Mick Jenkins raps from the heart on "Elephant In The Room"

by Temi Akinyoade

Mick Jenkins raps from the heart on "Elephant In The Room"

Fans listen to the hip-hop artist Mick Jenkins for his clever wordplay, open discussion of modern societal issues, and the relaxing atmosphere of his flow and the beats he raps on. He comes with exactly those things, plus some introspection, on his new album, Elephant In The Room (EITR).

His 2018 album Pieces of a Man was all about looking at pieces of a person – their race, presentation, experiences, etc. – and not judging them by just one piece. He focused on the people around him and current social issues. EITR can be thought of as the inverse of that: Jenkins writes straight from his own experiences and the listener is free to relate to it. He’s addressing things that he wasn’t initially so eager to think about and reflect on.

Ever since his childhood, Jenkins has been a close observer of the people and places around him. Throughout the course of his train rides and people-watching, the major ethnic and racial disparities across the neighborhoods of Chicago became glaring to him. When he joined the organization Young Chicago Writers, he was pushed to learn about his surroundings. He wrote poems at first, and started rapping soon after.

The song “The Valley of the Shadow of Death” opens the album. He mentions some of its themes through lines like “some of us struggling to find inner peace” that he expands on in later songs. The first verse ends strongly with “they give a fuck if you fly, we supposed to fly or sell dope / we supposed to give them the keys so they can get the door / still had to kick in the door to get in the door / he was five and we gon’ call the boy a thug for the rest of his life.”

Although it’s a recurring topic in his music, Jenkins has barely ever directly addressed the fear that comes with racism. In his song “Carefree” from his 2020 EP The Circus, he says he wishes he could live a life where he doesn’t have to worry about his skin color ruining his peace. He says, “damn, nigga, let me breathe / damn, nigga, let me cook,” referring to 2018’s BBQ Becky incident and the countless number of black people who have been hurt by the police. This song works as a conceptual preface to EITR, but it’s also the beginning of him being vulnerable about the topic of race. He’s pointed out many different ways that racism exists in his music, but he hadn’t really expressed his own personal emotions about it. So when his objectives of talking about race and opening up come together, we get the second song: “Things You Could Die For If Doing While Black.” The song is a list of things Jenkins wants to do without worrying: “I just wanna speak my mind,” “I just wanna make mistakes,” “might wanna sleep in my car,” are just a few, and the bridge being him repeating, “I just wanna live my life,” clearly reflect sadness and show a sort of vulnerability about racism he hasn’t really shown before.

In “D.U.I.,” Jenkins talks about how he doesn’t want to be an influencer or celebrity. He’s made random comments before about not wanting to be called famous, and in this song he reveals it’s because he doesn’t like the authority that comes with fame. In the chorus of the song he asks the listener “Who you follow, who you leading?” followed by him singing “Trust me” in a coercing tone from the perspective of the common influencer. At the end of the song he asks a good question about celebrity culture: “Why niggas who don’t know me in my face sayin’ they love me?”

Even though Jenkins only directly mentions his father in a few lines, it’s clear the overarching topic of “Reflection” is his father. The song is called “Reflection” because Jenkins is making the point that a lot of men experience parental trauma that they don’t ever resolve, so when they’re forced to reflect – “put a mirror in a nigga face and he’ll run” – they don’t know how to cope or handle those feelings in a healthy way. He reflects and understands himself through rapping: “if it wasn’t for rap / This shit a mirror of sorts, got me seeing myself.”

No matter which song one’s dissecting on this album, it’ll be a fun puzzle because Mick Jenkins is truly a poet. All hip hop is poetry, but because of his poetic background, he has a thing for clever wordplay, double meanings, and metaphors that’s very unique to him. And that’s what makes this album so replayable – the fact that everytime you listen to one of these songs there’s a chance you’ll notice something new, like how he’s shouting out SZA’s hit song “Hit Different” by pronouncing “scissors” in the line, “shit hit different, I need scissors now, cutting ties” like “SZA’s.” But the laid back feeling of his songs also give the option to not think and just enjoy the sound on its own.