For the last 10-plus years, BBC Radio 1’s Live Lounge has been a proving ground for musicians from almost every walk of life. Not in the sense that it makes or breaks careers, but it’s a place where an artist or band’s talents are truly tested. Making music in a studio is one thing, but performing both your own and somebody else’s material in a setting where no crowd can drown out your flaws is another.
Some artists swim (like Childish Gambino, who delivered a gorgeous cover of PM Dawn’s "I'd Die Without You”) and others sink (like when Justin Bieber siphoned all the soul out of Tupac’s “Thugz Mansion”). During his first visit to Radio 1's Piano Session, a complement to their Live Lounge series, Mick Jenkins dives head-first into the deep end and comes up doing butterfly stroke.
For his customary cover, the 25-year-old emcee shows off his impeccable taste and chooses Jill Scott’s “It’s Love,” taken from her debut album Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1. Joined only by a pianist, Mick flips Ms. Scott’s groovy original into a slower, more solemn ballad. What he lacks in vibrancy, though, he makes up for with raw soul; his soothing voice quivering over the keys with a delicate beauty. “Ugh, sound like Jill Scott, don’t I?” Mick jokes.
However, the real “holy shit!” moment comes when Mick Jenkins performs a stripped-down version of “Fucked Up Outro,” the closing track on his recently released album The Healing Component. The song is essentially a rebuttal against those who neglect and disrespect him in his mission to heal the youth, filled with crafty wordplay and double entendres that’ll make you do a double-take (“Please don't confuse shade with the shadows from dim lights / I been bright / I been in spaces dark as midnight / My pen write on both / My insight on both is skin tight”).
The only thing more compelling than Mick’s pen, however, is his stage presence.
As the Live Lounge pianist tugs at your heart strings with every key, Mick merges his two “Outro” verses into a powerful spoken word poem. His flow is unpredictable, stopping after one line before racing through three or four at a time. His pauses are longer here than on the album, giving even more weight to his words: “If you don't give me credit for nothing but making kids in Chicago drink more water, I proved that already, I'm someone with influence who will use that to better the youth...And that don't make me better than you.”
After finishing his written rhymes, Mick caps off a truly captivating performance by singing an improvised outro. “I feel so misunderstood out here losing my mind / I think somebody missed the point,” he croons, before stepping away from the mic and taking a sip of water.
He may feel misunderstood and underrated, but if his Live Lounge performance proves anything his music doesn’t, it’s that Mick Jenkins is a special talent who deserves a bigger spotlight than the one he’s in right now.
By Andy James, who still thinks THC is rap album of the year. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Twitter