Mick Jenkins is optimistic about the transformative power of love. At 25 years old, the Huntsville, Alabama- and Chicago-raised artist mindfully crafts raps that challenge oppression and encourage enlightenment. In his music, Jenkins constantly references water — an element that he equates with life's essential truths. Two of his previous mixtapes The Water[s] and Wave[s] were titled on theme. On September 23, he'll release his debut album, The Healing Component, which is a more lucid project that champions love as the master healer.
While writing and recording the album, Jenkins says that he was working on growing in and from his relationship with his girlfriend of almost two years, but on the project, he doesn't limit love to romance. Instead, he questions and presents it as a multi-faceted concept with functions outside of a sappy cliché. In an interview at The FADER offices last week, Jenkins said, "Love is a conversation that we don’t really have at all. Especially not in rap." With The Healing Component, he hopes to start important dialogues about love and how it can lead us to vital truths.
During that visit, Jenkins and I talked about why it's difficult but ideal to still spread love in the face of injustice, the power of self-love, and being okay with admitting that he doesn't have all of the answers.
What inspired the concept for the The Healing Component? Why'd you choose to focus on love?
I was raised Christian and I tried to make sure that for my debut album I’d have a definitive statement being made. I was just trying to figure out, “What is all encompassing?” With everything going on, it’s very easy to cling to all of the negativity. I was feeling like What can I do? How do we solve these problems? I was looking at the perceived solutions like protesting and going through the government. It's also not just about racial injustices. There’s all types of injustices going on and there’s a system in place that continues to push them and we feel like we can’t really fight them on any front. I wanted bring it down to a personal level, when I say “spread love." It mirrors the message that I think Jesus had when he was on the earth. Whether you believe in Jesus or not, understanding the story of him as someone who was really meek mannered and selfless even in the face of some of the most hateful things, all the way down to being killed on the cross.
To remain loving in the midst of that environment is harder. It says more about who you are as a person to do that rather than to retaliate, even if you're justified in your retaliation. I’d shrink that down to a personal level and that’s where we started—having a conversation about love. I don’t think everybody in this room would agree on what love is and what it does or what it should look like. It’ll be hard to progress using “Spread Love” as a solution to the way things are if people don’t have the conversation about it.
What type of place were you in while you were writing and recording the album?
I’d known what I’d wanted to do and I'd been making The Healing Component for almost two years now. I was definitely in a place of learning which I think is always the case when I’m putting together such a conceptual album because it’s not something that’s ever all the way figured out from the beginning. There’s always something that I have to carve out that I end up learning about myself. Wave[s] wasn’t very conceptual and it took me like two months to record and write that, whereas The Water[s], Trees and Truth, and The Healing Component definitely took a lot more time and effort and thought. A lot of the time, it’s just me thinking and living my life. I’m comprehending this thought and this idea and digging it out mentally, so that when a song like “Spread Love” comes together or “Plugged” — those were songs about something that came out of me at one time, but it was literally the last three months that climaxed into one creative moment.
A lot of times when we think of love, we automatically associate it with romantic love. This album explores love's many facets though, not just that type.
When we do hear about love, it’s very light and "lovey dovey." When it gets heavy it's the aspects of a relationships that are heavy and usually romantic. Speaking to romantic love, you have got to know yourself to then love yourself and then be able to love other people the correct way. We don’t talk about that and I think a lot of people just assume that because they are themselves and they love themselves. That’s what I was speaking to on the song, “Angles.” You really have to make sure you know yourself before you can be confident in that and that’s something that I had to learn. It was hard and a lot of these things are truths that you have to realize you’ve been wrong about and it’s necessary to speak about all of that when it comes to love and healing. With it being a response to all of the injustices to all that is around us, we can’t only be talking about romantic love.
Speaking to romantic love, you have got to know yourself to then love yourself and then be able to love other people the correct way. We don’t talk about that and I think a lot of people just assume that because they are themselves and they love themselves.
On that song, you say, If you never been alone, how you know yourself? If you ain’t up on the water how you grow yourself. How’d you come to that understanding? Was there a specific event that influenced you to start getting to know yourself or has it always been a gradual journey?
When I left school, I came back to Chicago and I was alone. I was staying with a friend because I didn’t really have shit. So most of the time I was alone. He had work and his own shit to do, but he’d let me stay at his crib so at this point it was like, Alright, what are you about to do with yourself? I didn’t have a job or a way to get around the city and it was always a hustle for money early in the morning so I could move around for the day. Even to go to job interviews it was always a hustle. Whoever I thought I was before that three years did not matter anymore. [Laughs] It changed my perception on the way things work. When you can’t get shit, you’re forced to see your necessities for what they are. There were all of these realizations that came along with growing up, writing The Water[s], and learning all of those things.
The Healing Component isn't speaking so much to relationships but there's still that relationship aspect of it. I’ve been with my girlfriend for almost two years now and it’s been on and off, but that’s been mostly my fault. It’s me learning how to deal with my problems and my problems in a relationship. Rap has very much shown me how to be a certain way with my feelings and the way that I share them with people. That affected my relationship in a heavy way. Learning these lessons, realizing these things, making the mistakes, and then having to look at them face on and deal with them—that’s what’s been going on for the last year and a half. That’s the space I’ve been in even though the album doesn’t focus specifically on relationship love, that’s definitely the space I was in while writing it and recognizing those things within the relationship helped me recognize things outside of it.
You do touch on romantic love and your relationship experiences on the album’s interludes though. What’s the significance of using those to do that?
I don’t want to come at it like I’m a love guru. My music is 100 percent a reflection of my life and I just wanted people to understand that — I don’t know. On “This Type Love,” I went from a no to a yes in my response to a question. I was having a conversation with my sister about whether or not in romantic relationships, we love a person differently and it was very clear that I’m not necessarily sure about everything that I’m saying. It’s because it is a process and I don’t think there’s an absolute understanding of love out there, at least not for humans. The interludes were from an conversation where my sister was interviewing me, then there were clips from a documentary about love that I did when I was in college. That endears the project to people a little more especially those who want to understand and aren’t just listening to feel a vibe.
After the passing of Eric Garner in 2014, the words, “I Can’t Breathe” are heavily weighted. Tell me about the video for “Drowning.” How’d you arrive it's concept?
It was an amendment to an idea that I had when I first recorded “Drowning” about a year and a half ago. I sat with it for about two weeks and I had the idea to drown myself and a white man. That was the idea at a very basic level. I was to represent black people and the white man was to represent more specifically the oppressor. It was to say that we both need to be drowned in a certain truth. We know what the oppressor does but I also think that a lot of people think that because we are the oppressed, we’re free of guilt about things. I think it’s pertinent for us as well to go through and get an understanding of some very important truths which would be us figuratively drowning.
I don’t say that in a What are we doing in our own communities? What about black on black crime? way. That’s not what I mean at all, but there are very real things that we need to understand about ourselves as men, black men, and our relationships with black women. There are things that we need to swallow with water being the truth, because racial issues are not the only issues. I had the video set in a more modern day approach but because of time we had to do something and we came out with this narrative which still effectively gets the point across. I hope it’s understood as that.
Yes, in the final scene as the black people are drowning the white men, a little girl comes and screams for everyone to stop and they do. What’s the power in that type of image?
If you don't understand for what it is, I think a lot of people would be quick to react like, “Oh nah, y’all shouldn’t have done that.” But, it’s actually a lot harder to do and it takes a lot more to end a conflict that way. It's more difficult to put a mirror up in front of a person than to return it or seek revenge in that way. I don’t think that everybody should have to agree with that because if you’ve been pushed to a certain level, what do you expect?
Do you try to go that loving place of non-retaliation whenever black people experience an act of injustice?
A lot of the time I don’t really know what to do. I have a different wave of emotions that are sad or where I’m questioning things. Sometimes it’s like a nigga don’t know what to do. That’s always my first reaction when I’ve been in situations with police or somebody that I had to check, that wasn’t my reaction but I have to acknowledge what I perceive that it should be. That’s not always how I feel and that’s not always what I’m ready to do, but I also ain’t never done something stupid as a response to an injustice that I face on a day to day. It is a blend of emotions, how could it not be?
Do you feel that because you are an artist that takes the time to dissect these issues that people look to you to have these answers?
Yeah but I mean, I don’t have a problem saying that I don’t [have an answer]. I feel that’s the easiest way to escape that pressure. Like, I don’t know. I’m just talking about my experiences and what I’ve learned. I may not even be right. I’ve switched my answer from no to yes on the album. [Laughs] I try not to come off as if I know it all but there are some things that I’m confident in. Outside of just the music and the advice for life type shit, I think people forget that I’m doing all of this for the first time like rapping, moving through these spaces, and not really knowing how to manage my time. It’s very easy for people who are fans and following me to forget that I don’t be necessarily knowing what I’m doing. I’m definitely figuring it out and being better than I was.
You want to start a conversation with The Healing Component but what are your expectations for this album? What do you think will happen once people listen to it?
My expectations are always higher than what happens. I don’t know. What I feel like should happen is that everybody should respect me. Niggas should know that I’m not just a rapper and see that my range and capability is more than just straight bars. It should be like, “Damn, I should ask this guy to write some songs for me.” Is all of that going to happen? Maybe. [Laughs]