Album Cover via Mick Jenkins/Instagram

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Donna-Claire says ScHoolboy Q has a perfect rap voice.

There was something about Mick Jenkins – the “drink more water” Mick Jenkins of the Chicago mixtape renaissance – that captivated my generation. I am a The Water[s] evangelist who, nine years earlier, thought Mick Jenkins entered my scope of reference at the height of his powers. I was younger, foolish. I had no idea an artist could really mature—thought every artist arrived fully formed on their breakout tape. But it hasn’t been 2014 in years, and while I still jam that essential tape from the sunset years of the blog era, I haven’t felt the rush of Mick Jenkins’ unfettered passion in a majority of his follow-up releases.

Sure, Pieces of a Man and The Healing Component were presumably wizened, but there was something missing. I think Mick knew it, too. Well, I know he did, because the press surrounding this album features quotes centering Mick growing into himself in his 30s, feeling like this is the real first impression he’s happy with. As he told NPR, he’s pulling from “the soul of jazz,” as he was on The Water[s], and that strikes me, too. I think of jazz as basically adult musician playtime. How I watch my best friend play repetitions of “Autumn Leaves” and other standards on guitar, faster and faster, until he outpaces himself and has to stop and laugh. That feels like the spirit of jazz, that laughter. It’s not that I needed Mick to be a jokester, it’s that past The Water[s], I couldn’t tell if he was having fun, if the concepts were coming from his gut. Things sounded belabored, as if Mick was performing Mick Jenkins, and not much else.

“I was disgruntled in my situation for good reasons, and it affected my ability to do my best as an artist,” Jenkins shared with NPR when asked if he feels freer now that he’s off Cinematic. “You know, I think as an artist, we create from an emotional place. Our connection to our art is emotional. A lot of the themes that I push and messages that I’m trying to get across are bigger than me in my eyes. And being in a situation where I’m uncomfortable—it’s going to affect how I create. And it did. And anything that I could lump in that category is no longer what I’m dealing with. And it gives you a great breath of fresh air.”

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With The Patience, he opens things with a ferocious temple striking declaration of “I’m hungry as hell.” It’s a nod to what was and a nod to what had to be invoked to become this new man. So Mick Jenkins is barking across the record’s 27-minute runtime. He is playing his standards faster and faster, but he’s not slipping up and down the fretboard. He’s fleet-footed and sharp. He is reaching an inflection point and then another, a rare trick where the pitch is released and somehow the ball can travel upwards in space across 11 solid songs. He’s rapping like he has something to prove, but not to the listener, to himself. He’s 32 years of age and, if I had to wager a guess, disgusted by the classification as a middle-class artist—an artist who bubbled up out of the underground but didn’t quite shatter into the upper echelon of mainstream success.

The Patience is a dexterous rap album from an artist who once elicited comparisons to Common and the concept of “conscious rap” – an artist who somehow isn’t so far up his open third eye that we can’t see him when his voice crackles through productions. What I’m trying to say is, Mick Jenkins stands tall, but humble.

The features are a feature unto themselves, how smartly Mick picks voices that complement his own, but never outshine him. This may be one of the most recent examples of sparring-matches-turned-draws that I’ve heard in recent hip-hop. It’s the spirit of jazz, again, the camaraderie and desire to push forward a modality of music. He’s in “X-Games mode… F*cked around and found a way.” And the album proceeds in this direction, with Mick sparking up his self-awareness as combustible fuel. On “007,” he refers to himself as holding the ultimate truth, which if you’ve heard The Water[s], you know was always part of the equation. But it’s subtler here. In his near-decade away from that tape, Mick has learned the value of getting smaller to get louder. He doesn’t shrink himself, but he does condense to make for a more potent explosion of energy.

The acrobatic and creeping “Show & Tell” with Freddie Gibbs is the mission state of the album: “I had to show n****s / Wasn’t even tryin’ to outgrow n****s.” The rest of the first verse follows this pattern of Mick addressing himself and his role in The Rap Game—if there even is such a thing, with the death of monoculture and all, which is also maybe the point of this verse?—positioning himself as a young veteran who couldn’t tell resting laurels from a kicked can of paint. And, okay, it’s just nice to hear a rapper care at this stage of their career. The thirst for innovation is the greatest driver of The Patience. And I’m not even sour all those albums came before it—and neither is Mick, I would guess—because you have to have the indignant cough before the moving monologue.

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It took me a while to succumb to streaming. I had an iPod I took everywhere until the dog days of summer in 2018, when I was forced to decide: am I deleting my favorite mixtapes in order to try out new music, or am I holding on to those precious storage blocks? Begrudgingly, I made a Spotify account in my old Pitman, NJ apartment, where my desk was in the living room, nestled between the packed CD rack and coffee table. I bring up this detail to make a point, of course, that I was a physical media lifer, and to this day, between shooting film and decrying Kindles, I prefer the texture of something real. And, as you might expect, Mick Jenkins was part of that formative shaping of sniffing out the real from the fake.

The Water[s] made me feel smart. The Patience makes me nod along knowingly. I bet Mick felt like a genius sent by God when he dropped his 2014 tape, and I bet life—as life is wont to do—unfolded and reminded him, as it did to me from 2014 to now, that we don’t know anything at all. The Patience is the byproduct of waiting and grinding it out, of learning and yearning to achieve something greater than being a blog era wonder, or a “conscious rapper” relegated to The Underachiever years of the internet. This album is a testament to not sitting still, to meeting life on life’s terms and taking it for a ride. It is a dazzling album, one of the strongest of the year, but more importantly, it should serve as a reminder to all creatives everywhere: get uncomfortable on your terms, settle into something new, and make your best art.

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