Free Nation Records
Pieces Of A Man
Mick Jenkins has carved out a place in his hip hop that plays to the great energy of the past while avoiding many of the draining tropes that can hurt artists. Jenkins delivers consistently strong rhymes on this album, while using the extended track list for some more ambient tracks. with all the interesting tracks here however, Jenkins would be better served to cut things down and keep listeners entertained top to bottom.
Between the communal chatter and outright ecstatic jazz riffing, “Heron Flow” just beats out frantically and lets the album go right forward. It’s the offbeat bass flow of “Stress Fracture” however that really sets things in an interesting direction. On top of this, Mikahl Anthony’s unusual vocals and effects really twist things interestingly. “Gwendolynn’s Apprehension” is a smooth but lo-fi dream of a track, as Jenkins floats through his mysterious haze to deliver thought-provoking raps. There’s an immediately gripping sound to “Soft Porn” while Jenkins brings a colour out in his rhymes to keep the momentum on this slower track moving.
“Grace & Mercy” sees Jenkins taking a much more vile character route, as his abrasive track serves his tale of corrupting power and misguided faith. Jenkins is rolling in a rhythmic heaven on “Barcelona” through intoxicating percussion and lyrics that reference themselves within the track. Though it’s not the strongest thematic link or melodic link to be sure on this album, “Percy Interlude” is a surprisingly funny break in the record. “Reginald” on the other hand is a fun and jazzy glide with Jenkins trading lines with Ben Hixon while holding down a more pensive sense of class.
All the vintage hip hop pristine comes out on “Padded Locks” with Ghostface Killah shouting his way onto the record. Jenkins matches this energy and delivers a surprisingly appropriate and slowly blown out synth track to ramp things up. “Ghost” finds the music sitting way further back, with Jenkins own rapping driving more than anything else, while “Heron Flow 2” seems like an alternate version of its own namesake. Though it starts with an almost too simple R&B groove, “Plain Clothes” gets experimental enough with its production that you’ll wonder how far it will drift from the path. Unfortunately this doesn’t work so well for “Pull Up” where all the straightforward musical sides of the track just can’t own up to the story.
Jenkins taps into some more 90s hip hop production on “Consensual Seduction” as he updates the genre’s vernacular while dropping great lines like “I can cut the tension in a room with a butter knife.” Corinne Bailey Rae’s vocals seem barebones at first, but there’s such a raw beauty to them that you can see why they weren’t edited. It’s too bad so many of the tones on “U Turn” have been done in such large ways in modern hip hop, because you can hear how strong and fun the track should be, and nevertheless feel like its familiar. “Understood” has an immediately gripping feel to its hook and ever cry of “10-4” makes you want to shout it back. At his height however, Jenkins plays around as much as BadBadNotGood on “Smoking Song” for a track that pulls in the soul of jazz without alienating listeners.
Words by Owen Maxwell