Photo credit: David Morrison
ALSO, FOLLOW US ON SPOTIFY!
Ali had been wanting to sit down with Mick Jenkins for a while, and when we did, they turned out to have a lot in common.
They share a commitment to people and keep an eye to the afterlife. They appreciate writing, what Ali calls contemplative lyrics. They’re also students of the process, of figuring out how to put in place the circumstances in which they’ll make their best work.
Pieces of a Man, Mick’s new album, is wise beyond its years, but it’s not ponderous. It’s alive to its creator’s potential, and his past mistakes and where we’re all at right now. Also it includes a Ghostface verse that situates Mick’s style in a lineage I hadn’t previously considered.
This is a conversation about doing everything you can, especially when you’re fully aware that there are way easier paths to walk.
We hope you get into this one.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: What up, Mick?
MICK JENKINS: How's it going?
ALI: It's good.
MICK JENKINS: Same, same. I appreciate you having me.
ALI: Nah, I appreciate you being here, especially this early.
MICK JENKINS: Oh, I'm an early person. I'm up five, six in the morning no matter where I'm at.
FRANNIE KELLEY: Oh no.
MICK JENKINS: Yeah.
ALI: Are you up doing radio interviews? There are a few morning shows out there though. You have to be there 7:30 before –
MICK JENKINS: At the crack of dawn.
ALI: The crack of dawn. Nah, thank you for being here though. I don't really know where to begin with you, other than thinking that you have probably picked one of the hardest jobs, and that based off of your topic you probably won't see an unemployment line for a very long time. And I say that because the campaign of healing seems endless, because so many people are in a place where they need inspiration.
MICK JENKINS: Fact.
ALI: So why'd you choose the hardest job on the planet – one of the hardest jobs on the planet –
MICK JENKINS: Tough.
ALI: – as your direction for an artist?
MICK JENKINS: The Water(s) was a space where I was coming home from college and I was just experiencing a lot of what the world had to offer me as a young black man trying to be on my own for the first time. And so that was my introduction to it, and The Water(s) was my introduction to my understanding of it. To a bit of a fault, I think that people interpreted it at a level that made them comfortable because it was able to be interpreted in a lot of different ways. That's cool. It did well. But that was something that I didn't –
FRANNIE: How did they misinterpret it?
MICK JENKINS: The overall idea is that water is synonymous with truth. Drink more water; seek more truth. And like I said, I was at a very surface level place when it come to the idea, so because of that, I think whatever you saw as your truth, that was the water. And you could make that mean whatever you wanted.
FRANNIE: Got it.
MICK JENKINS: You know what I'm saying?
MICK JENKINS: Which is not as loose as I intended to be, but whatever, that's fine. That was my place of understanding.
So when I move deeper into a truth, which is The Healing Component – most of the time my messages reflect exactly what I'm going through in my life. So at the time, I was going through it with my girlfriend. And as I am, I was just trying to be reflective about what I was doing, what I wanted, what things meant to me, and so it directly came out in my music. But not without consideration of what do I want my first album to be? what do I want people to hear from me? What do I want people to understand from me with my first studio album? And it was like, well, what am I about? What kind of statement am I trying to make?
I was raised Christian. I was raised Seventh-day Adventist. I have my own reservations about being a devout Seventh-day Adventist, more so than just having a relationship with God. And so I'm like, "Alright. Well, what am I here for?" And ultimately that's what champions every other thing as far as where I'm looking to grow, is my relationship with the Lord. And when God was here, his thing was to show and display – when Jesus was here, it was to display God's love. I'm like, "Bet."
Love is wide topic. I could take that in so many different directions. It means a lot of different things. Damn, it doesn't even mean the same thing to everybody. Let me entertain this idea. And even if I move away from the way I'm talking about it on this album, just like the water, it can always be a running thing through my music, because first and foremost, it's what I'm trying to do in my real life. You feel me? And then because it can be taken in so many different ways I can apply it to so many different other thoughts. And I think it shows up on Pieces Of A Man as well.
So yeah, that's where that decision came from. It was a concerted decision to let industry – because they're going to pay attention to this, a lot more than any other type of project – know what I'm about. And no matter what the second or third or fourth album is, when you talk about Mick Jenkins, because I believe they will, you going to talk about my first album, and the fact that it was The Healing Component.
ALI: You're going to talk about it, I think – well obviously, because of the content, and maybe that's what you meant, or unless you meant people talk often about or remember your first album. But it's just the mood and what you place in there is – it's just not what you normally hear from, I don't even want to coin you as a rapper, but just as a hip-hop artist, and considering the landscape and the playing field, what was your inspiration? What were you listening to?
MICK JENKINS: In this album, in making Pieces Of A Man, I had a lot more time to do it the right way I feel like.
ALI: What's the right way?
MICK JENKINS: Well, for me, the wrong way was having a date set and not having the music done and then rushing to create songs at the last minute, forcing songs that existed already to fit into a mold that they didn't fit in, not giving my all on records, putting people on records just because I didn't want to finish a second verse and not because I thought they fit on the record. That's the kind of stuff I used to do. And a lot of time it had to do with inexperience, ignorance, and being against the clock.
And so because those things weren't issues this time around, I had a lot more freedom to – I was – this was the first time I ever set aside six months, and from – cause I like to get up early, from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m., we was cooking, all day every day. And then I realized how being at home was affecting that, so then I took everybody out to L.A., but not L.A., somewhere an hour outside of L.A. So we only came down here for a weed and when we wanted to go to a restaurant. Other than that, we was out there. We had everything we needed out there. We had a pool. I had three different set-ups out there at the crib.
I came one morning – a couple days in a row, but one morning specifically was so fire. I woke up. I went into the kitchen. I adjusted something on a beat in the kitchen. I went out, smoked by the pool, and did a verse by the pool, and I went in the garage and finished a song from last night, like, seamlessly.
FRANNIE: Which were the songs?
MICK JENKINS: They all came out on the or mores projects that I did.
MICK JENKINS: But that kind of working, that kind of, "Let's get out of crib. Let's all be here on one accord, focused on one thing, thinking about one thing, almost all day," that's the right way to me. That's the way I would love to do it every time. When you say right way, I think there's other ways that I've made great music as well, but as far as trying to make an album, if I don't get that at least, cause I'm going to be making music all types of ways, but if I don't get that, I'ma feel like I didn't really dig it out. And I had an opportunity to really – like I said, those songs that we made didn't even make the album, but it was necessary to get to a point where the songs that did make the album could come out.
And during that time, Mikahl Anthony, who's out of THEMpeople and is featured on a couple the records singing, older cat, was putting me on to a lot of stuff. He was playing me Gil-Scott speeches, older music, challenging my thought process, challenging my writing. And that's where I heard Pieces Of A Man, not really the whole thing, the idea to take that influence – I took influence from Gil-Scott from some of his other speeches. "The Remorse Code" specifically, if y'all heard the album, is where some of those skits come from.
But just that idea, "pieces of a man," what that meant to me, is kind of where I went from with the direction. But inherently you hear the Gil-Scott influence from other speeches and other records, because that's the kind of stuff we were listening to throughout that whole time.
ALI: I haven't heard the new album, so –
MICK JENKINS: OK, cool.
ALI: – I'm a little bit in the blind in the conversation, but still I think it's important that you talk about it.
MICK JENKINS: For sure.
FRANNIE: I think what you're kind of going back to is the intersection between the spoken word, like, aesthetic, kind of, or means of performing.
MICK JENKINS: Yeah, that was another thing I noticed about him, is that he would be talking, and there would be bars, and it would rhyme sometimes, and it would be funny, and then it would be serious. And I wanted to see him a lot of the time, because it would – the command of the room that you could tell that he had, you understand what I'm saying?
FRANNIE: Exactly. Yes.
MICK JENKINS: I just wanted to see what that looked like. And so that's something that –
FRANNIE: So did you find videos and stuff? There's not very much, right?
MICK JENKINS: No, no, no. But that's something that I'm familiar with. It's something that I do very well on the stage. And so I had two skits that are on the album that actually mirror one of his speeches. It's called "The Remorse Code," and I draw a lot of allegory from that in some of the songs that follow them.
FRANNIE: I met him closer to the end of his life. I worked for his book publisher.
MICK JENKINS: Wow.
FRANNIE: I was the receptionist, so I was the person who would take his books to his events so he would have things to sign, and he was unbelievably kind. And his entire circle was like that.
MICK JENKINS: That's fire.
FRANNIE: And even under pressure. And he was not well, you know? But yeah, I think that his influence is – I think it's really dope that you titled the project that, because I think pulling out his influence is a really important thing to do, just for people to remember how long these conversations have been going on.
MICK JENKINS: Facts.
FRANNIE: And that different iterations of them are important to have kind of – you're talking to different people, using different words or whatever – but also the fact that we have to continue having them, that the repetition is, I don't know, our only hope, at this point. But yeah, Gil-Scott Heron is not to be forgotten. I think it's important.
MICK JENKINS: I completely agree with everything you just said.
FRANNIE: So are you morning person like your whole life?
MICK JENKINS: Yeah, my mom, single mother, working early, we had to be up early.
FRANNIE: Your process sounds a lot like what writers do when they kind of enter writing a book territory. You focus in that way. You figure out a process in that way.
MICK JENKINS: My processes always vary, and I've been reflecting – I've had the opportunity to understand, usually because of my environment, I can write by myself. I can write before the beat. I can write while the beat is being made.
FRANNIE: Yeah, that's kind of clear.
MICK JENKINS: I can write with 30 people in the room, just the producer in the room. I write all the time, anyway. When I'm out, I take my phone out and put down random stuff that just popped in mind. I feel like I could kind of write under any kind of situation so, for me, it's really just about finding – if you understand what I mean –
MICK JENKINS: – a lot of the time – a lot of the time, it's the first line. Once I get the first line, then a lot of other stuff will flow. But I'll cycle through first lines like, "Nah. That's not about to set me up for nothing. Nah, that's not going to do it."
FRANNIE: But you have to get them out of your body before know that they're wrong.
MICK JENKINS: Yeah, yeah.
FRANNIE: I think people forget that it's OK that it sucks at first.
MICK JENKINS: Facts. Or just isn't –
FRANNIE: Like just, it isn't perfect – yeah – or whatever.
MICK JENKINS: I'll go with some of them and get six bars and be like, "Yeah, I knew this wasn't the one."
FRANNIE: Right, right.
MICK JENKINS: So usually when I get that, then I can start going. It's taken me two weeks to write a song. I got out "Understood" in an hour and a half, which I think is really good. Cause when I'm ever in a moment of feeling a block, then I just try something else.
FRANNIE: When Ali says that you took on – when he characterizes the job that you've taken on as really hard, does it feel hard to you?
MICK JENKINS: Mhmm.
FRANNIE: How so? What would be the easy route?
MICK JENKINS: I don't think there's an easy route. It's just hard, what I'm trying to do.
MICK JENKINS: I feel like – and I'm not calling myself a good person with this first statement. I'm just making the statement, just to be understood. I feel like good people, really good people, get hurt the most. Really knowledgeable people with a moral compass, the Bible says you're just going to make yourself more sorrowful. So in an attempt to be the best person I can be and more knowledgeable about the things that I'm talking about in that regard, it's just going to be hard.
It breaks down into a lot of different ways, doing what I'm doing, the misunderstandings that come from my family, the misunderstandings that come from my faith, the misunderstandings that come from people close to you, the relationship that develops from you and your fans and how you get to see people be all over the world, and then really start to think about what that means that they think about you and how they view you, even if they don't recognize it as such. It's a lot of different angles that it can be tough, if it's new to you, if you don't understand it, if you understand it and it hurts your feelings too much.
I don't really have a huge goal, you know. My biggest focus in life is my salvation. So alright, I got an audience. Alright, I got a message. Alright, I got a talent. As far as it conflicting with my faith, people don't know that I think that deeply about that, but I prayed for a long time about, you know, "If this isn't for me, then take it from me," and doors continued to open. So at some point, it's just like, "When you gon' take the yes?" So I stopped worrying about that.
But when I feel like, "OK. I got to answer. Now I gotta hold myself to a standard and be that, and try to be better and try to live better and then try to put people on game without pointing the finger, without" – it's hard. Cause stuff be hard. That's how I view it. I don't really – it's not like a "woe is me" thing. It's just kind of like, "Well, what do I want? How am I trying to do it? Oh, OK. That's hard."
ALI: Is that standard for you, as just walking through life and maintaining the understanding of your purpose, or is that a standard for all that comes with what you share with people that ultimately become your supporters, your fans?
MICK JENKINS: I don't think it's all for me. I think I've thought about that recently, especially as it comes to me and my girlfriend having a better relationship with God and trying to center our relationship around God. I be like, "If she wasn't here, some of this I wouldn't be doing. And I'm doing it because her eye is on me, and now I have to hold to a standard that I tell her that I was raised like." You feel me?
And ultimately, that's not a problem, cause it's what I should be doing anyway, but I think about like, "Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Is that how it should be? Shouldn't I be doing this just for me?" Ultimately I'm OK with there's other things that hold me to a standard, because it's not like I'm dismissing it. I'm looking at it. I'm standing in it, and it's like, "Alright. Well, that's what I have to do." And I feel that as I become more intentional about anything like that, then it'll be easier to be doing it all the way for me. At some point, I'll arrive there.
So not completely. I think not completely. I think people watching and people being able to see me is definitely a big part of why I try to maintain a certain –
ALI: I don't know how many artists are that in tune with themselves and that aware, that responsible. The responsible word comes out a lot for artists, and people – some people definitely hold the flag up and some people run away from it. And it sounds like that conscious level that you've taken on that responsibility.
I want to go back a moment when you said that it's hard for good people. And what came to my mind was a report that I saw recently of an 11-year-old boy that was selling a CD, his CD, someone who's 11 who's taken the time to record their music, and then on top of that to go and market and sell his music, his art, in a mall. And a police officer grabbed this young man, and it became a confrontation between the young man and his aunt who was asking the police officer why is he handling the child in that way?
And the video is really upsetting, and in hearing what you just said and watching that video I thought at what point when you're trying to do good, do you really snap? And I ask you this, because I know the power of love, and how it – the wisdom unfolds, and a lot of beautiful wonderful things happen. And it takes a lot to get to that level of that relationship with love, internally, with the creator, with yourself, with your community. But – and someone who loves at that level may not snap.
MICK JENKINS: Right.
ALI: And react in a way that's like, "OK. I'm being cool now. And you're pushing it beyond." Only asking you that, because in listening to your music, I feel that level of love and that vibration on that level. But it takes a lot to get that point. And in watching that video, I'm like, at some point – not that you want to be all assault on police officers, but in that particular situation, when is enough, enough? And is love enough?
MICK JENKINS: Sometimes that is love, I think. I feel like, again, yo, God had a wrath, yo. Jesus came in the temple one time. N***** was gambling in the temple. N***** was selling stuff in the temple. And he – he went crazy. He was flipping tables. That's Jesus the man, and God the god had a wrath. So I feel like you right, and somebody who loves at a certain level probably won't, and that's great. But it's people under him who will and will be right and will be rightful in doing so.
I think – I'm guilty. I'm more in a space of being prepared to have to do something, because I'm tired of not doing anything, personally. I'm tired of taking it on the cheek, personally. I say that, but I still be taking it on the cheek. But I do feel like I have a threshold. I do feel like I have – well, there's only so much I'm going to tolerate in my face, in my person, in my space, in my vicinity. There's just only so much that I can, you know, turn a blind eye to. I ain't blind. You feel me? So I agree.
And I think that's an angle that I also like to take on. I feel like that's something I've been saying everywhere I go. That's one thing that you might not receive from listening to the album, but it's definitely something that I want people to concentrate on, is the pieces part of that. Pieces of a man. We make so much be the whole of somebody.
Like, damn, there's stuff out that I did that – I did a little show when I was in college called "Mick & Matt," my homie Matt. I was entertaining, talking about shit that happened on campus, making fun of people that walk in the game, have time with they outfit on and thought they was – all type of stuff, wilding, ignorant shit. Fortunately I'm in a situation where I never did anything with that ignorance so serious that I could – that it was irreparable to somebody or like that. But I learned from it. I grew. I learned. I matured.
There's definitely some stuff that deserves to be held in a high standard as far as punitive and people's attention to it, and there's some stuff that gets the same reaction and somebody absolutely could come back from it. It doesn't mean that they're a terrible person actually. I just feel like you get pieces of people all the time. People have definitely gotten me fresh off a two hour argument with my girl, and they were like, "Damn, this n****'s an asshole," which is like, "Was I? I mean, am I? Or did you catch me where you caught me?" It's just 30 seconds of my life, bro.
It's just the angle that I feel like cancel culture doesn't permit. It just doesn't permit people to grow from anything or to live in a mistake or even own your truth. It's just like, "Oh, he's owning his truth. Doesn't matter. He did it." Well, damn, alright. I said I did it. I told y'all I did it. "You did it. Doesn't matter." That's really insane.
FRANNIE: Yeah, but this is very early days for this moment of a lot of people being able to say, "You did this and it hurt me." I mean, there's gotta be – complete agreement and respect for what you're saying, but I also think we're in this moment where people are understanding what was done to them for what it really was – like, just now.
MICK JENKINS: Right. And I think with that early understanding of what is done to them and being able to stand in that, there's an early understanding of then what should happen after.
FRANNIE: Agreed. I agree with that.
MICK JENKINS: And like I said, I am definitely not talking about felonies.
FRANNIE: Oh yeah, I don't mean to put that on you at all.
MICK JENKINS: No, no. I'm just saying for – I mean, I'll use myself as an example. What I said about Isaiah Rashad on the Internet, I had to pay for that, behind the scenes, the way people understood, and it's just like, "Why?" Because I had an opinion on – you can have an opinion on music. You can have an opinion on Isaiah Rashad. He can have an opinion.
FRANNIE: I can have some opinions on Isaiah Rashad.
MICK JENKINS: Nah, I'm just saying, you could have it. If you not me –
FRANNIE: Yes. I know what you me.
MICK JENKINS: – you can have it. That's what I'm saying.
MICK JENKINS: If you not me, you can have it. Four years ago, I could've had it. Now I can't. Or I can –
ALI: You can, but it's just how you express it. You have to –
MICK JENKINS: Right. It's what I say. It's where I say. It's how I say. And it's just like, damn. That's what I mean. It's just like, stuff that's not even at such high levels. Like, "No. It means this, cause you did it." And that's where it's at. That's wild.
FRANNIE: I mean, I thank god when I went to college before a lot of things.
MICK JENKINS: Yeah.
FRANNIE: Just the freedom to learn, to grow up and not have everything follow you forever. That's something I think that we take for granted.
MICK JENKINS: And so when I speak to songs like that on "Consensual Seduction" with Corinne Bailey Rae, I had to learn to move that way. You know what I'm saying? When I speak to failed relationships or bandwagon friends on a song like "Pull Up," I think those are perspectives that were learned.
And I just – like I said, that's not something – what I'm saying right now is not something that's just going to be readily understood by listening to the album, so that's why I kind of wanted to say it.
ALI: You're giving me so many examples of why I say you have a hard job and that it seems like you'll be doing it for a long time, because it's – what I hear is that there's – you live, you experience, you reflect, you have accountability, you take responsibility, you grow. You mature, and when I hear your music – I've been wanting to talk to you for a couple of years now.
MICK JENKINS: Word.
ALI: You give me hope and energy on a lot of levels. From an MC perspective, let's just talk about that, the skill set is what I grew up on.
MICK JENKINS: Thank you. I appreciate it.
MICK JENKINS: Appreciate it.
ALI: And it's just more closer in line to the hip-hop that I grew up on and have been a part of and listen to. And not to stomp on what's happening on the more higher profile music of today, but it's just the fact that you deliver and it's universal. To me, your Southern roots definitely speak, but then it's just taking a higher level, a deeper, more introspective level, and it gives me a lot of hope.
FRANNIE: So you haven't heard the album yet?
ALI: No, I haven't though.
FRANNIE: So "Padded Locks."
MICK JENKINS: Oh shit. Yeah.
FRANNIE: Right? So he has Ghost on a song.
ALI: Ghost is another one.
FRANNIE: But like, I heard him, and I was like, "Ah, right." I mean, so – sorry. To go back one second, so with "Padded Locks," that's also – were you using him to express some of that –
MICK JENKINS: Absolutely.
FRANNIE: – anger energy?
MICK JENKINS: My DJ listens to Ghostface faithfully. The way he writes is just so colorful. It's like – I like Ghostface because he can give you one line of descriptions, of adjectives. It's just so colorful. And he can give you a line of just descriptive words about – the way he talk about his gold, the way he talk about his puffy jackets, the way he talk about – it's just, don't nobody talk about it like that. The details that he chose to speak on to let you know what kind of whatever it was, nobody talks like that. And so absolutely, I was using that as an inspiration. That's why he had to be on the song.
ALI: You know, but kind of just going back again to, from my view, you taking on the hard job, because I think in this climate when it comes to hip-hop, there's a lot of different directions you can go into. But you're delivering sharp, lyrical – again, going just from the MC perspective, but then from a contemplative perspective, something that really touches the soul, something for you to think about. The landscape is no different than what maybe Future is talking about. You're just delivering it in a more balanced, and I think a more thoughtful way.
So I don't what's going on, who your peers are. And it's one of the things I've read, that you came up in Young Chicago Authors.
MICK JENKINS: Facts.
ALI: And I'm familiar with that, outside familiar, with what they do with that program.
MICK JENKINS: That's the biggest thing for sure. That's where – I mean, I credit them a lot. They've done a lot for me. And unlike some of my contemporaries, I wasn't involved in the Saturday writing program. I wasn't at the MC workshops, which is all things that they provide for the writing outside of the open mic. But my mom was a very like, "What's the parent's number? Then you're not going." You know what I'm saying?
MICK JENKINS: Even through high school.
ALI: That's funny.
MICK JENKINS: So that was the only thing I could do.
ALI: Phife grew up Seventh-day Adventist, and his mom and grandma were the – which is why he couldn't always hang out with us, because it was just like, "No. What are they doing? What are you – no."
MICK JENKINS: Even my DJ – I would get invited to go do stuff after the open mic all the time, never could go. And I know to them – and I would never be like, "No, my mom can't" – I would just be like, "Nah." Whatever I came up with. So it looked like –
FRANNIE: They thought you were too cool for school?
MICK JENKINS: Yeah!
FRANNIE: You were just grounded.
MICK JENKINS: And then my DJ now was who they was always going to link up with. They would always go to Zach house. And it's just like, when we linked up, that was like, "Damn. I was missing out on all of these times with y'all just cause my mom was" – you know. So anyway –
ALI: How did it influence what you were able to participate in?
MICK JENKINS: That was really the only thing.
MICK JENKINS: If it wasn't connected to church, which I didn't mind, cause that stuff was fun too. We had a basketball league. We had a thing like Boy Scouts, but we traveled with so much that and got to see so many places. That was cool, even though it was annoying to get up on Sunday morning and go do that. Yeah, I was in church like three or four days a week. It was my life, so it wasn't something that was always dreaded. But the lack of being able to go do other stuff, definitely I hated it.
ALI: You have definitely – which I also know comes from the Young Chicago Authors camp, everything for people who have stepped out into a spotlight, it's very theatrical. So why is your music so theatrical?
MICK JENKINS: Yeah! That's what I was trying to explain though, is that they get a lot of credit because they're really helping us write, for real. And I think that's why all the people who come from there sound so different and are so – they're good writers, no matter what you think of their music. They're helping us find our own voice, and then teaching us about writing. Before the open mics, it was a two-hour writing session. You could come for the open mic at 7:30, but if you was like me, you was there at 5:30 writing.
ALI: So what were some of the tips that they would give you?
MICK JENKINS: Every time, every month, they had a different writer, a different poet, who would lead out the four weeks of open mics. Every time you came in it was a different prompt, and usually a different style of writing, and you did that for an hour, and then for the next hour we would listen to everybody and what you did. And then we would go. A lot of the times they would bring poems in the style of whatever you were supposed to do and then teach you about that person, read up on them as a class, and then break that down, breaking down everything from Paulo Coelho to 50 Cent.
Well-versed into – and everything, and like, how do to a lot of stuff. And then I got to choose what I liked to do. I liked to play around with haiku a lot. Just, I have the knowledge of that, because of YCA. And it definitely influences for sure, more than the words I choose, my flows. For sure.
FRANNIE: How does Huntsville come into play? Cause you were in Huntsville before and after that, right?
MICK JENKINS: Yup. Huntsville's like Seventh-day Adventist mecca, place to be, in a sense. Our schools and churches, cause they're the same thing, are probably the biggest notoriety of place for black Seventh-day Adventists, so in Huntsville, there's Oakwood, and on the West Coast, it's Loma Linda. So it be bigger communities around these places. So in Huntsville, there's only – it's a college town in general. There's a University of Alabama at Huntsville. There's a couple small community colleges. There's Alabama A&M, and there's Oakwood College. So in the summer it's completely dead.
But I was born there, lived there till I was 7. Both of my parents went to Oakwood. Both of my parents are Seventh-day Adventists. Their families are Seventh-day Adventists. Their families went to Oakwood all the way back all the way back all the way back. So most of the time, when I'm in Huntsville, people know who I am and know my parents and know my grandparents, you know what I'm saying? When I was on campus, everybody knew who my father was. It's cause my father has been doing construction for Oakwood for 20 years.
So it just – stuff like that. It's very small, so when I was applying for school, it didn't make sense for me to – I remember in the middle of applying to Norfolk I was like, "Why am I doing this? Tuition's going to be $2000 a semester down here. What am I doing?" Just dropped the pen. I'm going to Oakwood. And so when I went to Oakwood, there was a poetry collective down there called Art & Soul and messing with those guys is how I ended up rapping and taking it serious.
Even if that never happened, even if I never went to Oakwood, Huntsville was still a place I was going to go for the rest of my life. So many people just converge when we have a homecoming at Oakwood. It's – like I said, for my faith, for the sect of my Christianity, my family is connected to anything going on there for sure. So I would be there.
FRANNIE: Yeah. And then you – because you're in Huntsville – so through Art & Soul or after Art & Soul, as you start your, "Oh, I'm going to move into rapping as opposed to" –
MICK JENKINS: There was a little competition called "Who Got Bars?" started by Jules Perrot, went to Alabama A&M. Dre Beats were brand new at the time, and that was the first prize. And so I wanted them. I was – I mean, when I was in college, I was definitely a more – what's the word? A more shallow – not shallow, but I was doing it for – I was trying to be the man. My poetry was – it lacked integrity, cause I wanted snaps.
MICK JENKINS: For real, for real.
FRANNIE: No, I just – it's – that was evocative.
MICK JENKINS: So – I'm sorry. What was the question you just asked? I was going somewhere with that.
FRANNIE: I was asking about how you sort of you moved into rapping, why that happened.
MICK JENKINS: So I was always – I had a pretty cocky attitude, and when I – I was like, "Oh, I could rap. You know what I be doing with these poems, n****? I could rap. Win them Dre – ain't nobody down here rapping." You know what I'm saying? "I could win them Dre Beats." So that's what I did. And I did not win. I came in second overall mostly. But dude just had the crowd –
MICK JENKINS: Another thing. Cause I was so cocky at the time, I used to rap lazy, as if to come off effortless. And dude was colorful, and he won. And I really believe not because he was better, cause he was colorful. So after that, it was like, "Whoa. Clearly I can do this." So I started making mixtapes, but I didn't really get serious till I got back to Chicago after I left school.
FRANNIE: Yeah, I was curious about the – so I know you knew G-Side and Cody and them, and that circle, that music doesn't sound anything like what you make.
MICK JENKINS: Mm-mm. No, well, when I started releasing mixtapes, nobody was hearing it but Huntsville. And so one of my homies in Free Nation, J-Stock, he worked WEUP in Huntsville, and so we were randomly getting our music played on the radio. They were always linking us with people. G-Side eventually heard, showed up to one of the shows we were throwing in one of the boutiques down there, and showed mad love. And I think they started – a little later, they started OG Mattress, a blog, and used to reach out to me. And we kept up a relationship from there.
But – so it was really crazy when Nick was telling me that, cause they wanted me to be rocking with them in general, just cause they supported and just cause I was Huntsville, not being thirsty. I feel like I might've came off the wrong way, but nah, they were just –
FRANNIE: No, I mean, I think it's interesting that – there's this idea that micro-genres support within, and there's no going outside, and you don't want – you're just committed to your style or your lane. And I don't think that's real life.
MICK JENKINS: Nah, nah. They – nah. I'm telling you. They just recognized it and were reaching out super early. "Nah, this dude is dope." Even when I was starting to work with Shikes, they was still hitting me up asking me about Shikes, about what I was doing, about – not even – just making sure I was good, rooting for me. So, yeah.
FRANNIE: Did that matter to you? Did you need that kind of support?
MICK JENKINS: Not then. Not then. It matters now. It means something to me now. I think – like I said, I was in a different space. I was a lot more cocky. I respected it, cause I was raised that way. But I was wondering why they was on my line. Yeah, always showed me mad love. And I feel like they said things to people and did things that I didn't really recognize as being powerful to what was happening back then.
ALI: Can we talk about your music production a little bit, just the song selection? On the Water album, it's interesting, even the album cover, because to me the music sounds blue. What's your choice, your process when you're selecting music?
MICK JENKINS: It's different. For The Water(s), I literally went to every producer and was like, "I need this to sound like water, whatever that means to you." And so that's how I think that ended up sounding like – that was literally what I was saying to people, and they'd be like, "What?" Like, "Whatever that means to you." That's why that came out like that. I don't even think I realized it sounded that much like it, because I was just so – I would always – "Alright, cool. That worked." But I didn't really know if that's what it – that's just what I thought, but so many people say that to me. I'm like, "Oh, OK. We were successful."
FRANNIE: But this project doesn't really sound like that at all.
MICK JENKINS: Mm-mm. Mm-mm. Mm-mm.
FRANNIE: It's so much – I mean, jazzier is the word that everybody's going to use, and that's not a negative word or anything.
MICK JENKINS: Picking beats is always a weird thing for me. A lot of the time anyway, just cause I do, I'm on YouTube and SoundCloud just going through instrumentals all the time. And I think that influences what I want, even if I don't find what I want there. Four beats were found off of YouTube on this album – or three. Three or four, one of the numbers. The producers, even if not that beat, was found because I was on YouTube, off this album. I feel like there be so many gems of people on there. I don't think I'll ever stop clicking next on that joint. And I worked with THEMpeople and Kaytranada.
Again, this is something that I say everywhere too, because it's just so crazy to me, me and Kaytranada have not actually sat down one time and created music from scratch. We never have enough time. He's always on the move. He either sends me stuff, or when we do get up, he's playing stuff. And I usually like one of the first beats that he plays, and I go with that. And it just always works so well, that it's not a problem. I definitely want to get up with him.
I talk to his man all the time about trying to catch him, trying to do a project with him, so we can sit down and cook. Cause if it's that fire like that, then if we could go from inception, it'd be crazy. But it's just so crazy that I have the ability to lock in to the space where he's coming from producing, even when I haven't had the opportunity to sit down with him for five, six hours yet – or even longer, which is what would be preferred. That's why his production is all over this, cause that's who I work with the most.
I don't know, man. Like I said, we went through a lot. The beats that we were working with first were coming from a super lo-fi angle. Again, that's how or more came about. The album that I had for this before these songs was a completely different sound.
ALI: It's a different sound, but it's still connected. It's so cohesive. It sounds like you sat down and methodically, deliberately wanted to get to that point. It doesn't –
MICK JENKINS: That's definitely Lon, Lon from THEMpeople, definitely took a lot of time there to focus on that. Like I said, during that six months, they were prodding me to understand what I was trying to get out. And so when they were mixing and stuff, it was easier for them to evoke what I was trying to evoke.
FRANNIE: Yeah, OK, so I'm going to ask a question that Ali – I know he would ask this question had he heard the album, cause what's most clear on Pieces Of A Man is the drums, the way that they are – that's – the way that they knock is different, and it seems really intentional.
MICK JENKINS: Yeah, yeah. Like I said –
FRANNIE: Can you just talk about what you said to them that made it be like that?
MICK JENKINS: You know what? I don't know. Like I said, this was all new to me. This was a really cool way of, again, same people that worked on Water(s), same people that worked on The Healing Component, but this time the way we approached things were a little different. So they were asking me a ton of questions about what I wanted it to sound like.
FRANNIE: What'd you say?
MICK JENKINS: They asked me word association shit. Would just say stuff, and then I just had to respond. Like, this n**** was coming with stuff to do every time we came – cause the morning starts off with looking for inspiration, just to get things going. So that would be some things we would do sometime, and this is like, I'm talking about six months of conversation. So I don't know what made him tune the drums like that.
I know that I wanted them to knock on "Grace & Mercy" a certain way, and I said something specific about that, but throughout it, things were tuned up how I like. And right before I said something, it was done, or when I said something, he was already on the same wave. And you know, that understanding, when it was near mixing time, I can only assume came from all the questions and prodding they were doing when it was cooking time. So I can't really say where everything came from. It would be cool to get Lon in here and talk about –
FRANNIE: We'll interview him.
MICK JENKINS: – our understanding. Even side-by-side that would be dope.
But yeah, they deserve a lot of credit for that. That's for sure.
ALI: The only song I heard – is it titled "Understand?"
MICK JENKINS: "Understood," yeah.
ALI: "Understood." I heard it, and I was like – my heart was warmed up.
MICK JENKINS: For sure.
ALI: I was like, "This is speaking my language." Instantly. The bass was just – everything. The flow, the drums, everything about it was just like, "Yeah." And then I thought, "Who has the gall to make music like this right now going into 2019?" And again, going back to what I was saying before, it just gives me hope and makes me feel great about state of hip-hop.
MICK JENKINS: For sure.
ALI: The fact that you can come like that. And I started listening in my headphones, but then thanks to technology and Bluetooth transferrings, when I got in the car and it just switched over, and I was like, "Oh! This is rude!" I mean, it already was just – and it gave me that feeling back to when I was 19 and had the ridiculous car system. It was like, "Oh, I want take this back to that right now."
MICK JENKINS: For sure.
ALI: But then on top of that, just the crazy double entendres that's jumping off, which I know you do that.
MICK JENKINS: I be trying.
ALI: You do it really well.
MICK JENKINS: Thanks. I be trying.
FRANNIE: Can we take a second to shout out our photographer, Gary.
MICK JENKINS: Oh yeah, he's in the video. Yeah.
FRANNIE: Have you seen the video?
ALI: No, I haven't seen the video.
MICK JENKINS: The video is super important.
ALI: I haven't seen a video in like decades. I just stopped watching videos. I'm that dude. I'm sorry.
FRANNIE: Well, this one you should watch, because Gary and Cassius are in it.
MICK JENKINS: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
ALI: That's crazy.
MICK JENKINS: The video – and I really like the ability to further the storytelling with videos, so it was a bummer for me that The Healing Component didn't have a lot, and it's exciting for me that this album does have a lot.
But the video for it kind of expounds on that message, "Pull up puffing on the endo, Chevy sitting up on the 'renzos, old head hit me with the head nod." And I think that there's a big rift – I mean, there's clearly a big rift between old heads and young guys across mediums, not even just in rap.
And I think largely for hip-hop it's just misunderstanding, largely. I think there's some stuff that should be addressed and could be addressed in a whole 'nother hour-long conversation, but largely, there's a misunderstanding. A lack of respect or thought enough to go across the aisle keeps it that way – in life, in hip-hop.
And the video kind of shows where we would like those relationships to be over three generations of black men. So it's an aspirational look into ways you see communicating and sharing knowledge and having a relationship that, again, that's not what you being showed.
ALI: Alright. Soon as we're done, I'm going to watch the video.
FRANNIE: You love babies.
ALI: You listeners out there, if you haven't watched the video, it sounds exciting. No, I'm serious, cause – I don't know.
FRANNIE: I know.
ALI: I just haven't.
FRANNIE: I think it's really cool that our listeners heard a Kurtis Blow interview last week, and then this week they get Mick.
MICK JENKINS: How's it contrast?
FRANNIE: I'm just thinking about cross-generational conversation, and people who – there are some people who just refuse to, like you said, talk across the aisle, and there's other people, like you, like Kurtis, who are totally open to it and totally invigorated by it.
MICK JENKINS: I love telling people how much people like Young Thug and them inspire me. They get so irritated by that. Cause it's facts, but people think that's not real. It's crazy.
FRANNIE: People miss out on things – people shoot their own selves in the foot all the time. Kurtis Blow sat right where you're sitting and was like, "I just got off the phone with Boosie's manager." This is not – these distinctions were put there by money not by people. Anyway.
ALI: Damn, Frannie.
FRANNIE: I don't need to get mad about it.
MICK JENKINS: Boom.
FRANNIE: Leave me alone.
ALI: I'm like, we could end on that, but, you know, he's supposed to drop the mic.
FRANNIE; Shut the fuck up.
ALI: What happened, Mick?
MICK JENKINS: I'm lacking. I'm lacking. I got caught slipping.
FRANNIE: It's that morning interview, crept up on everybody. We're really excited about the album and the place that you're sort of holding down, and we're – we know that our audience wants to hear from you.
MICK JENKINS: Word. Look, I appreciate you having me. Legend. I appreciate a lot of the stuff you said for real. It means a lot. I don't know if you could tell. I was a little nervous when the conversation started. Thank you all for having me, man, for real.
ALI: Nah, man. We love you. Yeah.
MICK JENKINS: Thank you for having me.
ALI: Thank you so much for kicking it with us. Appreciate it.
MICK JENKINS: No problem. No problem at all.