Review Summary: Patience ain’t stillness, and Mick is a damn fighter.
If all the effort and intent amounted to an album’s quality itself by default, then Mick Jenkins would have already built a mountain. His is the unfortunate case of getting too high on your own supply. The seminal The Waters
was such a sudden powerhouse, it may have clouded the judgement of Mick the same way it has clouded the expectations of the audience. Its loosely conceptual narratives presented a quirk, as well as poignancy, where one would have expected only an indecisive disbalance of the two. Whoever finds me another classic water-based existential hip-hop album, gets candy. After this, he dug deep and hard into conceptualisations, but ultimately kept misappropriating the tape’s success to niche components. The Healing Component
was certainly highly conceptual, but the very concept and ego surrounding it was shrouded in Mick’s insistence on preachings that counterproductively did not come together to any meaningful conclusion, proving the whole idea vapid. The following Pieces of a Man
and its leanings into an abundance of homages ultimately left the project lacking a personality of its own. And finally Elephant in the Room
saw Mick come through with his most potent framing device yet. However, Mick’s insistence on giving his voice the centre stage above the production has always forced the music to become as dispensable as possible and this album had the most blasé musical backdrop of Mick’s career.
Now, finally, apparently weary of all attempts to seek a satisfying cross-section between high concept and thoroughly planned out musical backing, Mick returns with his shortest, least narratively framed, yet most poignant and focused work to date. The general theme of The Patience
is once again vague, but this time on purpose. Plenty of cuts follow the exploration of patience as an entity. What it means to be patient, how it can be both a futile act and a mature decision, how it leaks into anything in life. Mick himself has described what patience is to Okayplayer as “the capacity to accept delay, trouble or suffering without getting angry
”. Not everything, if anything at all, will happen immediately. And the things that do may not be what you first need, whether you realise it or not. In the same Okayplayer interview, Mick speaks about stipulations imposed by the label in making his three commercial albums, budget decreasing with each one, yet pressure from the promotion and label growing steadily.
This can, understandably, force one to make tough calls regarding their music. The last thing a musician wants and should do is to leave chunks on the cutting room floor not because it will make the album better, but because they simply cannot afford it. This precarious situation understandably can yield questionable results (makes one think why the predatory label system even still holds the world of music in a chokehold). With high concepts and intricate ideas being given no room to grow, Mick was left feeling undervalued and resigned from really trying. But the patience was still there with him. The ability to persevere through tough times, knowing and hoping that better days await. The strangling three-album run under his previous label has expired, Mick was now free. His distrust and distaste of the big overall music industry has found him veering towards RBC Records, a virtual label founded as a countermovement to big corporate industrial production. He was given a free hand and reign to do what he knew he wanted to do a long while ago. Larger-than-life concepts set aside, his grievances now aired out, it was time to deliver his most spitfire, most immediate record to date.
Knowing the circumstances surrounding Mick’s album run, the start of “Michelin Star” casts a different shade on his words. The homage to the late Speaker Knockerz and many a deceased friends and colleagues is supplied with Mick’s signature clever double entendre writing and intertextual messaging. “Lighters up, I gotta burn one for the homies that forever stayed” at first seems like what one does with a lighter or a lit sage in memory of a passed one, but this line together with the vivid description of big city high-rises and visions of constant critique and money-making throughout the track lights a different story. It reads as an address of those exact executive types who dictate who can create what, as long as it carries a profit incentive. These executives and labels could never see the actual Michelin star chef equivalent of an artist, even if they were served the best meal of their lives. In this sense, the opening is then also an homage to all those artists who, understandably, were left burned out and quit the world of art because of these hyenas.
The following track, “Show and Tell”, picks up on a similar note as “Michelin Star” ends: Mick questions who the artists are really trying to impress, for it certainly should not be the white collars, but many are going just for that. Mick himself states that he had to show them too but ended up outgrowing it and them. “Too much talking and you soundin' like you sellin' ***
” is directly a reference to the kind of person the ass-kissing corporate world might make you, alienating your actual close ones. The song also sees Mick contemplate the gains this life has given him. He is now quite well connected, going so far as calling it “One degree of separation
”, which creates a feeling of an intertextual story, where Mick is finally close to both the powerful figure-movers as well as other artists he admired, but was now at a stage of having to use the corporate sales-speak to both groups. The one tough sell on the track, however, comes in the form of a Freddie Gibbs feature, who amid Mick’s revelational lyrics dilutes the track with his favourite topic, them hoes. Sure, superficially it is clever to liken having to make appearances during a public breakup and having to talk to your past partner the way one probably talks diplomatically to a label executive, feeling disgusted at the type of communicator you have been forced to become. However, Freddie diverting the attention to “Bitches do their best to try to tear me down
” leaves a rather awkward aftertaste, considering it is sandwiched between two very different stanzas.
At least this does connect to a certain braggadocio running through the album. It feels appropriate, both considering the self-presenting culture of hip-hop, as well as this being Mick’s album of reckoning. He was sold short, beaten down, and undervalued for too long. He has earned the right to show himself big. Tracks like “Sitting Ducks” (with the feature from master flexer himself, Benny the Butcher), “007”, and “Pasta” are all rife with witty brags. The latter of the three is a hilarious concept unto itself, writing a flexing rap lyric entirely based around pasta puns, while somehow in the end managing to come through with a very thoughtful message tying back to the concepts of patience at large, persevering and strengthening oneself with more heat despite what one might expect. It is in moments like these that Mick shows what the past stipulations have deprived him (and us) of. These moments of raw spitting bars can be simply about showing off, yet they're packed with wit, heart, and well-read references. He is not chasing any grand plot or purpose; he simply shows you where the game is at. And you eat it up.
Things get more earnest, conscious, and emotional on a lot of tracks. “2004” is the shortest cut on the album, but by far the most brutal one. Mick serenades those who have been with him throughout the years and stuck with him, possibly despite his relative salesman transition throughout the past three-album run. It is an ode to the poetry circles he has been attending in his youth who have set him up to rap, who have encouraged him to pursue arts. The same crew that took him under their wing in 2004, helped him start performing in 2008, and continued to inspire him even today, is at the core show of gratitude of the track. At the same time, typical of Mick, the track has a dual tone. There is a sentiment of grief for those who have been taken under the wrong wing. Everybody needs a place to belong, everybody is impatient for growth, yet many find belonging and growth prematurely. He invokes Pop Smoke in passing, also a product of his environment, who was gunned down at just 20 years old far from home. Jenkins here shows the ridiculousness of side loyalty, how young people get too easily swept up in pointless gang affiliations, branding themselves in a quest to belong in a world that rejects them. Jenkins describes himself as “Southside, be on the Westside, though
”. In one quick line denoting the nonsense of side division asking in essence: I’m from the other side, but what are you going to do if I appear in your territory? Much a response was given to Pop Smoke, an east coast rapper who ventured to the West Coast only to be murdered for being on the wrong side. Mick here shows his appreciation that he had the chance to stay with the same good crew since 2004. That is who the real friends and mentors are.
Duality in meaning also lines the lead single, the ever-banging bop that is “Smoke Break-Dance”, featuring JID. On the surface, it is a smoking song. Mick is a heavy smoker, tobacco and otherwise, and talks extensively about that. But there is a lot more to it than that. The entire song is lined with stereotypical pro-smoking campaigning, twisted inside out to reflect actual problems with the issue. This is not just about health hazards; this also denotes the fire hazards often caused by smokers. In a world increasingly heating up and drying out, taking a smoke break near the woods is a dangerous and irresponsible act, just like worshipping weed as a culture is. He analyses the society that glorifies an actual drug, one that also pushes young people towards gang affiliations or at least glorification of gang violence. Weed is a form of signature choice of intoxication. Every distinguished gentleman must have their poison of choice, and the culture of hip-hop has weed. Mick sees addictive behaviours in himself, and he sees real-world repercussions for literally setting something ablaze, forcing one’s surroundings to inhale your choices. All the cool of its initial appearance eventually dissipates, turning sour and laborious. JID further connects smoking and the perceived status of it with some less-than-favourable consequences. He mentions the medicinal effects that one might misuse in lieu of stress and trauma. “We was at the bottom, I was guided by the beats, guided by the guns, guided by the streets
”. JID points to the irony of the same place rooting the culture of smoking being a source of significant trauma, for which many seek convalescence through the very same smoking that is associated with the root place, dangerous streets, gun culture in the States, societal margins overlooked and ignored by most others, creating a cursed circle of blind leading the blind.
The album concludes by repeating the notion of patience through a slightly different lens than dealing with the exploitative music industry. He shows the scars of his upbringing, his unruliness, struggles of his family. “Since a shorty, mama was needin' the dough I been breakin' bread / Grew up in the church, did the stained glass, fam', I been breakin' bad
” is a beautiful showcase of both his lyrical prowess, throwing double entendres at every turn, and his life situation in his youth. Mick’s mother has been taking diligent care of him with barely enough to survive on, while he was unruly and mentally unstable, causing plenty of havoc. At the same time, there is a wholesome reference to youthful geekiness, special interests found in many a young person, Star Trek and Avatar (the good one) in Mick’s case. And the patience that he learned way later was with him all along, through tough times, through childhood. He just did not know it yet. The patience is not waiting, after all. Mick never waited, he worked and fought, but the results came with time. That is where the patience hid.
His erudite lyricism is at full display, playing with puns, double entendres, callbacks, references, invoking Dave Brubeck in the lyrics while the backing piano and saxophone routinely flow from one Brubeck medley to another on “007”. Jenkins is clearly well educated in the matters of poetic rhythm, theme and rhyme, structure, metre, history even. More than ever before he now finally utilises that finesse to his great advantage, saying in very few words on a limited runtime significantly more than many of his previous albums did on a much more bloated tracklist. On a record not even scraping 30 minutes in length, Mick and his guests managed to pack so much worth dissecting, you’d need a few more thousand words and an editing team to do it justice. This is the sound of an artist finally free to do what he does best, unshackled from the limitations of a company chasing statistics. This is the sound of patience paying off.
P.S.: I didn’t know where to fit this in the review, but “Channel Orange got enough 5s, can I be frank?
” is about the funniest self-diss you’ll hear this decade.