PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


Mick Jenkins: The Water(s)

Saying that The Water(s) shows potential would be unfair. Mick Jenkins has already arrived.

Mick Jenkins

The Waters

Label: Cinematic Music Group
US Release Date: 2014-08-12
UK Release Date: 2014-08-12

Mick Jenkins is an old soul. It seems absurd that he’s only 24. That’s not just a commentary on his technical prowess. His first foray into the hip-hop consciousness was "Martyrs", a pitch-black meditation on violence and misogyny in Jenkins’ Chicago hip-hop scene (where he directly called out Chief Keef). The impossibly heavy conversation Jenkins started was paired with images of Jenkins wearing a noose like a 2 Chainz accessory. Appropriately his newest release, The Water(s), at its best, doesn’t feel like a mixtape. It feels like a solid release from an MC establishing himself as a rising power.

The Water(s) is a concept mixtape, as strange as that is. As the title and album cover suggest, Jenkins’ lyrics are immersed in the symbolic meanings of water. Jenkins leads an exploration in the mythos of water and the common themes connected with it. Jenkins’ descriptions shift from dirty bong water to sea water that chokes a drowning sailor. There’s not a true narrative here, just Jenkins diving into a strange mythos, visiting the fountain of youth, Noah’s flood, and the bottom of the Pacific. It gives Jenkins plenty of room to unspool dizzying lines. He remembers "when my baby lungs blew trees / I still felt like a saint when I drew that breeze," as he gets lost in a cloud of smoke before arriving at a different state of thought. "Stephen Hawking, no need for talking/Got a hawk's eye but I can hardly see you," he reveals like a shaman on the title track. It’s a clever narrative thread for Jenkins to work with, but some of the production feels boxed in by the liquid motifs. "Who Else" and "Dehydration" both feel like straightforward trap tracks that strain to sound aquatic. Those two tracks is also a reminder that The Water(s) has a fondness for speedy hi-hats, already too ubiquitous in hip-hop. The sudden flash of those 16th notes is jarring, as most of The Water(s) is a weird beast, trying to distance itself from the mainstream.

Thankfully the production high points are spectacular. Opener "Shipwrecked" has an absolutely bonkers beat change up introduced by a gorgeous choir and brass interlude, shifting the song from an ebbing and flowing background to a stormy second half that has Jenkins pitting a flood. The Water(s) is also a showcase for Chicago producer Ongaud. He crafted the "Strange Fruit" biting "Mayters", the hypnotic "Canada Dry", and The Water(s)’s central track "Jazz". The rippling xylophone line starts "Jazz" starkly, but grows in menace with an eerie flute sample and a clanking drum kit lurking in the chorus. Jenkins uses it as a platform to deconstruct rival rappers. "Most rappers these days is actors / And I can't keep watching the same movie," he spits with a sneer. "Jazz" and "Mayters" work off of a lurching tension that creeps into every nook and cranny.

As the album closes the tension finally breaks with the monstrous "Jerome". Jenkins switches his baritone drawl into a hoarse yell and guest Joey Bada$$ does the same over a terrifying beat, heavy on a Halloween-organ and a perfectly placed Biggy sample. "This ain’t no game like Sega, don’t be a hero / I’m with my good fellas and we ‘bout to rob dinero," snarls Bada$$. Bada$$ is, in fact, the only feature that can keep up with Jenkins. Jean Deaux and No Gypsy both do fine on their verses, but their completely dwarfed by Jenkins. Jenkins’ domination runs parallel to the album’s biggest weakness: unevenness. There’s not really a bad song here, but next to monsters like "Jazz", "Mayters", and "Jerome" some of the album feels like filler. When the album’s main trio is composed of some of the best songs of the year, other tracks can’t help but pale in comparison. Still, The Water(s) proves that Jenkins is as ambitious as he is talented. Saying that The Water(s) shows potential would be unfair. Jenkins has already arrived.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.