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“It helped me, it helped Vic, it helped Chance, it helped Noname. It helped all these people… that’s what we have in common besides just being from Chicago.”

Mick Jenkins is talking about love. Talking to me over the phone from Chicago, we cover a lot of ground – the trailer for Spike Lee’s Chiraq looks super cheesy, Jenkins is pretty excited about his brand new laptop, his family are warming up to his career – but talk somehow always comes back to love.

Jenkins has just got back to Chicago after months of heavy touring throughout the US and Europe following the release of Wave[s] – his third mixtape and a continuation of his thematic focus on H2O. The tape’s predecessor, The Water[s], was deeply conceptual, exploring the meta- phor of water as a kind of distilled truth and clearness that we are all in search of. Jenkins’ aptly aqueous-sounding flow was sprawled out across colourful, lucid instrumentals. It had all the ruminations of a ‘conscious rapper’ with none of the condescending baggage – a middle ground
he intentionally shot for. “Nobody wants to hear somebody pointing a finger at them, coming from a higher place. I keep that in my mind when I’m writing music… There’s a lot of ‘conscious’ rappers that I like to listen to that unfortunately sometimes come across preachy. Very preachy – condemn- ing me for doing what I do, and I don’t necessarily want to be condemned when I’m vibing out to my music.”

For Wave[s], Jenkins took the pressure off a little and worked more on instinct. The results gave him his first real crossover hit
in the shape of the Kaytranada produced Your Love, where his baritone singing voice comes to the fore atop a sweltering beat. “Fall in love in Chicago / Have a dream”.

It is a philosophy you can’t escape when listening to Jenkins’ music. Like Chance the Rapper, Vic Mensa and Noname Gypsy, he comes from a school where love and communitarian ideals are at the centre of creativity. It’s not an alternative to the city’s drill scene and it’s not any kind of response to it either – it is just a group of artists who all spent their youth carving out an expressive outlook which belonged to them through poetry slams and open mic sessions. “We learned how to write, we learned how to be, we learned how to interact with all these different cultures,” Jenkins tells me. “We had a space to be ourselves and talk about our feelings through poetry and not be judged for it. It’s no coincidence that we’re all in the space we’re in right now.”

Jenkins’ crew Free Nation Rebel Soldiers operate on a similar doctrine of beliefs – a strand of youthful anti-establishment thought that is driven by compassion rather than disenfranchisement. “At this point it is very clear that there are certain constructs on society. There are pushes from the media and government on how we should live. Love, beauty, success – what those things are and how you achieve them. They put you into a box of what love or success could be… Actively pursuing life outside of those doctored ideals is being free. Anybody who’s thinking free is part of our collective.”

This credo is firmly at the forefront of his focus as he cooks up his debut studio record, slated for a release in 2016. He tells us that he’s around half-way done, hoping to produce more material than he needs as to then choose his favourites. In terms of features, he’s eyeing up contributions from SZA, Earl Sweatshirt, GoldLink and Ab-Soul – like Jenkins these are artists who express a social conscience without ever hoisting themselves onto pedestals. It’s smart, but it won’t stop you ‘vibing out’.

It would be hard for Jenkins to become preachy or self-righteous when the mes- sage is so abundantly clear. The LP is called The Healing Component and – sure enough – it centres around the curative powers of love and togetherness. “It’s The Healing Component. It is love. At the root of a lot of the world’s problems there is a lack of love. Lack of God’s love, lack of brotherly love, people don’t know how to romantically love.” He frequently reiterates the gulf of misunderstanding that lies be- tween hip-hop and love. “I think something that is popular in hip-hop is to condemn a person for being emotional which is crazy. People need to be more aware emotionally, people need to experience emotion and talk about it… It’s not cool to be open emotion- ally – you’re ‘in your feelings’. I think the concept of that is really silly… If you don’t speak your feelings out loud, it doesn’t mean you’re not in your feelings.”

When I ask what his family thought of his rapping – Jenkins comes from a religious background and is still a devout Christian – he takes on a kind of pantomimic voice to impersonate his mother’s initial response, “Oh you just smoking weed and cursing!” It’s a misconception that has since been repaired, “She hears the ideals and the messages that I’m trying to push and it’s not really something you can argue with when you understand it.”

The Christian values Jenkins was raised on still underpin nearly all of his work and they make up the foundations for The Healing Concept. When I ask him what he is most scared of – a question he had previously said he wanted to ask his hero, Andre 3000 – he responds almost instantly, “Not going to heaven”. As our conversation begins to wrap up, the depth of Jenkins’ conscience shows no bounds. He talks about salvation, sensitivity among males, the police, the betterment of the people, world-scale cor- ruption and the bible, but he never sounds like he’s speaking from the other side of the pews. His mother was right to hear him out, Jenkins isn’t chasing the flashy archetype of a hip-hop lifestyle, nor is he condemning that lifestyle in favour of a more spiritual path. The crux of it all is fairly simple – Mick Jenkins is talking about love.

Wave[s] is out now via Free Nation / Cinematic Music Group