Mick Jenkins’ 2018 album, “Pieces of a Man” (Free Nation/Cinematic), dares to ask uncomfortable questions: Why do you try to act cool when you’re falling apart? Why are you afraid to ask your partner about the boundaries of intimacy? What role does God play, if any, in the way we treat one another?
Little wonder that Jenkins’ latest work references another speaker of uncomfortable truths — the late poet-songwriter Gil Scott Heron. In many ways, Jenkins is an artist who builds on the philosophical foundation built my Heron for hip-hop at its most socially engaged. Just don’t call Jenkins a “conscious” rapper.
The 27-year-old Alabama native first arrived in Chicago with his family 17 years ago, dabbled in theater and poetry, then began releasing mix tapes in 2012. His 2013 release, “Trees and Truths,” established him as a hard-to-miss newcomer in the city’s flourishing hip-hop scene. A towering presence on stage with a basketball player’s frame and a deep voice that blended conversational philosophy with jazzy hooks, Jenkins widened his audience with festival appearances and ambitious releases such as “The Waters” (2014) and his debut studio album, “The Healing Component,” a 2016 meditation on myriad facets of love.