A Deep Dive Into the Waters of Mick Jenkins' Videos - DJBooth

A Deep Dive Into the Waters of Mick Jenkins' Videos

The Chicago emcee doesn't make music videos, he makes short films.
Author:
Publish date:
mick-jenkins-videos.jpg

A noose sits around Mick Jenkin’s neck like a Jesus piece, the rope of death is still a sight that awakes feelings of distress, terror and rage, a symbol of a dark age that doesn’t feel so distant. It’s a gripping image for an equally gripping song.

Mick understands the thin line between shock value and captivating, extreme measures must be taken if you want your message to be received as a yell and not a whisper. If you want to hold the interest of an audience with fleeting attention you must grab them from beginning to end.

“Martyrs” does just that.

I found this video during a search for compelling art, music that is more fixating than forgettable, the lyrics and images blended together delivering a harsh truth that felt like bumping the funny bone. It doesn’t hurt, but it does. The truth is a concept that is at the heart of Mick’s music, masked as metaphors and allegories, which is why “Martyrs” was the perfect first single, the perfect introduction to an artist that needed to be heard and seen, foreshadowing the depth of his waters.

That bold first impression had me anticipating what was to come. Mick is a compelling artist, very detailed and calculated, I saw “Martyrs” as a tiny glimpse of a much bigger picture.

To my surprise the visuals that followed didn’t contain any connecting narratives or ongoing story lines. Instead, each video plays like a short film, containing their separate stories and themes while still sticking to the concept of water and truth. The big picture is delivered without extending beyond five minutes.

“Jazz” is the best example of his style of visual storytelling. It slowly unfolds, every scene is important to the overall concept. It begins with a boxer in the ring, you see him take a big gulp of water before spitting it into a bucket. What you don’t realize until a few scenes later is that water is scarce and that the city is in the middle of a drought. People sit along the sidewalks with signs begging for water like the homeless asking for spare change. The boxer and his greedy goons have a supply of water which they are selling to the thirsty citizens, likely overcharging. The way the civilians react to the water is like fiends chasing their next hit. I like how it symbolizes no matter the circumstances someone is suffering and someone is making a profit. The haves versus the have-nots. The betterment of man never comes before making a dollar. Martin Shkreli is living proof.

As the story progresses we see two young boys steal their containers of water while the antagonist celebrates their earnings. Water is worth more than money, these two are like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich to give back to the poor. Mick doesn’t come into the picture until the two-minute mark, a shoe-less traveler collecting a plethora of empty water bottles. I’m assuming he’s the one that organized the swift theft, he trades his garbage bag full of bottles for a sip of the Crystal Springs. The two leave him to complete their mission. The goal was to freely distribute the water, it belongs to the people. Just as the antagonist reappears, chasing the angelic kids, rain begins to fall from the heavens.

What makes this video much more complex is depicting what “water” symbolizes. If water equals truth, does the drought symbolizes the lack of truth in the world? What if this is one big metaphor for the music industry? Could it be possible that the rain symbolizes how the free music released in the underground is causing people to rejoice more than what’s being sold by the labels? At the very beginning of “Jazz,” Mick says, “Drink more water or you might die” which would fit in the hip-hop is dead/dying discussion that is sparked every time Young Thug releases new music. There’s a great theory on Reddit that I found intriguing. There’s many possibilities.

The song title “Dehydration” would be perfect for the previous concept but I also like it for the storyline that focuses on the violence in Chicago and how the thirst for revenge is a never ending cycle of death and despair.

It starts with multiple news reports about the gang problems and death rate while showing a b-roll of the city. There’s a quick shot of kids playing, using their hands as guns, and firing at each other in a game that could be Cops and Robbers or Bloods and Crips. It eventually finds Mick and some friends just hanging, smoking, and playfully pointing guns at each other. Showing how normal teenagers, not searching for trouble, but ready for what’s around the corner.

They weren’t, a car unsuspectedly comes and starts shooting, killing one of the friends. After the murder, Mick grows distant from his group. It’s an incredible scene where Mick is out with a little brother, possibly a son, and the friends drive past him and they lock eyes. A silent exchange, one that confesses to a murder before it’s committed. The video ends with us seeing them gain their revenge and continuing the cycle.  

In all three videos that were shot for The Water[s] there’s an undertone of sorrow. Not only the stories but the colors tend to be darker with a stronger contrast, Mick strays away from vibrant and poppy, especially in “Martyrs.” The truth isn’t always kind, it can be rather gloomy, that shade of melancholy eclipses any light from shining too bright.

The two videos released from Wave[s] are more lighthearted, much like the album. The two projects are Yin and Yang and so are their videos. To be completely honest, the first time I watched “P’s and Q’s” I had no idea what was going on. It’s watching Mick walk through a setting that is nothing short of the Third World War, the visual is utter mayhem, but he’s completely unaffected. The trippy experience is enhanced by Mick moving forward and the madness around him is going in reverse. While it’s lyrically incomparable, the visual reminds me of Nas’ “Rewind.” The video director, Nathan Smith gave NPR a bit of insight into the chaotic concept. He breaks it down from the idea, how it was shot, and what the water bottle symbolizes at the end.

It’s interesting that water was utilized at all, despite being a recurring theme in the music water is only used in one other video, “Jazz.” “Martyrs” and “Dehydration” both include smoking, weed returns time and time again in his music as another symbol of truth.

The latest visual is Mick’s most colorful and whimsical, a 70’s themed love story for the upbeat “Your Love.” 

Dressed as if he was auditioning for a role in the long awaited Undercover Brother sequel, Mick, equipped with a fake mustache attempts to swoon the gorgeous Jean Deaux, who rocks an afro that deserves to be on the big screen for Roll Bounce 2. The video truly gets vibrant in verse two when Mick is accompanied by two other players who are equally fresh and flashy, the glowing effect that’s used throughout the video assist in making the overly bright colors pop even more. The gang jumps in a stretched Cadillac that would make Outkast envious and searches for the girl of his dream who happens to have a gang of her own. Mick knowing his player lines is worthless shoots Jean with Cupid’s arrow. There’s a scene with a disco ball that hints at the two finally getting together before a blaring car alarm dispels the illusion and shows that the Caddy crashed and Mick walks away with his pumps glowing with every step.

Even in a video full of fun, a happy ending is too evasive.   

There’s no one theme that is consistent in his visual works, each one is a completely individual. The storytelling is what makes his every video worth watching, they are truly short movies that are complimented by the music. He does it all without adding dialogue, the lyrics score the scenes, truly embodying the words music video.

Mick is without question one of the most intelligent and interesting artists to emerge in the last few years, his videos only maximize what he gives in the music. Everything he has done since “Martyrs” is an announcement that this is a new artist worth being seen and heard.

Thank god for the waters.  

[By Yoh, aka Yo[h], aka @Yoh31. Artwork by Will Prince.]

Related