Review Summary: let me talk to 'em
Mick Jenkins has always rapped like he's stranded in a hall of mirrors, shadowboxing with versions of himself we don't or cannot know. Whether it's a critically acclaimed art-rap concept album about water or an attempt to bridge his grimy authenticity to pop accessibility, Jenkins raps like he has something to prove. Elephant In The Room
is the sound of someone sick of dancing around issues; from the short runtime to the off-kilter, jazzy loops, to the way every bar feels like something Jenkins is unloading from the deepest parts of his chest even as his familiar voice rarely raises above a calculated rumble.
If The Water[s]
rightly became the new Chicago scene's golden achievement (before CARE FOR ME
came along, but I digress) by finding a sound as warped, delicately crushing and indefinable as its inspiration, you could almost say Elephant In The Room
is its earthen component. The beats on here are tough but contain multitudes, rich veins of soil with plenty to discover underneath the surface. Songs seem to crumble and melt away over rugged percussion, like the sound of Jenkins tapping away the cigarettes he's constantly mentioning. There's enough material here to satisfy hypebeasts who came to hear the man spit - "Contacts", "Truffles" - but Elephant In The Room
is something special when it slows down and stares right into the abyss Jenkins has eyeing, circling like a wary fighter but not outright confronting. The surreal, largely sung "Scottie Pippen" and "Is, This Cigarettes" are some of the rapper's finest work to date: alternately soothing or unsettling meditations on how the things we love can quickly kill us, and there are systems in place dating back centuries designed to ensure that cycle stays unbroken.
In all honestly I think Elephant In The Room
might be Mick Jenkins' finest project. There's no quirky concept to grab onto, none of the hype that is afforded a younger artist making their first big swing, but the maturity and refinement on display is its own kind of theme. This is a fantastically conceived and realised album, not a second overlong or note out of place. Think of this as a series of chronicles of the rapper facing down something in the mirror he'd rather not confront: institutionalised racism, failed romance, the spectre of a departed father in one of his finest ever songs, or just too many goddamn cigarettes. It's not the kind of album that wastes time on flashy features and big beats to demand your attention, but if you come to it anyway, you might find more to Elephant In The Room
than you would have expected.