Chicago’s latest SoundCloud standout Mick Jenkins gained recognition by creating mixtapes with well-defined themes. With his new EP Wave[s], released Friday, he takes the punch of his delivery and combines it with infectious beats to craft more memorable songs than on previous projects. This partially comes at the expense of a cohesive message, leaving the record feeling incomplete and thrown together.
On Wave[s], Jenkins fails to reach the bar set by his old work. On his 2014 mixtape The Water[s], he combined his talent as a lyricist with a well-defined viewpoint to make vocal statements of belief. His latest work maintains his penchant for lyricism but loses the cohesive themes of his previous releases.
The lead track, “Alchemy,” is visceral, featuring the riot-inducing sound developed by punk rock and touching on politically sensitive themes, such as wealth inequality.
Although he slightly lacks direction, Jenkins compares himself to an alchemist, singing “creating this gold with my pen.” His focus on words is especially noticeable on “P’s and Q’s,” which is perhaps the best example of Jenkins’ sharp technicality as he builds rhymes around the titular letters — a subtle touch that lends creativity and precision to the track.
Jenkins lacks follow-through on the song, beginning with a strong beat and an impressive combination of flow and rhymes before fading into a forgettable second half. This sets the pace for the rest of the album as Jenkins shows his talent for crafting songs in a variety of styles, but these tracks tend to only have moments of greatness rather than fully developed songs.
With Wave[s], Jenkins creates an album full of tracks that showcase the adaptability of his talent. He still needs to develop a cohesive viewpoint, which is especially disappointing following his past successes.
In the middle of the album, Jenkins tries his hand at R&B — slightly off-key, yet too focused on emotion to care. This flows seamlessly into one of the most relaxed raps on the album, “Your Love.” Producers Kaytranada and Chicago collective THEMpeople contribute dreamy and psychedelic backgrounds, placing Jenkins’ beats on par with contemporaries such as Thundercat and Flying Lotus. The entire album succeeds by featuring catchy beats, which are subdued enough for Jenkins’ voice to resonate with the listener.
The album showcases Jenkins at his best but emphasizes the areas where he could improve. His inability to extend great moments into great songs has kept him from having an standout track in the middle of the current crop of voices in Chicago talent.
It’s obvious Jenkins is still searching for his voice. His inability to reconcile a cohesive message with the diversity of styles on this EP ends with a record that partially sacrifices substance for commercial appeal. Wave[s] will likely be viewed as a stepping stone in Jenkins’ catalog as it grows. It sacrifices the cohesive viewpoint of his previous works for emotional moments and stylistic exploration.
Missing continuity, the album is disappointing for those aware of Jenkins’ ability to say exactly what he wants, although this ends with a more accessible album as he creates songs with more infectious tones. Fans should approach this album with eyes on Jenkins’ future.
Rating: 3.5 stars