Breakout Chicago emcee Mick Jenkins raps, “With perfect pitch, I’m screaming free my niggas/ polished and purposeful, he’s producing pristine pictures.” These rhymes– which open “P’s & Q’s,” the eighth track off Jenkins’ latest effort, Wave[s]— encapsulate both the ethos of this nine track EP, and one of its major shortcomings. While Jenkins is as evocative as ever, his pitch, his execution, is somewhat off.
Despite its titular consistency with water, Wave[s]’ sonic departure from Jenkins’ deeply contemplative sophomore mixtape, The Water[s], is about as pronounced as the difference between water and chocolate. Where cloudy, submerged beats dominated The Water[s]’ soundscape, Wave[s] undulates between loud art trap (as Jenkins calls it) and synthy pop-trap fusion, sometimes on the same song. This lends the tape a certain degree of dynamism and unpredictability that mostly manifests in solid songs. However, in his attempts to diversify his sound and message, Jenkins loses a lot of the poignancy that made The Water[s] so intoxicating.
That’s not to say the quality of Jenkins’ raps have deteriorated on this EP. Jenkins’ commitment to his craft has been evident since the release of Trees and Truth, the South Side spitter’s first mixtape. Through The Water[s] and the smattering of features and singles since its release, Jenkins proved himself an exceptionally polished and perceptive lyricist, with a penchant for striking imagery and impassioned delivery. He’s fortified these strengths on Wave[s], while also avoiding the recycled bars and over reliance on water themes that occasionally soiled The Water[s].
Instead, what Jenkins presents on Wave[s] is a mix of sentimental and philosophical songs, often with singing that is far from pitch-perfect. Again, there are more than a few good songs here, and even the weaker tracks have their redeeming qualities. But as a project, Wave[s] attempts to showcase Jenkins’ artistic range, and succeeds at the expense of quality consistence.
The first track, “Alchemy,” is a good example of this. Going over one of the best beats on the tape, Jenkins spits an incredible first verse with shifting flow and captivating lyrics. The second half of the song pales in comparison to the first, and by the end the whole track feels like a missed opportunity. Other tracks, like “Slumber” and “Get Up Get Down” (the latter being a significant sonic departure from Jenkins’ previous work), offer a bit more consistency, while tracks like “Piano” and “Perception” seem to end before Jenkins really reaches his stride. Songs like “Your Love” and “40 Below,” while endearing and generally well-written, lose a lot of their luster to Jenkins’ seemingly half-hearted singing.
Still, dynamic production and Jenkins’ uncommon writing ability reigns throughout the track listing. The second-to-last track, “P’s & Q’s,” rests with Lupe Fiasco’s “Mural” as one of the most impressive raw rap performances of the year.
Flawed as it is, Wave[s] is far from a bad tape. It’s quite good, actually. However, its intentions are at odds with the existing evidence of Jenkins’ ability.