First Listen #4: Mick Jenkins’s ‘The Circus’

I started listening to Mick Jenkins during my senior year of high school. I have a very solid memory of sitting on the floor of my room in the apartment I shared with my mom, doing homework for my AP Environmental Science class and listening to The Water[s] from front to back. I also have a very strong memory of being on the bus, on the way back from a football game, where I played clarinet in my high school’s marching band, falling asleep listening to “Dehydration” on repeat. The influence of his Huntsville, AL and Chicago, IL roots mixed well with the jazz beats that he sets as the background music to his verses. I was, and stayed, impressed.

However, I was a little disappointed after the release of The Healing Component in 2016. The bars were still there, but there the songs didn’t come together in the same way they did on The Water[s] or Wave[s]. Some of the features seemed to overshadow Mick or fit awkwardly into the groundwork that he laid, even though there were some great folks on there like Noname, theMIND, and Xavier Omar. And because I’m a slightly problematic listener, I stopped trusting Mick – musically – after feeling very mixed about THC. So much so that Pieces of a Man got zero plays from me. Once I’m disappointed by an artist, especially if it’s someone that I don’t consider to be in my top 5, I approach their music with caution from that point on.

The first song I heard from the project was “Carefree,” a song that builds on the classic Mick formula of vibe checking, jazzy instrumentals, and clever bars. His flow is also crazy – he rides the beat so smooth, that you can’t help but close your eyes and ride along. After lovin’ on “Carefree” so much, I decided that it was time for me to listen to The Circus in full.

shout out to mick always for having the fire visuals!

The project opens with the slightly-braggadocious, Hit-Boy produced, “Same Ol.” Mick reminds us both that he’s super tall and that he’s still ready to serve bars whenever someone wants it, even after not releasing a solo project in 2019. I say slightly-braggadocious because Mick has a way of telling us he’s the shit, without making a big deal out of it; he lets the music speak for itself.

He follows the project’s first track with “Carefree” and “The Light,” my two favorite songs off the project, though I think I like “The Light” a little bit better. Backed by EARTHGANG’s Johnny Venus and Doctur Dot, “The Light” is a smooth reminder of taking chances, following your own path, and being patient with yourself. I LOVE how Johnny Venus starts his verse before the beat drops, The hook is gorgeous (I listened to it for the first time on a walk to work and it hit different lol, it’s a song you have to listen to outside). The beginning of the song is great – I hope that gnat is having a great day; I love how the end of Doctur Dot’s verse blends with Johnny Venus coming back in with the hook. The “ooh’s” in Dot’s verse!!!

Also Dot’s “If I kill you, I promise I’ll pray for you first” and Johnny’s suitcase metaphor at the end of his verse…they both might be the best part of this song. Mick was good, too lol.

The remainder of the project was also very good, but not as replayable for me as “Carefree” and “The Light.” All great songs with amazing bars, but those two songs have what I was looking for from Mick. Something light and heavy at the same time. Something chill (the kids would call it something to smoke to) that promises to give you something new during every listen. But while I think those two songs hold significant weight in this project, it’s a burden that I wish was more spread out through the other five songs. Listening to the project from that point made me feel like I just went down a giant hill on a rollercoaster and then the ride evened out as we reached the end. I’m still on the rollercoaster and having a good time, while trying to pull myself together after being thrown around, but it’s not as fun of an experience. It feels like the project peaks with “The Light,” and kind of plateaus through the second half of the project. I will give some special head nods to “Flaunt” and “The Fit,” though. Out of the last 4 songs, those two, for me, were the best.

I also think that there was room for Mick to do more on this project, and maybe that will come in time. I didn’t feel like I was getting a new experience or anything different than the ones I got years ago, and honestly, those projects, for me, were better. They felt fuller and they felt like Mick made it a point to experiment with some different sounds. The Circus feels a little tame for bearing a namesake that evokes a level of eccentricness that didn’t really pull through for me. It feels like Mick has reached a bit of a comfort zone (shout out to Saba), which is good, but can also stunt growth a little bit. I’d turn something like this on, if I just needed some background music, but I wouldn’t intentionally listen to the whole project again.

Even with all of that, I don’t regret giving another shot to a full Mick Jenkins project. He’s a super talented guy and gave us nothing but bars on this project. And I think I can approach the next one with some excitement. And for a project this short, I can’t help but think he has something else up his sleeve that will be making its way to our eardrums soon.

Featured Image Credit:

(listen to The Circus, by clicking on the image below)

here’s something else you might like:

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