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PAUSE Meets Mick Jenkins
Suit & Top: River Island, Shoes: Mick Jenkin’s
Interviewer: Johnson Gold // @Johnson_Gold
Photographer: Vicky Grout // @VixkyGrout
Stylist: Terence Sambo // @TerenceSambo
Stylist Assistants: James Amartey & Solomon Aroge
Meet Mick Jenkins, a rising rapper raised in the South Side of Chicago, having thought he would venture into fashion, his poetic skills for music had the world downloading his tunes from mixtape to mixtape. Now, 24 and touring across the world, the one-to-watch artist has given a name for himself and we at PAUSE got the chance to sit down and talk about all things music and fashion.
Jacket: River Island, Jumper: River Island
“I thought I was going to be designing clothes before I ever picked up a pen to write a song”
I see you as someone rising at the moment as an artist, you’re definitely a one to watch. What’s your aim as an artist?
I’m learning what that this. With the ‘waters’ I feel like I really introduced this idea that there’s this truth that everybody needs that they’re not getting are not related to as to being as important as water is. And at the moment with the project that I’m working on, now I want to explain what that ’tube’ actually is. For me it is beauty, success and happiness and how you actually achieve those things and what those things actually are as opposed to what we’re being told they are. We’re being told success is a white picket fence, with 2 kids and a dog and a wife. People who have that and have a job they work every day don’t feel good about themselves. They’re fallen into a routine and not doing what they love. They’re stressed out because they’re not doing what they love. Is that really success? I would argue that it isn’t you know? I think success is actually something different. When you go down the line of success, from beauty to happiness. You know? We’re being fed the wrong ideas about what these basic things in life are and how to achieve them. But at the moment that’s my goal. To change people’s minds about that, but overall you know not just with the music, but as an artist I like to create a lot of different mediums, I like style, I like fashion. Actually I thought I was going to be designing clothes before I ever picked up a pen to write a song. I have an appreciation for it. It’s something I try to do now but I can’t as it takes just as much attention. Visuals are important whether it be Instagram or videos or produce. Even with waves, having an artist do a piece for every song. Trying to capitalise artistically, visually in ways that people don’t really do that. You know, bringing the artistry to a higher standard. I think we’ve just allowed it to be bullshit.
So you’re based south side of Chicago, how does growing up in that area influence your music?
It influenced it a lot. I think it gives me the duality of knowing how to speak a different way. It gives a duality, some versatility to my life. I definitely grew up around, and mixed with knowing your chiefs kiefs. You know what I’m saying, that drill segment of Chicago, like those are real people. Those are real stories. I went to school with them. Some of them are still my friends I don’t really separate it, like the media separates it. You know, I could have very well been one of them, I could have been killed, I’ve been jumped on, I’ve jumped people, I’ve robbed people, I’ve been robbed. You know, not in the most vicious ways that your minds going to make you think but I did grow up in that, I just didn’t become that.
Jumper – River Island, Jeans – G Star Raw
“The world changes the way you see things. But if you never get to see it, it never gets to change you.”
How did you get out of it? How did the music start?
I had the opportunity to leave my environment. I had the opportunity to experience other cultures. At school I went overseas and I was first into a high school. And I think that’s a big part of realising that the world exists and is different from the box that you live in. There are people who really haven’t been out of their area, they have never been out of the city. You know, the world influences you. The world changes the way you see things. But if you never get to see it, it never gets to change you. You never get the opportunity to have that influence. And that’s something, being there first hand I think is a big problem. All they know is all they’ll ever know. That’s kind of the routine they fall into. I was blessed to get out of there. I was blessed to see other things. I was blessed to learn things when I was outside of that space and it’s made me think differently. So, that duality that I speak of, like knowing the world and knowing this person and being able to speak to both people.
What ticked your mind to get into music? You mentioned you thought you would get into fashion, so how did the music spark?
I was 18 and an intern at a boutique in Chicago before I went to college. That’s what I was going to do. I wasn’t even going to go to school but my Mum said no, you’ve got to go to school. So I went to school and I had been writing poetry for a while, while I was at high school and when I went to school I was with the poetry group. And a bunch of people, a good half of the poetry group went to a rap competition. And I just followed them. I did pretty well, I ended up in second place. After it was over they kept making music and were really serious about it. These were my friends at the time, so I was just like whatever, I’ll make music too. And by my third mixtape, I started really realising that. I had access to a studio, I had access to a music producer and engineer who was willing to work for free just cause he liked it. So, I was just going over there. We were making records all the time. I was writing poetry. I had a bunch of ideas I could turn into something. So I pumped up my first mixtape, put it out, 200 downloads. Alright. Next mixtape, put it out, 500 downloads. Alright, next mixtape, you know? So by my 3rd mixtape I was realising, like damn, you know I could really do this. So I went from acting, I was in drama group. I wrote my first poem in drama group to accompany a scene, then poetry and then rap. And it was kind of serious. All of those things, I did that and realised damn I’m writing poetry, damn I guess I am a rapper.
So your album that you’ve just launched on the 21st August, what’s the reception been like since the release?
Pretty good. I expected an adverse response. I think a lot of people were expecting ‘The Waters’ part 2, and it definitely wasn’t that. And for me it doesn’t have to be what everyone thought it would be. I think people get really comfortable, especially with a new artist, wanting what ‘’ wants. They want that repeat. They want the same feeling. They want to react to the music the exact same way. And I knew that, upon releasing the tape, so I expected that ‘this aint the waters though’. That jaded reaction. As far as publications go, everybody was kind of praising me and saying that it was really fresh. Refreshing songs like ‘Your Love’, ‘the given’. But the fans, the people, the people actually out there buying my music and receiving music, the Youtube comments, Twitter feeds, what people were saying there. Overall, I can definitely say I’ve garnered a bigger audience. People who didn’t know about the music before but are now going back and checking. I can definitely see that’s happened. Some people were disappointed in the music as I wasn’t rapping as much as I should have been. But for me it was exploration. Trees And Truths was high conceptual, waters was highly conceptual, and waves I wanted the freedom to do exactly what I was feeling and now worry about the boundary that a concept can put on you. So we were going in and creating whatever we felt like. I was in a brand new relationship at the time, that’s why ‘Your Love’ came. That’s how I was feeling. So that’s the space I was operating from. And because of that I gained some fans, but I think the old fans left me. Haha I don’t think it was that serious but I gained some fans, gained some new perspective, tried some new things. The debut album, ‘The Healing Component’ which is coming out this summer, it will encompass all of those things. It covers the concepts. And bring it all home.
What was the inspiration behind ‘Your Love’?
It was a brand new relationship man. I wrote a song in January 2015. I just started dating someone in November 2014 and ‘’ sent me a batch of beats. The first beat that I played, I was on tour and my manager went to sleep and woke up an hour later and the song was finished. It wasn’t hard for me to write it. I didn’t intend to write a song, but I heard the beat and was like damn, I could do some shit with this. My mind just started working. Her names Kendra and was completely the inspiration. Even though that was half a dream and we fell in love in Chicago, ironically she was in school in New Orleans at the time and I was in Chicago. And we were separated. It’s definitely completely inspired by her.
You’ve collaborated with the likes of Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, and Joey Badass, why have you collaborated with these sorts of artists?
These are the people I’ve been blessed to make organic relationships with. Like Chance and Vic, easily because they’re from Chicago, you know again easily Joey because we’re from the same label, same thing with Kirk, but that’s how I work. For example, I know Ab-Soul, I know Earl Sweatshirt, I know Goldlink, I know all these people personally. I have their numbers, we text, we talk, but I want that relationship to be built so it’s not just, I send you a record, you send me a record, you know? I was blessed to be in the studio with Joey, and Kirk and Big and Chance. They’re the people I consistently collaborate with. They’re the people I’m consistently around and making music with. So when I have the space to do that with say Ab-Soul then we’ll do that, when I have the space to do that with Earl then we’ll do that, and whoever else. I’m interested in collaborating with a lot of people. I’ll get a song, from no such thing, he’s a producer, he’s worked on Chance’s album as well, and we were in the studio for 8 hours, but we were actually only working for an hour and a half. The rest of the time we were talking, taking photos, sharing music, and in that way getting to know each other that last hour and a half was a breeze. It was a breeze working. It was a breeze figuring out what each other liked, like maybe you should tune and pitch it this way because we were sharing ideas. We were being introduced to each other and getting to know each other better. It’s always easier to work with people who you have actually relationships with. As opposed to, ‘Yo you’re dope. You’re dope too. Let’s work together’. Music is better that way. The collaboration is better.
Are there any big guys you want to collaborate with?
No, not me. No, not yet. I’m going to work on some shit with Redbull. It’s possible that I will be working with Raphael Saadiq or D’Angelo, but that’s nothing but a maybe right now. But you know, I’m trying to work things out. But even still, I will want to be in the same space and be vibing with that person, as opposed to sending them stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that. It just kind of robs it of the person that would ever make it.
Jacket – River Island, Jumper – River Island, Jeans – G Star Raw
I can see you’re very particular with your fashion, describe your style in one word?
Ok, ambigious. Actually, I can find a better word than that. Water. By that I mean, water takes a lot of forms, it’s not bound to one form. Maple syrup is for your breakfast, it’s for your waffles, its for your French toast. Water has no bounds. An I very much try to be that way. There’s definitely something I stick to like a base at home, but I’ll wear whatever. I’ll do all black, I’ll dress up really really nice, Ill dress as a classic American. You know, I do whatever.
What’s your thinking process when you start dressing?
I start with the piece. Whatever the piece is. For example, a jacket. I wanted to wear this jacket today so I work down from there. If could be shoes. Like tomorrow I plan to wear these Yeezys. I’m dressing around the yeezys. And I’m going to wear these jogging pants on Thursday. Then I’m dressing around it. Whatever the piece is, I start from there. But I might change like 3 or 4 times before I walk out the door. I’ll be like, nah this aint’ the one. I’ll change 3 or 4 times before I figure it out.
You’ve had so many different types of hairstyles, what’s been your favourite look so far?
Definitely with the hair when it was up as a high top. It’s just a lot to maintain. I had to do my hair every day when I woke up and that’s just not how I move. Like I haven’t slept properly in the last 2 days, I’ve just been on the move. I don’t have time to sort my hair out every morning. My sisters a cosmetologist, so she would do my hair all the time. Like every week. It took her like 15 minutes to twist my hair.
“I think for personal branding, social media is the place where you’re going to creatively show yourself.”
Everyone uses social media as a way to promote themselves, today social media gives artists the ability to brand themselves. How important is social media for personal branding?
It’s absolutely important. For personal branding? Absolutely. I think for personal branding, social media is the place where you’re going to creatively show yourself. I mean as opposed to any other type of marketing , whatever your medium or your field has at its disposal, your personal social media, your Youtube, your Twitter, your Facebook, your Instagram, is the best way for you to showcase your personal brand. So it’s absolutely important. I’ve worked with PR. I’ve worked with social media, social media community management at a PR firm as well as copywriting so I run my Instagram that was because it’s aesthetically pleasing. Taking pictures, leaving captions with the pictures, making sure the colours are right. Looking at the last 3 pictures you took, and the next 3 pictures you might take. You don’t want to post too often, or too little so maybe 2 big posts a week. Make sure it’s not just pictures of yourself, of your face. You know, those are things to think about. Those are the things that I think about when taking pictures and posting pictures for Instagram. And I think it’s doing well for me. I take it that seriously, especially for branding myself, people know that my visuals are on point, my videos are on point, my tour recaps are on point. They’re refreshing. Not something that you’d normally see. I have to keep that consistent and Instagram is a place I can do that. It’s an opportunity for me to do that. I don’t have to, but I like to and it is important.
What is the most exciting thing about touring?
The most exciting thing is performing and then it’s the people. After most shows I stay after and take pictures and say what’s up to everybody. That’s the best part because other than that people don’t realise how busy you actually are. I just got to the UK. I said I haven’t slept in the past 2 days but I have been doing 2 photoshoots, 4 interviews, you know? I’ve been in 2 different cities. It’s a lot. I have people with me, we’ve got to eat, we’ve got to take care of each other. I have things going on at home that I can’t attend to that I need to as I’m on the road. Pressures from people from business, and friends and girlfriends, you know from everywhere. It’s tiring. You’re on the road constantly. London is a place you don’t get to experience the city. You’ll be here for 1 or 2 days. Leeds, I got there, had the sound check, got back to the hotel for an hour and a half, did 2 interviews, came back, watched the mic set perform, left at 6 in the morning. So I had no time for anything. And that’s every day. It gets very tiring. I don’t get time to myself, only early in the morning for like 4 hours before people wake up and are like come on, let’s go.
Did you expect this transition in your life?
Yeah, it was sudden. My first tour was a shock but after that I got into the swing of things. I’m pretty good at adapting. I’m having trouble right now actually, there’s a lot of pressure on me right now. I was just talking to my mum and girlfriend about it yesterday, explaining myself, pouring out how I was feeling and shit. I need those moments to talk to them so I can feel better and get my head in the right place. You can’t get too bogged down by that shit. You do take the time you need. You take that day. You take those couple of hours. Ain’t nobody waiting… You know what I’m saying? The world is not waiting on you. If that’s how you’re going to react in the face of adversity, then this is not the place for you to be. You’ve got to learn to roll with the punches. So that’s what I’ve been doing.
What can we expect from you in 2016?
My debut album. Tours. A lot of collaborations. I’ve got some shit that I’m working on with people that I’m going to release. So for right now, I’m finishing this European tour, doing spot days at the end of the year, new music at the top of the year, the album in the summer, and then just more touring. You know, more videos. We’re working on pretty much a short film for one of the songs on the album. More paintings. Just finding ways to incorporate more mediums, to everything that were doing.