Mick Jenkins is getting restless. Since his 2014 breakout project The Water[s], the Chicago rapper has been channeling the stress and anxiety of being Black in America into waves of jazzy, conceptual hip-hop that take time to simmer in the eardrums. The average Mick Jenkins album uses arch concepts like love (2016’s The Healing Component), autobiography (2018’s Pieces of A Man), and the gradual unveiling of secrets (2021’s Elephant In The Room) as springboards for dizzying, meticulous wordplay, the kind that encourages screen-scrubbing rewinds.
Things shifted in the aftermath of Elephant. Ready for a change, Jenkins left his longtime label, Cinematic Music Group, and began work on his fourth studio album, The Patience. It’s his first record without an overt concept or arc, and its 11 songs were narrowed down from a list of dozens he’d created over the last two years. Even with no concrete story, there’s a recurring theme: The project explores the various shapes that patience can take — with life, with music, with racism and discrimination — and the frustration that boils over when that patience runs thin.
Take a song like “Guapanese,” where Mick is flabbergasted by rap’s fascination with (the illusion of) money: “God forbid they chalk him out and find out it’s no money,” he says. “It’s a stack of ones just like him, and they hide behind the 20.” On “Pasta,” he addresses fakes and frauds who aren’t even worth a simple dap, shouting into the mic so hard it rattles the nervy beat.
Jenkins is normally a cool, calm, and collected MC, but The Patience is easily his most aggressive and uninhibited project yet. He’s carved out a niche for himself over the past decade and has friends in high places — features for this project include Freddie Gibbs, Benny the Butcher, and JID — but he’s tired of waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. The chip on his shoulder has only grown; ignore Mick Jenkins at your own peril.
A few days before The Patience’s release, I spoke to Mick about leaving Cinematic, the true meaning of independence, the state of hip-hop in its 50th year, and how his new album defines the next chapter of his career.
This Q&A is taken from the latest episode of The FADER Interview podcast. To hear this week’s show in full, and to access the podcast’s archive, click here.
The FADER: Do you find that you have more or less patience these days?
Mick Jenkins: Less. I’m not a patient person at all, which is why it became a focus for the album. I’m a problem solver. I’m trying to get to the bottom of it so we can fix it. I don’t like sitting on stuff. I don’t like letting a thing consume me or my team — let’s take care of it. I’ve become increasingly less patient with the way the world works, especially because these things aren’t so isolated.
The world works systematically. When you watch something happen and you can see it’s systematic, you begin to get impatient with it before it even happens. You can see where something is headed. Being so aware of the system can make you impatient. You can pinpoint different moments in the process and predict another occurrence of the pattern. So yeah, I’m very impatient.
That’s where the title came from. It’s not that while I was making this music I understood that I was in a season of patience. But when I looked back after I made the music, I just realized that’s the space I was coming from. Something that ushers that space in is being a problem solver and getting to the point where you can’t fix it. Whatever needs to happen next is not within your power. When you hit that wall, it doesn’t feel like it’s time to be patient. There’s no alarm that says, “Wait, It’s right around the corner.” It feels crazy because you’re so used to being in control. Life will show you, you can’t do that all the time. And in those moments, that’s what you need: patience.
What were you waiting on?
I didn’t wanna be with Cinematic anymore. All the trial and error of trying to get out without delivering what I owed, trying to negotiate and exit a strategy, realizing that their exit strategy wasn’t gonna work for me, having to go back and negotiate… The process of exiting took two years, mostly because I ended up having to do what I owed anyway.
Does that mean you’re fully independent now?
I’m putting [The Patience] out through RBC/BMG. My perspective on independency has changed. I felt like I was independent already. I was under Cinematic for three years, not taking dollars from Cinematic, doing everything myself. If that’s not independent, I don’t know what that is. If I was independent [now], I’d be striking a deal with somebody for some level of money, and that’s what we’re doing here: we’re doing deals.
You need money, and it’s gotta come from somewhere. And if you have your shit aligned with some entity that’s willing to give you money because your shit is aligned, boom. Being signed or independent comes down to how you’re operating your business, because no matter what, you’re gonna be cutting deals.
In my mind, I’m independent. Everything I’m doing is one project. I signed with RBC/BMG for a one-off, but they’ve been doing great by me. It isn’t that a label is so bad; it’s just how you get business done with who you’re working with. I’ve loved this process. This is probably the rollout I’ve felt [most] confident in my whole career.
“Being so aware of the system can make you impatient. You can pinpoint different moments in the process and predict another occurrence of the pattern. So yeah, I’m very impatient.”
Talk to me about the making of The Patience.
As soon as I finished Elephant in the Room, I knew that exit [from Cinematic] was my next strategy. I didn’t wanna spend time doing a heavily conceptual album. That shit is taxing in a way that I didn’t wanna feel. So I was like, “I’m just gonna make shit,” and that’s all I did. I was in the studio making a bunch of music. I probably had 40 or 50 songs. It got to a point where it didn’t make sense for me to make more music. [It would just] make it harder to choose 10 songs for this album. That was when I knew I was done.
Once I got to that point, I was like, “How do we change how we release the music? We need content.” I’ve never focused on content in my previous releases that built the world of the album. Since we didn’t have the budget to do videos for every song [on The Patience], I was like, “We’ll give people visualizers. Let’s do lyric breakdowns for all the songs. Let’s build up this library of content.” That’s the freedom in making music without the constraints that have been on me for the past seven years: the ability and attention to create the content to support the music.
Choosing 10 songs at the end was hard. I remember sitting with a 19-song playlist for three months. It was hard to keep whittling down. Then I made some new shit that had to go: “Show & Tell” [(feat. Freddie Gibbs)] was a late track. The Vic [Mensa] song [(“Farm to Table”)] was a late track. When those two songs came along, it became easier to figure out what the whole [album] would sound like.
“I am fucking amazing.”
Halfway through my first listen, I’m thinking, “You’re not using your inside voice anymore, bro. You’re barking all over this album. This is the most aggressive I’ve ever heard you rap.” You’re full-on yelling at the end of “Pasta.” What inspired that change in vocal delivery?
It’s how I felt, and that’s what I try to stress. That frustration is what you hear on the project. It’s from waiting — waiting to get out my deal, yes, but waiting for n***as to take me seriously; waiting for motherfuckers who acknowledge me behind closed doors to acknowledge me outside; waiting for n***as to put me on lists I deserve to be on; waiting for everything. I am one of the best rappers out, period. I’m fucking nice.
I put myself with GOATs too, but from my generation, it’s a short fucking list. I don’t give a fuck about fans. I don’t give a fuck about music media. Rappers know. I dap them up and they tell me: I am fucking amazing. You wanna get into Rap Genius and look at these lyrics and break down a song? Fuck what it sounds like. Fuck the beat. Fuck the views. I’m an amazing writer. I’m one of the best, and I don’t think that that’s how I’m looked at. Waiting on what you deserve… That’s the frustration I have.
We’re celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, and a lot of artists like myself who’ve been in this joint for 10, 15 years — underground the whole time but could sell over 1,000 tickets in any city — don’t get to be a part of the celebration, but artists who’ve been here for six months get to be on stage at the award show. We’re celebrating 50 years of hip-hop, not 50 years of rap, not 50 years of top 40. How is the underground excluded from that? It’s half of it.
It’s only so many times you can create your own space before you’re like, “Does anyone else care about this?” We all talk like It doesn’t matter what they think, but we all care. It matters
I talk about that all the time: Art is only what people think. You can’t not care about what people think if you’re putting your art out, unless you’re not engaging with the reception. You immediately receive opinions as soon as you put your art in the world. You can make it matter the smallest percentage possible to you, to the creation, but it does matter.
I make a lot of basketball metaphors, like, you get your pension 10 years in the league. A lot of n***as made nine, didn’t get that 10th year. That shit fucking sucks. I’ve been in this shit 10 years. Your Fetty Waps, your DaBabies, your Sexyy Reds, they’re coming and going. They’re in and out all the time. Do we get three albums from Fetty Wap? Are we getting three albums from DaBaby? No. I be telling my contemporaries all the time: “Our value is the fact that we here still, slowly growing still, bigger rooms every tour still, 10 years later.” You can’t tell me that that’s not valuable in this culture, but that’s what this culture tells me all the time.
The frustration that comes with sitting in that spot and slowly watching some doors open… You wanna scream about what’s happening. That’s where “Guapanese” comes from. It’s like, “Why am I in conversations with these n***as? We don’t do the same thing.” Why would YoungBoy be in the same category as me or Tyler, the Creator for Best Rap Album? It’s polarizingly different, what we do. It shouldn’t be compared. It’s like pickleball and ping pong and tennis: I understand why somebody would group them together, but they’re not the same thing.
“Art is only what people think.”
“Guapanese” is about frustration — “Why am I here? Why are we talking about these people who are talking about things I don’t talk about?” — but there’s a connection: Lines like, “It’s a stack of ones just like him and they hide behind the 20.”
That bar is more like… You got $21 and you put a 20 on the outside; now you look like you got some shit. It’s this idea of, “Not only are you n***as all the same, but you all the same to be like this one guy.” That’s why we all hiding behind the 20: just to be like this n***a who ain’t even…
…Got it like that.
Yeah [laughs]. If anything, you should be trying to be like the hundred-dollar bill! But yeah, I look at the industry and I look at what I’ve gotta fight through to get to the next level, and it’s a bunch of n***as talking about money. Okay, cool, no hate. I don’t do nothing like that in any way, shape, or form. Why do I gotta be compared to that? They’re making a completely different type of music.
I think that’s what a lot of the old heads’ problem is: They have a problem with what folks are calling hip-hop these days. N***as will throw “alternative this” on any other genre, slap it on a playlist on iTunes, and now you’ve got fusion, indie, blah, blah, blah. N***as don’t do that for rap at all. They don’t try to. They just lump it all together. I don’t desire for there to be 30 new rap boxes, but I also don’t desire to be in a box I don’t belong in at all.
JID, Benny, and Gibbs are big names. There’s a lot of intention behind what they do, but they also rap a lot about money. That puts you in an interesting position to be sharing space with them on your album.
I think that that’s something fans recognize — some with all the context, some with just a little bit of context. When you’re watching an artist ascend, them fraternizing and creating with other well-known artists is an indicator that they’re accepted, that they’ve reached a certain level. For example, when you see Sexyy Red in photos with Drake’s arm around her, you say, “Wow, the stars are fucking with her.” It’s a stamp. When you see Travis Scott bring her out on stage and let her go crazy, that’s a co-sign. More than those things, which are just moments of interaction, the creation of art [together] is a stamp, and I’ve never had that. My fans have never seen that.
People don’t understand how features work. Fans are like, “Why don’t you just work with this person?” Even if you got the time and the desire, sometimes you just can’t link up. Sometimes our schedules don’t link, even when we both wanna work with each other, so it felt good for me. And all of these things happened naturally. I was hitting Gibbs for months. The DMs on Twitter look crazy. I be telling people I look like a thot. I’m just DMing this n***a like, “Yo, what’s good, bro?” [Laughs] We met in person multiple times, so I knew he fucked with me, but I’m like, “Yo, I don’t know how to get in contact with you.” Finally, out the blue, 2 a.m., he [texts me], “Yo, send that shit.” I’m like, “Who the fuck is this?” I forgot I put my number in the DM.
I wanted spitters on this album. I wanted to rap next to them and prove that I could rap with them or better than them. Me and Gibbs send songs back and forth to each other all the time: “Nah, nah, nah, look, listen to this one.” “Oh, nah, listen to this!” But it was nice to get on a record with him and not do that, just worry about the composition of the song. I saw somebody say in a YouTube comment, “Damn, I thought they were gonna go at it.” Nah, we just made a good song.
Being able to rap with and next to people I feel are some of the best rappers in the game is like… “Finally! I know n***as seen me like that. Let’s make some fucking music.” I hope that shit continues.