Sometimes it can be easy to forget about Mick Jenkins. Chicago is experiencing a bit of a hip hop renaissance at the moment, due in large part to the growing celebrity of Chance the Rapper and his Save Money crew. This year alone, the hip hop and RnB worlds have been flooded by Chicago’s brightest up-and-comers, with standout projects from Noname, Jamila Woods, and Kweku Collins, to name just a few. With this much talent coming from so many different areas, Mick often goes overlooked and under appreciated. His debut LP The Healing Component seeks to change that.
Thematically, The Healing Component is a full length interpretation of the ideas Mick has been grappling with since The Water[s]; specifically, truth, symbolized in “water.” Mick feels the need to focus so heavily on this truth here because, as he says on the outro track, “I wasn’t very specific about what that truth is [on The Water[s].] This lyrical continuation does not correspond to his music, though; Mick has been steadily changing his sound over the course of the past two years. The more explicit trap references are mostly gone, in favor of soulful, jazzy changes that evoke Jill Scott or Maxwell. Considering that these sorts of beats have wrought Mick some of his best material, I was fairly confident that this new record would be the one that brought him the success (both commercial and critical) he so rightly deserves.
To his credit, Mick is really on point for the duration of the album. There were a few moments here and there that could have used a little more energy, but for the most part, he kills it. As far as verses go, there may not be a single bad one on the entire record. Some of the most memorable come on “Daniels Bloom”, where we see Mick adopting a sinister tone over a series of ethereally-persuaded booms and baps, and the latter half of “Fall Through,” which shows off his affinity for syncopation. The thing that really strikes me about Mick Jenkins, as a rapper, is his rhythm. His melodies are hit-or-miss, and his lyrics are at times intriguing (while at others heavy handed), but he always comes through with a flow that interacts with the beat and has a fantastic sense of attack. It’s the vocal equivalent of a David Garibaldi drum groove.
Unfortunately, the production is nowhere near as consistent. At its best, it assists the verses while adding interesting and complementary elements to the atmosphere of the song. “Spread Love,” the lead single, does this perfectly; the drums sit at the front of the mix with Mick, giving the song a ferocious invigoration, while nostalgic and bubbly keyboard swells fill in the spaces. At its worst, it asserts poorly considered aspects of the beat and doesn’t permit the rapping to take precedent. This is the case on “As Seen in Bethsaida,” which features farty (there’s really no better word for it) bass lines, synthetic drum programming, and a bland feature from theMIND. Even when they aren’t outright objectionable, many of the beats on the album contribute nothing to the atmosphere, making lullabies out of some of the longer cuts.
These production flaws seem to be emblematic of a larger issue: Mick has trouble choosing worthy collaborators. It feels almost wrong to say this, as my favorite songs on here appear to be the product of strong interdisciplinary chemistry. “Drowning,” featuring Badbadnotgood, is a brooding and patient selection, reminiscent of Motown instrumentals but with a nearly futuristic sensibility. Speaking of futuristic, “Communicate” is another star on the LP, which sees Mick engaging in lighthearted wordplay over a bouncy Kaytranada contribution. But, despite these persuasive examples, I still have problems with the features and guests brought on to The Healing Component. If I’m being honest, I don’t like a single beat THEMpeople brings to the table. theMIND, too, is a recurring personality who adds little; his vocals on “Prosperity” paint him as a store-brand Frank Ocean. The two guest verses perfectly illustrate my misgivings: Noname comes off as free spirited and lyrically adept, whilst J-Stock is completely forgettable.
The melodies on this project are equally inconsistent. Recently, Mick seems to have made a strong case for himself as one of the best melodic rappers in hip hop, but The Healing Component doesn’t exactly back that up. “Strange Love,” which barely edges out “Drowning” as the longest song on the album, starts off a melodramatic slow-burner, but eventually devolves into a reverb-y mess of synthetic hi-hats and nondescript keyboards, a sleepy vocal performance, and one terrible guitar solo. Even the best hooks on the record are merely repeatable, not catchy. The chorus on “Spread Love,” despite a strong melody, is too wordy and cluttered to achieve the ear-catching effect it’s aiming for. These misfires lead to a good deal of passable moments.
This isn’t a bad album, really. It’s a pleasant listen with much to be enjoyed by rap aficionados and noncommittal pop fans alike. It really is too bad, though… I was expecting this to be not only the best Mick Jenkins release to date, but one of the best hip hop records of the year. I was looking forward to throwing this in the top ten of my year end list and scolding pessimists for not hopping on the bandwagon sooner. This hasn’t dashed my hopes for the future; as I’ve said, Mick rises far above his counterparts on The Healing Component, which is both a good and bad sign. The contributing artists didn’t quite ruin the album, but they certainly put a dent in it. Here’s to Mick Jenkins sticking with his friends from Montreal next time.
Written by Preston Fulks