By Kwase Lane, Contributor
[Free Nation / Cinematic; 2018]
Key Tracks: “Ghost”, “U Turn”, “Smoking Song”
Mick Jenkins is back on the scene with his second studio album, Pieces of a Man. This project is permeated by Jenkins’ usual conscious rap, and like always, he engages in lyrical gymnastics and manages to stick every landing. Mick has a great way of expressing his views so that even on a 17-track album he never feels preachy. It’s more like sitting down with a really aware friend and shooting the shit about current issues. That is to say, the project feels beautifully intimate. He doesn’t need to put on an act or drench his delivery with bravado because he believes what he’s saying, and maybe you should too.
The album’s tenth track, “Ghost”, feels like an introvert anthem. He drops lines like “You never really see me out (unless you see me out)” and “I dig my personal space.” If anyone else was saying this it’d probably be super lame, but Mick’s confident delivery infuses these words with a pride so unapologetic that you have to respect it. The track is very grounded, but not in a sad way. It has a deep and sticky percussion that somehow keeps the track weighed down and moving forward at the same time. He knows who he is and won’t put on an act just to be admired and that in itself is very admirable.
Unsurprisingly, “U Turn” is a perfect song for driving. Just like that trip you probably shouldn’t be taking alone late at night, the song is infused with a sense of sleepy progress. The track has a charmingly nostalgic feel that is contrasted by Mick’s aggressive lyrics. You’d be hard-pressed to find another song about pistol whipping and busting heads that’s as relaxing as this one. The track is dotted with synths that conjure the image of orange streetlights passing overhead on your midnight journey. They imbue the piece with a wonderfully nostalgic haze that one can’t help but lean back into. This track begs to be the last one on your drive, making you wish you were back home just before you turn the corner onto your street.
Pieces of a Man wraps up with “Smoking Song”, and all of a sudden you’re transported to a weirdly classy dive bar or alley that you feel like you should be snapping your fingers walking through. There’s no way someone could listen to this track and not feel like an absolute badass. The backing, produced by BadBadNotGood, has a smooth minimalism that is offset by flourishes of brass that color the otherwise muted song. Mick pulls no punches on this one, the lyrics are strikingly matter-of-fact: “Six figures and not one was a father / And wonder how a n**** fuck up your daughter / Same way I fuck up my lungs.” “Smoking Song” is a great addition to the album, but it feels strangely grim to end a project with such a bright tone on a song this dark.
Pieces of a Man manages to be a 53-minute album that the listener won’t get bored of. Mick gives his listeners’ ears a break in the form of “Heron Flow” and “Heron Flow 2”. In these pieces, Jenkins delivers spoken word performances that are almost word-for-word covers of Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Ghetto Code“. This does an excellent job of breaking up the album while also popularizing some very interesting musings that many may not have heard otherwise. This project is characterized by a gorgeously optimistic tone about the admittedly-depressing issues he chooses to discuss. Mick takes your hand and leads you through a minefield of social issues and lyrically backflips over these social quandaries. It’s hard not to have a good time when you see someone so deftly navigate what is, for all intents and purposes, a war zone.