Mick Jenkins
Mick Jenkins   Photo: Saverio Truglia

At 6-foot-5, Mick Jenkins is literally head and shoulders above his peers—and if you didn’t know better, you’d guess he had a chip up there. The stoic Pilsen rapper rarely smiles, and he speaks in a stern baritone drawl. But ask the right questions of the brainy rising star, and Jenkins, 24, opens up about New York (hates it), meat (doesn’t eat it), and his master plan to hit it big and then move off the grid: “My first big purchase is 25 to 40 acres.” 

Raised in Huntsville, Alabama, Jenkins moved with his mother and sister to the Burnside neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side at age 10. At Hirsch Metropolitan High School, Jenkins discovered spoken word poetry. In college, at Oakwood University in Alabama (which he attended for three years), he found rap. But it took getting arrested for marijuana possession in 2013 to kick Jenkins into full musical gear: “After I left jail, I got serious.”

If solemnity was his goal, Jenkins surpassed it on his 2014 breakout mixtape, The Water[s]. Driven by a metaphor of water as truth, the album is a cathartic account of Jenkins’s thoughts about faith, beauty, and prejudice. “People are being fed the wrong values,” says Jenkins. “I wanted to change their minds.”

Jenkins released an equally stark ode to Eric Garner (the unarmed black man who died in a videotaped struggle with NYPD officers last year) in December, after which he decided to step back from focusing on racial issues. His latest album, the breezy Wave[s], released in August, focuses on his love life. “Some of my fans are gonna be disappointed because they think I’m all bars,” he says. “But I don’t let that stop me. I make the music I want to make.”