Album Review: Mick Jenkins ‘Pieces of a Man’

Mick Jenkins
Photo by Sammy Peralta via Instagram

Mick Jenkins is a conceptual mastermind. The 27-year-old has always had a flair for entrenching himself in a theme and crafting his songs in a way that immerses the listener into his headspace. Each project carries with it a different sound and lesson, but with the same lyrical prowess that broke him out of the crowded Chicago rap scene in the first place.

With his breakthrough tape The Waters, Jenkins dove headfirst into a cohesive body of work that centered around one repeated demand: “drink more water.” While simple on the surface, a deeper look reveals water working interchangeably with knowledge, which Mick uses as a vehicle to expose life’s truths. Most notably, the tracks ebb and flow like the theme itself, pairing his deep tone with aquatic and jazzy production, leaving the listener refreshed and longing for more. The beats are weightless and immersive, creating a soundscape that feels like being suspended in a hyperbaric chamber.

On his debut album The Healing Component, the Chicago native tackled the raw, dense subject of love, intertwining messages of positivity with fierce social commentary that cuts like a knife. The bluesy record explores the complexities of romance and the importance of self-love, and while the project might’ve bitten off a little more than it can chew, it still manages to accomplish its goal of a consistent, overarching theme and vibe throughout.

“Pieces of a Man” finds Mick in a whole new space. Fresh off a two-year hiatus, save for a few EP appetizers, Jenkins is greeted on “Heron Flow” to a round of applause. He’s back in the spotlight, with all eyes and ears on him. While previous projects focus on peeling back the truth of spirituality and love, Mick uses the title “Pieces of a Man” in a literal sense, taking listeners on an introspective journey of his own mind and musings.

A close inspection of the album artwork tells us everything we need to know about the conceptual inspiration. Each track is a shard of glass revealing a different reflection of Jenkins, and piecing these thoughts together uncover the true man behind the mic, personal demons and all. “Who do I run to?” Mick calls out on “Stress Fracture,” a song detailing the contrast between an artist’s true feelings and what they choose to share with the world. “They can’t see me undone.”

Hidden metaphors and complex messages aside, Jenkins sounds most in his bag when he’s able to showcase his top-tier penmanship. The wordsmith leaves no verse unconquered, weaving in and out of flows effortlessly and delivering unapologetic one-liners. Going toe-to-toe with Ghostface Killah on the standout track “Padded Locks,” Jenkins snarls, “n***** gettin’ lazy diggin’ holes and pushin’ daisies,” showing he feels right at home with the legendary emcee.

Flanked by esteemed producers such as Black Milk, KAYTRANADA and THEMpeople, Jenkins creates an atmospheric vibe with a jazzy backbone. Mick is a musical chameleon, letting the thin, light production speak for itself before using his versatility to blend his verses and hooks seamlessly. “Grace & Mercy” uses its hard-hitting drums and menacing keys to create a dynamic street banger while the hypnotic “U-Turn” feels like Elon Musk hotboxing his Tesla Roadster circling Earth. If The Waters submerged you into the dark depths of the ocean, Pieces of a Man feels like floating high above the clouds.

With an ambitious sophomore album featuring Jenkins baring his soul, Mick avoids the trap of engulfing his audience into an overly-complicated concept that plagued The Healing Component, delivering his best offering since The Waters.

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