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Mick Jenkins - The Circus EP Music Album Reviews

On what he’s called a “prelude” to his next album, the Chicago rapper sets aside the big themes of previous records and luxuriates in letting his mind wander.

The world is like a circus, reckons Mick Jenkins—hence the title of his latest EP. But the record doesn’t really feel like one. The big-top experience is about chaos and sensory overload—the visceral sensation of the unpredictable that causes hearts to jackhammer. In contrast, Jenkins’ The Circus is measured, soothing, and a suitable accompaniment to brandy and a cigar in a comfortable chair.


Never accuse Jenkins of being unambitious. The Healing Component was a concept album about love that somehow found fresh angles on the well-worn subject, while Pieces of a Man borrowed its title and tone from Gil Scott Heron. At seven tracks, The Circus narrows Jenkins’ scope. Following such epic tomes, there are shades of Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered. in the EP’s “just a bunch of good tracks” layout that will please casual listeners who find Jenkins’ albums difficult to penetrate. The circus concept might be a wash, but we still get a sense of his sonic philosophy—in Chicago’s pluralistic rap scene, Jenkins’ soulful style is closely aligned to that of Saba, Chance the Rapper, Noname, and Vic Mensa’s Innanetape. The booming bass and grueling keys of the Hit-Boy produced opener “Same Ol” aside, Jenkins sits calmly in the pocket, letting the soul-noir beats wash over him, softly reading from his book of rhymes.

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Without a strong sense of direction guiding his every move, Jenkins’ mind is free to wander. An artist whose work has dovetailed with the Black Lives Matters movement, he reasserts the message over the neo-soul sounds of “Carefree,” a pushback to racial profiling carried out by law enforcement. “If you living carefree then you probably don't look like us,” he spits before walking through a couple of oppressive interactions with cops. There’s a belligerency to “Flaunt,” meanwhile, with Jenkins grumbling, “Niggas wanna see me stunt, huh?” in a protesting tone. Despite references to his $3,000 watch and dim-sum lunches, the track feels more like a pushback to those who would box him into common hip-hop tropes—like spitting braggadocio about your bank balance—than pride at the ice on his wrist.

Mick has plenty of fun, though. He displays instinct for a solid bar on “I’m Convinced,” where he rhymes “Cappadonna” with “Black Madonna” while referencing the pop legend’s erotic photoshoot with Naomi Campbell and Big Daddy Kane. Then there is the gentle orchestration of EarthGang collaboration “The Light,” which encapsulates the breezy side that defines The Circus musically. So while this feels like minor release—a “prelude to my forthcoming album,” the rapper has called it—Jenkins proves that even his strayest thoughts are worth sharing.


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