Mick Jenkins tells the truth on his third studio album, “Elephant In The Room.”
Throughout the genre of Hip-Hip, there is an endless array of sub-genres and creative pockets, but there is one form of rap that encompasses styles as dissimilar as the dreamlike aesthetic of Kid Cudi’s “Day ‘N’ Nite” and the detailed storytelling on Kendrick Lamar’s “DUCKWORTH.”: Truth-telling. To weave honest emotion and ideas into music is a skill that most, if not all, of Hip-Hop’s greats have exemplified at some point throughout their career, and Mick Jenkins is an artist who does it with ease.
The Chicago emcee’s third studio album, Elephant In The Room, arrived on Friday, October 29, three years after his sophomore LP, Pieces of A Man, and seven years following his breakout mixtape, The Water[s]. On tracks such as “Contacts,” “D.U.I.,” “Truffles,” and “Reflections,” it’s clear that the lyrical consistency that Mick Jenkins’ longtime fans expect is present on his new record, yet beyond the expertly penned bars, the exploration of Mick’s “unspoken personal and/or general truths” makes it a crucial listening experience, even for fans unfamiliar with his revered catalog.
As its name suggests, the album finds Mick Jenkins primarily concerned with the metaphorical “elephant in the room,” and the Chicago poet has the following to say about his third full-length:
This album is an attempt to address various unspoken personal and/or general truths. And how they have affected me and can affect those around me. From my estranged relationship with my father to friendships that don’t feel the same anymore to the even more basic idea of acknowledging that I need help. We become accustomed to allowing none progressive qualities and truths to occupy so much space in our lives simply by ignoring them, or ignoring them despite them being right in our faces! I intend to face several of those dormant issues/topics head-ons in the hopes that others can, at the very least, identify with the spaces I’ve grown from.
Given that description, a listener might expect a lyrically intense record that’s packed with verbose social critique and in-depth introspection, but rather than adhering to the idiom alluded to in its title, Mick Jenkin’s new album addresses multiple “elephants in the room” in a rather indirect way.
On “Things You Could Die For If Doing While Black,” for example, Mick skates over eerily upbeat production from Renzell, all while remarking about a legion of activities that he would like to do. Lyrics like “I just wanna smoke my weed/I just wanna love my girl/I just wanna praise my God/I just wanna sell my loose cigarettes, nigga/I just wanna do my job” read as a desire to live a carefree lifestyle on the surface, but underneath Mick’s breezy diction lies a much darker subtext. The long list that the Chicago wordsmith rattles off throughout the track are documented things Black people have actually been killed for in America, and while easily recognizable names and places like Philando Castille, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, and Eric Garner aren’t explicitly mentioned, Mick social commentary is both effective and somehow a vibe.
“Things You Could Die For If Doing While Black” features the saying “Let me stay Black and die,” a sentiment that countless Black children across America have likely grown up hearing, and elsewhere throughout Elephant In The Room, Mick also touches on the inward struggles that come with being a Black person in today’s society. And similar to the approach that he took with the topic of racism and police brutality, the THC emcee addresses another “elephant” on “Scottie Pippen” with impressive pop culture nuance.
Having already admitted in his album notes that he has difficulty asking for help, “Scottie Pippen” brings that idea front and center. For starters, the track, which was shared a week prior to Elephant In The Room’s full release, has one of the best hooks on the entire project, as Mick croons, “I was trippin’/I was definitely trippin’ now that I think about it/Number two, I wasâ Pippen.” Beyond the well-performed hook and enthralling background vocal contributions from R&B’s underground MVP serpentwithfeet, “Scottie Pippen” shows Mick’s newfound willingness to ask for help and allow himself to rely on someone else’s love, which is an attitude that many young Black men are often afraid to adopt. However, by comparing himself to Scottie Pippen — who was superb as Michael Jordan’s famed #2 option but struggled to lead the 1994–95 Chicago Bulls without MJ’s help — Mick demystifies the notion of asking for help in a meaningful and relatable way that doesn’t require him to go into too much detail.
Whether it’s a sign of the public’s collective exhaustion from having to speak on racism and its lingering effects or a testament to Mick’s penchant for metaphors, there are seldom any songs that spend a significant amount of time directly addressing the “various unspoken personal and/or general truths” that the Chicago artist alluded to in his album notes. In fact, one of the only explicit references to the album’s “elephant in the room” concept arrives during the outro of “Stiff Arm.” The project’s third track concludes with a moving spoken word performance by ââAyinde Cartman that tackles the push against critical race theory and likens the Black community’s presence as America’s oft-ignored “elephant.”
Cartman delivers a raw and unapologetic performance that definitely stands out as one of the most memorable moments on the album, but with everything considered, Elephant In The Room is truly at its best when Mick Jenkins is holding the reins and mixing the medicine in with the sugar. The byproduct of that approach is that Mick’s latest album feels more like a person you didn’t expect to have that much in common with, one who understands the complex issues that Black people face without needing you to explain it to them. Elephant In The Room doesn’t feel preachy or overly political; it just feels honest and delightfully familiar.
Given its late fourth-quarter release, Mick Jenkin’s third studio album may not get the recognition that it deserves on all of the forthcoming year-end lists, but make no mistake — Elephant In The Room is one of the most well-written and well-executed albums of 2021.