First Impressions: Mick Jenkins – The Circus

Mick Jenkins grew up in Chicago after moving from Alabama when his parents split up when Mick was 10 years old. This is something I feel was quite impactful to Micks eventual rap career, as he came up in the Chicago scene of the early 2010s with other rappers such as Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa & Saba.

Despite rapping earlier in life, Mick Jenkins released his first official mixtape ‘The Mickstape’ in 2012, and followed that up with another mixtape later that year. In 2012 Mick also joined a poetry collective, with one of his performances attracting the attention of fellow up-and-comer Saba. This resulted in the 2 collaborating for the track ‘Heaux’ on Sabas 2012 Mixtape. In 2013 Mick started to see some more success with the release of his mixtape ‘Trees and Truths’. The Mixtape got quite a bit off buzz in the local scene and eventually elsewhere, and led to Mick’s first collaboration with Chance and Vic Mensa; ‘Crossroads’.

By 2014 he was quite big in the Chicago scene and was starting to make waves around the world. In 2014 he released ‘The Water(s)’, his most popular project yet and one which is highly regarded as being his best. He followed this by touring with Redman; Method Man and a cast of others on the ‘Smokers Club World Wide Rollers’ tour. Shortly after this in February of 2015 Mick embarked on his first official tour, aided by Kirk Knight, Noname & Saba, and then later in 2015 joined Denzel Curry and Joey Bada$$ on their World Domination tour. In August of that same year he released his ‘Waves’ Ep, a follow up to The Water(s). He ended 2015 touring, and by the end of the year was quite well known amongst hip hop heads.

Mick’s rise seemed to stagnate for a while, despite releasing a good amount of music over the next couple of years. In 2016 he released his much awaited debut album ‘The Healing Component’, and the album received mixed reviews. 2017 saw the release of his ‘Or More; The Anxious’ EP, the first of a series. The second instalment of this series; ‘Or More; The Frustration’ was released shortly after, in February of 2018. Mick seemed to gain quite a bit of steam again with the release of his second album ‘Pieces of a Man’, which released in October of 2018. And 2019 was Mick’s slowest year yet, with only a couple of features as well as a single loosie.

And that brings us up to now! On January 10th 2020 Mick Jenkins released his ‘The Circus’ EP. He hyped up the album in the week leading up to release, dropping the vocals and then the music video for the song ‘Carefree’. Below are my opinions on the album based off my first listen. Firstly I’ll have a track by track review which will be my informal and unedited thoughts on the songs as I listened, and then afterwards I’ll do a bit of a review on the album as a whole. Finally I’ll include links to stream the album at the bottom, as well as my favourite tracks. Enjoy!

Track By Track ‘Review’

1. Same Ol – Really interesting beat, has this crazy twang to it. Mick sounds super hungry, great bars and rhymes too. Amazing rhymes actually, really impressive. Has this section with this insanely good bass, nice touch. Enjoyed the switch in flows to this catchy hook-like section towards the end. Great intro track

2. Carefree – Heard this when it dropped last week. Really calm atmospheric beat. Love the chill hook. Mick sounds great again, really hungry delivery during the verses, beautiful melodies on the hook. More impressive bars and rhyme schemes. An amazing chill song all the way through, does drag on a little bit at the end though.

3. The Light (ft. EARTHGANG) – Takes too long to get going. Johnny Venus flows super smooth, some solid rhyme schemes and bars too. The hook sounds nice but isn’t too memorable. Mick brings a great energy to the track, solid delivery and even more impressive bars. Olu has some nice bars but only really one flow the majority of his verse, definitely my least favourite of the 3. Song felt like it was lacking something, was a little disappointing

4. Flaunt – Mick flowing more laid back on this one, real calm and catchy hook yet it sounds hard. Beat is interesting, is basic but has this strange static sounding synth that is real intriguing. Love the church organ sound though. Mick rides the beat well, has some great flows. Verse was too short and the hooks drag on. I feel it needs another verse

5. The Fit – Love the melodies on the hook. Whole hook is actually amazing. This beat is super exciting, has this real busyness to it, lots of interesting synths fading in and out seamlessly. Mick sounds amazing on this too, changes up his flow a lot and has the usual solid bars and rhyme schemes. My favourite so far

6. I’m Convinced – Enjoy this beat, has this real addictive guitar which sounds distorted at times, sounds amazing. Another catchy hook. Mick sounds super hungry again. So many solid bars, metaphors and rhymes (which is expected by now). Love the subtle touches in the beat, lots of crisp sounds going on. Bass hits hard too. The beat really grows on you. Really liked this song too

7. Different Scales – Another really calming atmospheric beat. Great piano. Amazing versatility from Mick here. Goes hard at times, is smooth and melodic at others, and even sings st certain points. Lots of amazing lyrics and metaphors and the usual impressive rhyme schemes. Such a nice vibe all the way through

Album Review

Overall ‘The Circus’ was an extremely good showing of Mick Jenkins’ technical ability as a rapper, as well as being an easy and enjoyable listen all the way through. The album was a breeze to get through with a run time of just under 20 minutes, and I think this is one of its biggest strengths. Its short and concise, with nothing really overstaying it’s welcome, and with just as many strong tracks as Mick’s last album ‘Pieces Of A Man’ but less than half the total tracks, this was in my opinion a much more consistent, and therefore enjoyable listen.

The production throughout ‘The Circus’ is spectacular, keeping this consistent vibe for the duration of the album whilst also changing things up enough that almost every beat sounds unique and exciting in its own right. A lot of my favourite moments from the album were subtle little touches in the instrumentals; The ‘twang’ of the synth on ‘Same Ol’, the multitude of intriguing synths and how well they mesh on ‘The Fit’, & especially the addictive distorted guitar used in ‘I’m Convinced’. Despite all these interesting sounds used throughout the album, Mick maintains this calming atmospheric vibe for the entirety of the album, which is only made better by Mick Jenkins deep soulful voice and impressive melodies.

Mick Jenkins himself was at his best here, sounding confident in his delivery at all times and delivering bar after bar of dense rhyme schemes and witty metaphors. His melodies on ‘The Circus’ are outstanding as well, with Mick utilising melodic rap flows and even singing at time, always maintaining that level of confidence and without sacrificing the solid lyrics. His voice itself is one of his strongest assets, it’s deep and almost soothing in a way, has this real soul too it that sounds pleasant whether he is spitting or delivering a beautiful melodic performance. Every hook delivered by Mick was catchy, and every verse he spat was captivating. I can’t get too specific as I can’t pay a lot of attention to lyrics on these first listens, but this thing was packed full of good bars, it’s an album a look forward to coming back to and seeing what lyrics I catch.

Although I liked almost this entire album, I do have a couple of criticisms. I thought ‘The Light’ with Earthgang was quite disappointing, with Olu aka Doctur Dot having my least favourite verse of the album. I’m a big fan of Earthgang and Olu and feel like the song could have been much more exciting. That song also had my least favourite beat and hook of the album. I loved ‘Carefree’ but felt like it would be better if it ended like 30 seconds earlier. And finally I feel like ‘Flaunt’ felt unfinished in a way, especially with the hook>Verse>Hook structure. If it were called ‘Flaunt Interlude’ I probably would have liked it more as strange as that sounds, it just sounds like an interlude happens to be track 4/7.

But other than those minor complaints it was an outstanding album! If you’ve heard Mick Jenkins in the past and liked what you heard, whether it be lyrically dense bars or melodic hooks, then this album will have something for you. This album may end up being my favourite Mick Jenkins album, with not as many highs as ‘The Water(s)’, but being much more consistent. This is also a great entry point for anyone unfamiliar with Mick, if you have 20 minutes anytime this week I highly recommend giving this a listen!

Final Notes

You can listen to ‘The Circus’ on Spotify here, or on Apple Music here!

You can also listen to it on YouTube here!

Carefree Music Video

My personal favourites after one listen are ‘Same Ol’, ‘The Fit’, ‘I’m Convinced’ & ‘Different Scales’.

What did you think of Mick Jenkins ‘The Circus’?

Thanks For Reading!

– Shan –

One thought on “First Impressions: Mick Jenkins – The Circus

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