Chicago-based rapper Mick Jenkins isn’t a performer — he’s a conversationalist, a thinker and an artist.
Tuesday night saw Jenkins live at The Fillmore, opening for EarthGang to share his newest EP The Circus with a lively crowd. The EP is a prelude to Jenkins’ forthcoming album, differing from his past work in its simplicity. While Jenkins often highlights a metaphorical concept within each of his works, such as “Drink More Water” from the album The Water[s] or the song “THC” as an acronym for his record The Healing Component, The Circus is more of a collection of thoughts and contemplations, alluding to a larger future project.
Jenkins carried these contemplative characteristics into his performance, refraining from eye-catching apparitions or dramatized stunts. Instead, he saturated the venue with the wanderings and wonderings of his mind.
Appearing onstage dressed in simple dark pants and a T-shirt, the rapper stepped into the murky waters of “Jazz” from his freshman album, The Water[s]. Jenkins strolled across the blue backlit stage that emulated a world of water around him, beams of white light shining languidly down. Flowing through the song’s variety of beats and quick-witted wordplay, Jenkins slowed down to a conversational, measured pace. Jenkins’ cool presence prepared his audience for an evening in which he would indeed be “talking all that jazz.”
Launching into his EP, Jenkins took on a more intense persona with “Same Ol” as he aired his frustrations with the attitudes of those around him and the cyclic nature of the music industry. Although the song’s message is fairly convoluted, rambling around elusive illusions and sticky wordplay, Jenkins’ frustration was painted in his demeanor — his intensity flowed through each word he delivered.
Jenkins rarely addressed the crowd, but his relationship with each individual watching was one of openness and stark relatability. With “Flaunt,” Jenkins held an unfazed and confident tone, discussing within the lyrics how people “wanna see me stunt,” but countering with “I don’t even flex like that.” Despite speaking directly on his own life and encounters with the music industry, “Flaunt” still manages to resonate with a wide range of experiences and individuals, creating an empathetic connection between the rapper and his audience in the live performance.
Diving into more serious content, Jenkins discussed racial profiling and his encounters with the police in “Carefree,” his candor insightful and impactful. Jenkins appeared comfortable and thoughtful as he paced through swirling cylinders of white light that captured rising smoke from the stage, then returning to pockets of darkness. The song interlaced Jenkins’ chorus of smooth singing with his more familiar rap verse, paradoxically adding a soft quality to the serious subject matter.
Introducing the first song of the night from The Healing Component, Jenkins eased into a colorful and heartfelt performance of “Spread Love,” moving away from his previous natural flow of consciousness and returning to his more metaphorical work. Love was the focused theme of The Healing Component, and Jenkins reminded the audience of this history by including “Spread Love” in the setlist. This unique and insightful song took the audience deeper into the realms of Jenkins’ mind, demonstrating that Jenkins is both a relatable rapper and a deep thinker.
Ending the night with “Jerome” from The Water[s], Jenkins drew his audience in with an urgent “Put your hands in the motherf—— air!” Featuring samplings of “Dead Wrong” by Biggie and “Testify” by Sounds of Blackness, “Jerome” demonstrated Jenkins’ skill surrounding beat and rhythm, providing an essential foundation for his critical and enlightened lyrics.
Jenkins left the stage with a wave to his screaming audience, the introspective atmosphere that he had crafted dissolving like smoke into the night.
Contact Nathalie Grogan at [email protected].