Album Review: Mick Jenkins – The Patience

[RBC Records/BMG; 2023]

How Covid impacts the human genome might not be known for centuries, though its impact on the topic of evolution was immediate. Forget that creationism’s Mike Pence was placed in a position where accepting germ theory should have been a pre-req – the cycle of new variants gave the public an impression of clean linearity: alpha, beta, delta, omicron, etc. Historically, however, evolution – biological, cultural, emotional, ideological – has more in common with London’s notorious fatberg: slow and messy. 

Nature’s cruelest reminder of this is the poor flounder: a bottom-dwelling flatfish with one eye indefinitely delayed on a journey to find its twin. It’s grotesque yet cutely symbolises the relationship between folks clinging to the philosophical and cultural fringes versus everyone in the center chastising them to catch up. Similarly, as Covid found new ways to attack, the misapprehension spread that evolution is proactive when it is actually dependent on forces outside its control. 

In the notes accompanying The Patience, Mick Jenkins explains that he willed the present version of himself into being. Life’s obstacles became fuel for self-betterment and while collaborators are welcomed, record labels and trends that distract from his personal mission are not. He spent his last album, 2021’s Elephant In The Room, developing his emotions in ways that are generally off-limits to his peers, while 2016’s The Healing Component explored growth and love through lenses of community violence and religion. But growth can be extremely frustrating when nothing else moves at the same speed.

One of The Patience’s strongest tracks, “Show & Tell”, arrives early and gnashes its teeth in exasperation: “I’mma have to show these n____s / I can’t tell ‘em shit!” On “Guapanese,” he attacks the dominance of gangsta mentality, “It’s a stack of ones, just like him / and they hide behind the 20.” Significant stretches of the album are spent straight-up yelling, woodshedding a kind of last-nerve freestyle.

A decade into his grind and scores of rhymes later, Jenkins implies that that feels partly like a broken record and partly like one that never leaves its sleeve. Having emerged around the same time that drill took root in Chicago, he can’t determine whether he’s just a step above the mire or in a completely different world: “Ducks / They in the shallow water following bread / The fuck? / I’m ‘cross the pond / jaywalking the Autobahn.” 

The folly of trying to gauge evolution in real time is being unable to recognize if the branches on which you stand are merely dead-end mutations. Morality derives from communal standards, so, Jenkins wonders, how can you impact people who don’t share your code? What if that code is bullshit? On “Smoke Break”, he admits “I wouldn’t know / how to make you feel me… I know they can smell me / I know they can see a muthafucka coming from a mile away.” From there, The Patience wrestles not just the tyranny of incompetents but also the arrogance and ignorance that guided some of his own decisions. The aforementioned “Show & Tell” hook actually flips itself over: “You gonna have to show me, n___ / You can’t tell me shit.”

To restore connections, he moves to obliterate the notion of a ”his” and “their” duality in the game. “ROY G. BIV” says conscious and commercial rap are not two languages but just two voices among thousands. “What brush stroke did you get stuck in? / What kind of palette you mixed up in?” he asks before finding “Story Of O.J.”-like common ground: “Them black lights come out and we see that we all stained.” 

Sonically, Jenks and his crew opt for a simplicity that borders incidental music, a soundtrack to his existence as quotidian as the city streets. A familiar mixture of soulful jazz, jazzy soul, and beats that range from distorted snares to spartan R&B have one goal: stay out the way. The features reflect a selection of like minds, none of which suggests a microphone booth was shared. Freddie Gibbs has become a T-shirt, a way to express your independence, grit, and self-awareness. That doesn’t mean his verse isn’t dope: Gangsta Gibbs remains as lively as he was on “National Anthem”. Only Vic Mensa sounds slightly out-of-step with Jenkins’ M.O.; however, it remains to be seen if Jenkins faces Noname/Jay Electronica blowback now that guest Benny The Butcher recently stumped for Donald Trump. 

Cognitive dissonance is one of our evolutionary hallmarks, though. As Jenkins attests on “007,” “We fucked around and found a way.”