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New American Songbook

New American Songbook: Mick Jenkins' 'Pieces Of A Man'


Chicago emcee Mick Jenkins has been at the top of my favorite list since his debut release, "Water[s]." He’s a highly competent rapper and musician, but more importantly, he’s a fantastic writer. His latest release, called "Pieces of a Man," is maybe his most literary composition. He takes the title from a Gil-Scott Heron piece and, in case you didn’t catch that association, he includes two skits of spoken word work, complete with a backing jazz band, just to make it a little more obvious.

"Pieces of a Man" continues Jenkins’ style of interweaving profound introspection with trenchant observations, and sometimes reprimands, of society. He’s trying to grow, to find his spot beyond the bare minimum of survival. Where many people may not relate to common hip hop themes of a particular kind of street life, Jenkins’ strategy relies on articulating universal interior dramas that underlie his specific external situation. You can dig it, is what I’m saying.

Jenkins is an expert at constructing themes, maybe even sometimes relying too much on metaphoric conceits, but so few artists in hip hop are working in this way that it’s easily forgiven. Refrains, mantras and thematic imagery repeat constantly throughout his albums. His first release, "Water[s]," was followed up by "Waves," and in "Pieces of a Man," some of these elemental themes reappear — meaning this isn’t just his next album, it’s a culmination.