Devoted Crowd Flocks to Mick Jenkins’s Raucous Underground Concert

Jake Frankenfield

Content warning: This article contains a racial slur printed in full. The word is part of an artist’s stage name.

Mick Jenkins’ most recent record, the widely acclaimed The Waters, is known for its submerged, atmospheric production and intricate wordplay. Hailed as one of the best mixtapes of 2014, The Waters established Jenkins as a preeminent Chicago MC. Jenkins is currently touring with Saba Pivot, Noname Gypsy and a budding rapper affiliated with the Joey Bada$$-helmed Pro Era collective, Kirk Knight.

Chicago has been central to the development of hip-hop as a genre since the early 1990s. In the ’90s, Chicago offered Twista; in the early 2000s, the city produced Kanye West and Common. Today, as hip-hop continues to redefine itself, Chicago has become a bastion for musical innovation, most notably through the work of Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. On Sunday night at the Grog Shop in Cleveland, Jenkins provided a glimpse into the future of not only Chicago’s hip-hop scene but also the future of hip-hop in a broader sense.

Saba Pivot performed first. Of the three Chicago rappers to perform, he was most clearly influenced by Vic and Chance. He was eccentric and energetic, bouncing up and down through almost his entire set. Pivot’s braids flopped to and fro, his movements almost cartoonish. His vigor awoke a sleepy crowd.

Noname Gypsy authoritatively slowed the pace. Her monotone, often a cappella, vocals engrossed the crowd. Her performance, albeit short and somewhat impromptu, may have been the most impressive of the evening. Her debut EP, Telefone, comes out later this year.

Kirk Knight’s time on stage was rather bizarre. With his new EP dropping relatively soon, he was clearly conflicted regarding what he felt was appropriate to share. The result of this negotiation was myriad of half-baked, half-length songs that he rapped over rather unintelligibly. His energy, however, was impeccable. The rejuvenated crowd appeared eager to see the man of the hour.

Even as a highly anticipated, headlining rapper, Mick Jenkins exceeded, if not confounded, expectations. One of the greatest assets to The Waters was its atmospheric production. Jenkins brought life to one of the most buzzed-about mixtapes of 2014.

Even more impressive than any of these artists were the fans. These individuals came out to see essentially underground rappers on a Sunday night in Cleveland. At certain points in each set, the artist would stop reciting their lyrics only to have them picked up, rabidly and verbatim, by the crowd. There were moments in Jenkins’s set when he would hand the mic to individuals in the crowd for full verses, only to have them recited with equal parts gusto, nerves and excitement.

As this generation of conscious rappers evolves, we as an audience must continue to engage with them intently. We need their message.