Mick Jenkins had to develop a level of patience to get to where he is today, even though that patience sometimes grew to frustration. The Chicago rapper began going to open mic events as a teenager before pursuing music while attending Oakwood University in Huntsville, Alabama before returning home to Chicago.
After a collection of mixtapes starting in 2012 with The Mickstape, Jenkins released his breakout project The Water[s], prequel to his third mixtape Trees & Truths. Despite releasing bodies of work dating back to those collections of mixtapes, EPs, and albums from The Healing Component and Pieces of a Man. It was after his third album Elephant in the Room where he knew something had to change.
“I’ve been self-reflecting on my next moving artists ever since I realized I was in a situation that was not favorable to me as an artist,” Jenkins said on a Zoom call. “It’s a big reason why throughout my career, a lot of stuff, in my opinion, wasn’t followed up with more than what you got. I think a lot of times my albums had one big video, one big single, and we didn’t really revisit it after that.”
Because of everything he was dealing with from the label side, Jenkins felt disconnected from everything. He barely promoted Elephant in the Room and he was thinking about what his next move would be and how he was going to use everything he learned about how this industry works to carve out his own space once he was free from the deal that he felt was holding him back and that took a toll on him creatively.
“I think it affects you creatively in the same way that your personal life or the details of your business and how it relates to your personal life is going to affect anybody on a day-to-day basis,” he said. “Especially if you can be reminded of it all the time. I compare it to basketball a lot. I think there’s some people that things can happen to, and they can channel it into something. Like, ‘Damn, that man’s mom passed, and he just dropped 50 points.’ And there are some people who’s the exact opposite, and there’s more people who are the exact opposite. This thing is happening in my life, and it is so significant that it’s affecting everything that I do, even the things that I do at the highest level. Before I had a certain perspective, that’s how it was affecting me. It kept me in a certain mood and in a certain energy. I don’t think anybody is optimal under that kind of stress and worry that I was dealing with.”
He says negative energy and spaces, trials, and tribulations, can be a great space for good music, idealistically. But also, people can glaze over how much being in good health and being at peace is also a great space to create from.
“It affected me in that way and then once I had a concept of, ‘Oh, this is way more intentional than I may have thought,’ It then became these motherfuckers own 50% of everything I do, why would I do my best?” he said. “Everybody’s like, ‘I want my [Nas] Illmatic,’ that’s some shit I’ve always heard coming up, ‘I want to make my Illmatic type shit.’ Imagine me doing that, or trying to do that, and then knocking it out of the park. I got one of them records on there that’s like, ‘They’ll never stop playing it like “Swag Surfin.'” I say to my wife all the time that’s really the goal. Everyone wants Grammys, I really want one record that people will never stop playing, that really cements you.”
“So, imagine doing that, creating the Illmatic and 20 years from now, I still can’t make decisions on what happens with that motherfucker because these niggas own 50 percent,” he continues. “Why would I try my hardest knowing that that’s the situation I’m in? I was like, ‘I’m going to get this dream team, I’m going to create this,’ and once I understood, I was like, ‘You know what, nah we’re going to save that, I’m going to make Elephant in the Room real fast, get out of this deal, and then I’ll focus on building this dream team to make this magnum opus. Even through what I’ve described, that affects the creative process in so many ways that I do know and in ways that I probably don’t understand.”
After getting out of his situation, now comes the “what’s next” moment. The only answer for Jenkins was music. Plotting and creating was what he was doing after Elephant in the Room was released and his deal ended.
“I was making a lot of music during that time,” he said. “I’ve always said to myself whenever I was in any kind of situation, quitting rap before I was ever signed, struggling when I was, just like, ‘Well, I’m going to get out of this and I’m going to need some fire.’”
“When I got free from my label, finding a new situation over here at BMG, we were talking six months before I was even free,” he continues. “I’m thinking, ‘All right, once this date comes, this shit is going to hit the ground running.’ It took another nine months. Damn, I just spent the last two years not fucking with the label and making music, I already got a ton of music. Still got to wait. During that time, what you see from me, just a bunch of features. I could have dropped an EP. I was ready, and I got a ton of music. I could throw some shit together. But it’s like, no because the way you want to do shit, you want to do it at a higher level and that requires you waiting until you’ve got the funds and the resources to do it at a high level. You are just going to drop more music. It’ll be great, but it’s what you were doing already. So, it’s just to operate at a higher level, you have to force yourself to like, ‘Nah, not yet.’”
The wait was worth it in the end. With this new level of freedom, Jenkins was able to create his latest project The Patience and album title appropriate for the patience he had to endure to get to this stage of his career.
“It takes patience in the idea that no matter what arena you step into, no matter how good you are, you’ve got a lot to learn,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you come in dropping 40 points, you have to learn about what it takes to win. No matter what your ability is. Once you have the knowledge it’s like, ‘Okay, now you’ve got to learn how to apply it.’ Where and how you need to ebb and flow, and where maybe the application of this theory isn’t so black and white over here. But you don’t know that until you are in the field. It’s a lot of shit that doesn’t have anything to do with your ability at all. Nothing to do with making music at all. You got to learn how to do that. There is a lot in basketball that will make or break you. That will carve out what your position is to other people that doesn’t have anything to do with how good you are on those 94 feet. It will affect your money and your minutes [Laughs].”
“You got to learn how to navigate those spaces,” he continues. “You got to learn how to be the best in those spaces more than just the fact that you can score. I’m a scorer in rap, I got bars all day. But there’s just a lot more that you must learn how to manipulate. You have to learn to be outside, learning how to communicate with people in a way where you can possibly work with them, but it doesn’t feel like you just need something. You have to show up a certain way. You got to pull up a certain way. You have to be present a certain way. I’m a hermit and it doesn’t matter if you’re a hermit, you still got to show up a certain way and people can completely respect that. That’s what I’m speaking to, this idea of being patient through that process. I think when people see the title, I think people might think I’ll be preaching about patience [Laughs]. It’s like, ‘Nah fam, this is frustration.’ That’s what this period felt like and I think a lot of times that’s what having to be patient feels like.”
New Creative Freedom
It helps me focus on that. I don’t have to worry about a lot of other stuff. I don’t have to wonder about a lot of stuff either. It’s just learning the business. I hesitate to big up labels, the industry and all that even when they treat me right. I’m just hesitant to that because it’s business at the end of the day. It’s like it ain’t because we love you, Jason [Laughs], you feel me? So, I’m not going to treat you like it is, because that’s not what it is. But when I don’t have to worry about how I’m being treated or how I’m being cared for as an artist because I can see it, because I can feel it. When I don’t have to wonder about things because they are explained to me. When budgets are explained to me, and budgets are broken down with me.
When I check in like, ‘Yo, I know you said we could do this, but we are about to do it right now. I just want to get final approval.’ Seeking me out in ways that I’ve never experienced with things that maybe it’s like, ‘Yeah, but I just told you yesterday, we’re good. You don’t have to get that approval.’ It was just like, ‘So what we are being beyond thorough, this is your shit and your money.’ That type of energy is a completely different energy from a space where you got to ask a thousand questions. Even if you get the answers. It’s like I don’t even have to ask certain questions. I do, but there’s just a way that the business run that makes you feel a lot more comfortable. When you feel comfortable, you don’t have to worry and when you don’t have to worry, more of your mind and attention can be focused on the things that you want to do. That doesn’t sound like revolutionary shit to me. It sounds like that’s how things should go [Laughs]. It’s refreshing and gives me the ability to focus, plot, and plan. Because I am aware, because I know the numbers, because I understand what to expect, because I know more, and I require more. But they’re also trying to operate in good faith and do good business with me as well. When we can be symbiotic in that way, that’s what you want and that’s what you desire from this entity. Those are the kind of things that get you closer to operating at your maximum potential. I think that’s how it affects you.
I thought that piano was crazy. “They say money talks,” and I just went with that because it does. People get money and shut up. They don’t even say what they think anymore. In the limelight of hip hop, that’s the driving force. I was having a conversation with another dude, and I was just talking about music journalism, hip hop, and obviously everything that’s attached to it, because everything that’s attached to it in that sphere is about selling, it’s about money. The way we pick up artists is about virality. We care about virality because of how it relates to selling the product. I really feel like niggas are going to hate me for this and I’ll take it, but it’s why certain artists can exist and immediately get put on certain platforms. No matter what we think about their perceived longevity, we just know right now we can run it up. And who are we, the vultures. The people that are like, ‘Yo, let me sign you, take you and put you on this stage and I could put you here.’ They do that and this person who otherwise would have never been in this arena gets to run it up, get whatever bag, hopefully they’re smart about their paperwork, they’ll be gone in two years, and we’re going to keep doing that. Fundamentally, it changes what people’s intentions are. It’s just obviously about money that it gets so ridiculous.
“Smoke Break Dance”
Both of those songs are produced by Stoic. I think he has a good ear and good sound for my vibe. It just sounded like some smoking shit to me. Usually shit with the bass line, I get in that vibe because I like jazz. In my mind I was like, ‘Not another smoking song, nigga. Like, what are you going to talk about?’ So, I hope that it came across in the video, but its exploring this idea of things that we do, like smoking, that we know in some ways may not be the best thing for me. This is having an effect that I can pinpoint. It may not be doing the worst to me. I can see that in the worse versions of it, it can fuck a lot of other niggas up. But I got this under control, it’s just weed. You can apply that logic to a lot of other shit and we keep doing it, and we keep doing it. It was pulling that idea out of it and being like, ‘Come on, bro, you can’t just do another smoking song. If you do, give me something you.’ I required that of myself and that’s where we took it. JID smoked that, I think he was right on par, I love that joint.