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Mick Jenkins Makes an Ambitious Leap on 'Pieces of a Man'

With the release of his sophomore album, 'Pieces of a Man,' the question is: how has the calculated composer grown?
Mick Jenkins, Pieces of a Man, album review, 2018

Mick Jenkins doesn’t rush. He's meticulous. Thanks to a bevy of thoughtfulness and remarkable craftsmanship, Jenkins attracted a sizable audience with his 2014 breakout mixtape, The Water[s]. One year later, he returned with yet another mixtape, the nine-track Wave[s]. What he displayed as a lyricist and conceptual album constructor across both projects placed the Chicago wordsmith in the company of his city's brightest rising stars: Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Saba, and Noname.

To watch Jenkins is to view an artist who doesn’t move at the industry’s pace. The 27-year-old took his time crafting his 2016 debut album, The Healing Component. The album was not as heralded as his mixtapes but beloved by fans nonetheless. Two EPs would follow—2017's or more; the anxious and 2018's or more; the frustration—but neither release was rushed in fear of waning relevance. Rather than deliver a handful of throwaways wrapped in gold, Jenkins served up a taste of what was to come. 

Similar to Noname, Jenkins builds anticipation by giving his fans just enough without oversharing. Now, with the release of his sophomore album, Pieces of a Man, the question is: how has the calculated composer grown? 

The Healing Component, at its heart and true to its name, was an album about love. Pieces of a Man is once again an exploration, but this time around the journey is straight into the mind of Mick Jenkins. Pieces of a Man is a literal title, making each song a shard of glass within which we can see what’s being reflected. It’s fitting that the album moves at a pace that lacks in haste; this isn’t a mind in the midst of overthinking, but a state of calm. Even though 2018 justifies a mental storm, especially for people of color, Jenkins doesn’t allow himself to be engulfed. 

Pieces of a Man shares its title with Gil Scott-Heron’s first studio album released in 1971 on Flying Dutchman Records. Heron was sampled on Jenkins' “Elephant in the Room,” a standalone record that preceded the album's release, and an early nod to Heron’s influence to come. The album's opener is titled "Heron Flow" The spirit of his poetry, lyricism, and soul sinks into the album’s roots.

Lyrically, the wordsmith has elevated. He hasn't completely mastered the art of the memorable hook, but there isn't a verse that isn't filled with enthralling lyricism. “Casually giving no fucks about your two cents,” Jenkins raps on “Reginald,” befitting an album that doesn’t have the feel of compromised creativity. Pieces of a Man is about the man, his thoughts, and what he chooses to share with the world. Honesty, the unapologetic kind, drives the project and creates a sense of eavesdropping in a confessional filled with weed smoke. 

The production on the album—handled by Black Milk, KAYTRANADA, THEMpeople, and BadBadNotGood, among others—is thinner and more atmospheric than Jenkins' previous offerings. He leans into layers of jazz, giving his musings a quiet yet heavy gravity. The project is neither bright nor bleak, but a dimmed room with blue light bulbs. By submerging his sound in the throes of jazz, the album maintains a cohesiveness from start to finish. 

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Setting a strong mood and creating a universe where wordy, layered lyricism can cut through the peeled-back sound is both a gift and a curse for Jenkins on Pieces of a Man. There are dynamic sounds, verses, and moments, but the album, by nature, keeps a consistent groove. Both “Grace & Mercy” and the Ghostface Killah-featured “Padded Lock” strike from their opening moment, while records like "Reginald" and "Plain Clothes" are far more subtle. On an album where the tone is set by the author's voice, the atmosphere often changes based on Jenkins' approach. Performing verses and hooks with an eloquent softness doesn't always have the same piercing effect as really belting the words. 

Pieces of a Man is an ambitious leap over Jenkins' debut album, one that encourages listeners to lose themselves within the artist's thoughts. But it also tests how much of Mick’s mind they're interested in unraveling. 

Three Standout Songs:

"Grace & Mercy"

Nez & Rio laced the eloquent lyricist with a ground-trembling dinosaur. It’s one of the rare moments on the album that feels very modern, but the end result isn’t a forgettable attempt at a street banger. No, Mick comes out the gate referencing Game of Thrones, No Limit, and Eddie Murphy. To take such a filthy record and make the hook about counting blessings is my kind of irony. 

"Pull Up"

Keys provide an ominous, overcast setting as if rain could begin falling at any second. It’s a mood for deep reflection. Mick taps into an unapologetic candidness that provides one of his most potent performances. Real rap from a rapper who wants you to know exactly where his head is at.

"Ghost"

I was leaning toward “Padded Locks” for the final standout, but “Ghost” steals the show by a nose. Kudos to THEMpeople, OV, and Dee Lilly for such a well-produced record. As far as rappers go, Mick’s gift with words will always make him stand out. A song about working on his penmanship is a sweet showcase of why he’s considered such a nice MC. 

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