The last time we caught up with Mick Jenkins was at the start of 2020 when he took us to 'The Circus'. Although brief, the project was a welcome reminder of the 30-year-old rapper's sprawling capabilities, touching upon US race relations and personal struggle over muted, silky beats. Almost two years later and a global pandemic sandwiched in-between releases, the Chicago-based rap extraordinaire is back with his third LP, 'Elephant In The Room'.
With its 38 minute runtime divided into 12 tracks, 'Elephant In The Room' is much leaner than its expansive, lengthy siblings 'The Healing Component' and 'Pieces Of A Man'. Despite this, Mick's songwriting and eye for worldbuilding are as robust as ever on this LP, moulding together a personal tale of someone striving for a carefree lifestyle in the face of impending dread and emotional trauma.
On the record, Mick recruits the likes of serpentwithfeet, Ayinde Cartman, Ben Hixon, and greenSLLIME to great effect. In particular, greenSLLIME drops a stone-cold guest verse on the front end of 'D.U.I', complementing Mick's matter of fact, Teflon-proof delivery as he ponders PTSD and Chicago's gun-toting wild west.
Mick has almost been a master at nuance and layered subtext. The record marries together the foundations of a vintage soul record with the kind of harrowing, brutal honesty only found on a lyrically adept alt-hop hop album. The track 'Contacts' best sums up this sentiment. The song warps the listener with slamming drum patterns and reaffirming victory notions one expects from a leading rap single. However, the track deviates from the norm as Mick couples these ideas with ominous, bleak undertones reminiscent of Portishead's 'Dummy'.
The lophiile-produced track 'Gucci Tried to Tell Me' is also a noteworthy cut in the tracklist. The track revels in static vinyl distortion and vintage guitar licks often found on Slum Village or De La Soul records. The track also features some amateurish crooning from Mick that works to the track's favour, giving 'Gucci Tried to Tell Me' an improvised, demo-like quality to it.
Without a doubt, the best track on the album is 'Reflection'. The song invites the listener to examine Mick's relationship with his estranged father. 'Reflection' is easily the most gut-wrenching and personal moment onto the LP – and possibly Mick's entire discography – as he raps with a sombre and jaded cadence.
Equally, the album closer 'Rug Burn' alongside serpentwithfeet is a triumphant end to the album. Throughout, Mick raps about his accomplishments and status in the rap universe, lamenting his "top five" status. serpentwithfeet and producer Tee-Watt's wonky, funk-driven lullaby of an outro makes for a somewhat optimistic conclusion.
Mick didn't make this album for the RapCaviar playlists, nor for the faint-hearted. The album sounds like a snapshot of a man who's seen too much, but also a man who strives for much more out of life. 'Elephant In The Room' is a human album about the Black experience and unforetold struggles one ponders on a day-to-day basis. Although 'Elephant In The Room' is not quite as diverse as his 2018 effort 'Pieces Of A Man' or as fresh as his breakout tape 'Wave[s]', there's a lot to love about the album, and it's likely to one that ages gracefully over time.
Words: Niall Smith
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