Cinematic Music Group · January 10, 2020
Mick Jenkins is a Chicago-based rapper whose sound is derived from gospel, soul, and jazz, much like many other hip-hop artists coming from the Chicago scene such as Chance the Rapper, Saba, Noname, and Smino. Jenkins’ 2014 mixtape Water[s] placed him in high acclaim in the hip-hop underground, and collaborations with artists such as Kaytranada, badbadnotgood, and Joey Bada$$ and the like only improved his notoriety. Jenkins’ followed Water[s] with 2016’s The Healing Component, and 2018’s Pieces of a Man, which brought together Jenkins’ ideas and concepts in the most effective way to date. 2019’s The Circus is the latest release by the Chicago artist. Jenkins has described the album as a direct prelude to his upcoming album to be premiered on his joint tour with Earthgang later in the year.
Sonically, The Circus is a project that is lax and mellow, regularly matching Jenkins’ and guest’s Earthgang energy. Although The Circus features production from established and upcoming producers such as Hit-Boy, Black Milk, and IAMNOBODI– whose credits range from Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, and Nipsey Hussle– the record falls flat more often than it connects. Most cuts on the record are simple-sounding trap beats that are reformatted to fit Jenkins; style, with the addition of a guitar sample or a synth chord here and there. However, when the sound does connect, the end result is a laidback and comforting soundscape that allows Jenkins lyrics to shine.
“Carefree” stands out clearly along with “The Light” as the best tracks on The Circus. “Carefree” is a quintessential Jenkins track that features a relaxed instrumental with smooth synths and guitar chords. Jenkins describes a scenario in which he and friends are having a summertime night that is ended by discrimination by police officers, as Jenkins pleads, “give me space…let me breathe.” “The Light” offers a similar sound as “Carefree” and features Earthgang’s Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot who deliver punchy lines, comedic metaphors, and a catchy chorus.
Contrarily, “Same Ol” is a track produced by “Sicko Mode” hit-maker Hit-Boy, but exists as one of the more boring tracks on the album, with blaring 808’s and hi-hats.
Overall, Jenkins’ word play is sharp, and when he has something to say, he delivers.
The Circus is brief, lackadaisical and leaves much to be desired from the Chicago artist as he does not live up to his full potential on this 19-minute project. Although imperfect, this project’s high points should make listeners excited for what Jenkins has in store next.