see him budge when it comes to the overall message-- Mick will get it across with a catchy hook and beat (à la Kendrick Lamar's "Drank") if need be, something we touch on near the end of our interview with the rapper. With The Water[s] set to drop on HNHH tomorrow, we got on the phone with Mick last week to find out how Trees And Truths will tie into his sophomore effort, what exactly his connection to Montreal is, his thoughts on PR (which he almost earned a degree in), ScHoolboy Q, his least favorite rap trend and more.
The Water[s] is coming.
HotNewHipHop: Hey Mick?
Mick Jenkins: Hello
HNHH: This is Rose from HotNewHipHop.
Mick: Oh hey, how’re you. You’re from Montreal?
HNHH: Yeah I am.
Mick: Oh I didn’t know, I thought this was my manager.
HNHH: You’ve been to Montreal before? I know you worked with High Klassified.
Mick: Yeah I love Montreal.
HNHH: Yeah I wanted to talk to you about that, what is the connection to Montreal, did you live here for a period of time?
Mick: My manager’s from there, so we thought it’d be smart to try to build a market in Chicago and Montreal, so we both had a considerable amount of connections in both of those cities. And then when I got out there, it just reminded me of Chicago. You know Chicago’s going through a big music renaissance right now, and Montreal I feel like is doing the same on the production and art side. I was out there often.
HNHH: Do you have any plans to come back any time soon?
Mick: Absolutely. We just been getting busier.
HNHH: Okay, you guys should keep me posted. Getting back to things, I wanted to talk about your new mixtape The Water[s], and just the title and the way you put the ‘s’ in square brackets. What’s the meaning behind that and the whole concept there?
Mick: The Water[s] is supposed to be representative of…we need water, our world needs water, our bodies need water, it’s probably the most essential element to life. And I feel like, with my ultimate goal being heaven, so is truth and spiritual truth. So it’s just a loose metaphor in that manner. And I chose water specifically because I feel like it can metaphorically be taken into a lot of directions, which is something we do throughout the tape. To put the brackets around the ‘s’ was just to say that, I mean I just felt like some might see it as The Water, reference that alone, without any metaphor, and the ‘s’ was to spark that metaphor, just to make you think about why it was added.
HNHH: So obviously the fact that it’s reflecting on truth is somehow connected to Trees And Truths. But how much of a follow up is it?
Mick: Well it’s loose. It’s an idea that came afterwards and I tried to connect it. So it’s not directly a follow up but if I could have done it over I would have done The Water[s] first and Trees And Truths been a follow up. ‘Cause everything comes from water. The Water[s] is not as specifically detailed as Trees And Truths in a sense that, everything that I’ve been going through in my life while writing this album over the last year is what I’m speaking of. And I just come up on and discovered a lot of new information and ways of thinking that’s been different from how I was raised and what I was used too so I’ve been telling myself ‘I’m in these waters’, this new set of information, or way of learning. And then sort of bend the information that I learn after I discovered in that mode, Trees And Truths was kind of made prematurely with me knowing that I was different and wanted to make a change but not really having a grounded direction as to where I was going and The Water[s] is where I’m really carving out the beginning of where I wanna go, and figuring it out, and being able to personify it through song.
HNHH: Mhmm, so is The Water[s] as cohesive as a concept as your debut? You had a lot of skits, everything was really tied together, everything flowed super well, so is The Water[s] gunna be in that same vein?
Mick: Not the same way, but yes, just in a different way. More throughout the lyrics of the songs, and the end of some songs will give you a foreshadow to the next song and when the next song plays you’ll be like ‘ohhh.’ The flow, that’s something that I’m always conscious of and I try to make sure is executed well.
HNHH: I just saw your visual that you dropped today for “Jazz” which is produced by OnGaud. For those who don’t know, what or who is OnGaud and how did you guys initially connect?
Mick: It’s actually a collective of three producers. In their actual studio space, a lot of people use it like five people use it. And I was actually just picking up some weed the first time I came through and one of the guys was just like, ‘yo, you’re Mick Jenkins right’, and I was like ‘yeah’ and he was like ‘you wanna mess us with us we got beats just come through if you don’t have anywhere to record.’ I came through the next week, we recorded “Negro League”, and that was all she wrote from there we just developed a relationship, a partnership that is. I’ll probably be forever using them, one of them is my drummer, the other one is my dj, so it’s family now.
HNHH: For The Water[s] do they handle all the production?
Mick: Like 6 to 7 tracks. I mean as I progress and have the access to use bigger and some sense better producers, I will. But I’ll always be with OnGaud.
HNHH: So I wanted to talk a bit about your personal listening habits, ‘cause I noticed on Trees And Truths you kinda re-interpret some ScHoolboy Q lines…
Mick: You know what? You know what, I actually had no idea ScHoolboy Q made that song.
HNHH: So how did that come together then?
Mick: Literally, hat beat was made by, at least my version of it, was made by this producer named Ahwlee, and I follow him, I’ve been following him for a while and he put it up. He probably put it up as a remake to ScHoolboy’s, but because I didn’t listen to ScHoolboy at the time, I didn’t know that. So I used it, I contacted him about it and he was like, ‘yeah it’s all good’. And I made it, and a couple of months after Trees And Truths come out I listened to Habits & Contradictions, and I’m like ‘what the fuck. Yo he stole my song,’ then I go back and look at the date on the release and I’m like, ‘oh shit, it’s actually the other way around.’
HNHH: [Laughs] So do you listen to ScHoolboy now? Who do you listen to among the new generation of rappers?
Mick: I’m finicky. The way I listen to music is just like if I can’t listen to it over and over I don’t want it on my iPod. I don’t want to have to skip music. So at the time, I only have 112 songs on my iPod and the only rappers are: Andre, Kendrick, Joey and Nas.
HNHH: Well it’s a good selection. Speaking of Joey, you just connected with Cinematic, so do you see any collaborations with other Cinematic artists?
Mick: Oh yeah, absolutely. I haven’t got a chance to meet Smoke yet but I really like his vibe. But hopefully, yeah, I could work with everybody. As I become more involved and am around more I’ve been meeting everybody so hopefully that will happen.
HNHH: So this is supposed to be a variety of random and old and new topics, and your Twitter handle a while ago was @MickalasCage so we just gotta talk about Nicolas Cage for a minute, because you know the internet loves Nicolas Cage. Are you a fan? What’s your favorite movie?
Mick: Gone In 60 Seconds. I don’t think he’s that great of an actor, but it just went with Mick.
HNHH: Okay, so it wasn’t really out of love or anything?
Mick: Not at all [Laughs].
HNHH: What’s your least favorite trend in the rap game right now?
Mick: I’ma really find a trend that I really hate…it is probably the Migos voice joint. Not Migos, if that’s what Migos wants to do or Young Thug, I really feel like that’s what they came out with. There’s a lot of other rappers that are adding these super high-pitched, barely understandable voice inflexions like that has to stop, I can’t understand you.
HNHH: Definitely. I read in some previous interviews that you did creative writing and I know you were majoring in PR in school and stuff, do you do other writing these days besides for just writing rhymes?
Mick: I just started writing a short film for myself, I don’t really want more than five people in the whole thing, so it’s been really challenging trying to figure out how that’s gunna be. But other than that, no. I don’t do any creative writing. I can’t write even, like poetry I don’t want it to sound like a rap. ‘Cause I used to write a lot of poetry, and I can’t get away from it. Whenever I sit down to dedicate time to write a poem there’s always a cadence. And the way I wrote poetry was always free form, it didn’t always rhyme, it was just like a really long run-on sentence. But these days I can’t do it, I put it to a beat automatically [laughs] so I haven’t written poetry in a long time.
HNHH: Ahh, and just talking about going into PR, you didn’t finish the program right?
Mick: Ah no I didn’t. I stopped in my junior year, but when I got back to Chicago that was the first thing I did, I was just applying for a lot of jobs and I ended up securing a job at a marketing firm. I was really proud of it actually, ‘cause I started as an intern, then they hired me, then they gave me a rise. I was doing copyrighting and community management for social media and shit like that for about five months
HNHH: I just thought it was funny ‘cause now that you’re a rapper you have to deal with PR from another perspective on a daily basis. PR can be a good and a bad thing, how do you view it now, has your perspective kinda changed?
Mick: A bit. I still had a lot to learn ‘cause we were working with like restaurants, and BBQ sauce companies and bicycle playing cards and the customer in the music industry is just so different from any other customer as far as like flip-flop and finicky, one day they love you one day they don’t, people don’t really buy music, it’s crazy. But as far as garnering attention and exposure via PR I feel a little way about it. I work with WeGetPress for PR and they do a wonderful job, but sometimes I feel like there is a structure, as there is for any kind of business, a normal way of doing things…and I feel like sometimes you just gotta feel it, sometimes you just gotta look at the reception and move off-schedule, and everything can’t be predicted, ‘oh we should drop this at this time, we should release this with this person.’
HNHH: That’s thing about PR, a lot of it seems contrived and some it can be fake, you know? ‘Cause you’re all about the truth…
Mick: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of the industry is like that, a lot of it is perception. And you have to create it, to create what you want. I dunno, that world, it definitely leaves me puzzled sometimes and fighting with myself on how to get things done. It’s not a knock to PR, the way it’s traditionally done is more effective. Like you said, I’m more into the truth thing, not that I’m lying to people but…
HNHH: Yeah you kinda just have to do it. I know you mentioned you have Kendrick on your iPod and you’ve referenced his song “Drank” in particular as kind of like a benchmark for what you wanna do. I’m just wondering would you ever dumb down your shit to reach a wider audience?
Mick: Dumb down in what aspect? ‘Cause I can make the lyrics more so simple, but then what I’m saying with the lyrics might be more powerful. Like “Treat Me Caucasian”, there wasn’t like a barrage of bars in that song, it was very easy to understand, but it was a lot more powerful than what I usually do. I feel like you might call that dumbing down in a sense, it’s not complex as I usually get. But from my definition of dumbing down I would never compromise any of my work to reach a larger audience. I dunno, I don’t see it as a compromise. That’s why I reference “Drank” cause I feel like that, it reached a wider audience, I mean it couldn’t really get wider with that song without like changing the song [laughs].
HNHH: Mhmmm, so you just keep your lyrical aspect, whatever you do, I mean it’s also about being catchy.
Mick: I study that, like how to be catchy, like what is catchy?
HNHH: Do you have a song in particular off The Water[s] you feel is gunna catch on more?
Mick: Yeah. [DJ] Dahi produced it.
HNHH: Oh yeah? I love his production. That’s dope. To end things, I wanna talk a little bit about marijuana and how you feel about other drugs?
Mick: I don’t do any other drugs besides for marijuana. I tried shrooms, they was alright but not for me.
HNHH: Does it help you vibe in the studio?
Mick: Sometimes. There was a point where I thought I needed weed, like oh yeah let me smoke first, but I’ve grown out of that ‘cause I’ve realized the inspiration comes whenever, whether I’m high or not. I’ve been high and couldn’t write, I’ve been sober and couldn’t write. The inspiration just comes when it comes so smoking is just more for my own personal enjoyment. I think it’s one of the most harmless drugs there in the terms of actual harm, cigarettes and alcohol I feel like are more dangerous than weed. Hopefully it becomes legal pretty soon in more than just a few states. But other drugs, I definitely do not do.
HNHH: That’s cool, that about wraps it up. I’m looking forward to hearing the project! It was really nice talking to you.
Mick: Thank you.