Mick Jenkins spreads love in Philly at the TLA
Chicago-bred rapper Mick Jenkins first caught my ear a couple years ago when I stumbled upon his Trees & Truths mixtape, before he blew up ‘cause I’m hip as all hell. I enjoyed his lyrics the most; his storytelling is vivid and his metaphors and similes clever without ever being trite. I also dug the jazzy production which suited his gravelly, deep, weathered-beyond-his-years voice as well. Then, in 2014, his magnum opus (so far) Water[s] mixtape dropped and Mick became much more known by hip-hop heads nationally. I saw him perform a somewhat surprisingly explosive set at the 150-capacity Barbary shortly after its release, and looked forward to seeing him on a bigger stage. After another solid EP and his debut LP, I got my wish, as Mick’s “Spread Love” tour stopped in Philadelphia at the much larger TLA this past Friday.
The show started at 8 p.m. sharp (rare for most rap shows) as I walked into the venue to see a crowd of maybe 200 people gathered in front of the first opener, who had just begun his set. I honestly expected a larger audience for Mick, but I knew it was still early and we were in Philly, after all. There were no local openers on this show, though I think a buzzing up and comer could’ve really helped out with the draw. But, such is life.
As for the first act, whose name I didn’t immediately catch, I was honestly not impressed. His voice and flow were serviceable, as was the solid but somewhat boring throwback, boom-bap production he rhymed over, but his lackluster stage presence and juvenile humor (“who here love sucking on titties?”) didn’t do much for me. I was confused as to how he got on the tour, since stylistically he didn’t have much in common with Mick’s more “conscious” sound at all, performing songs about “playing with pussies like PlayStations” that would fit in much better opening for Too $hort. However, I later found out he was GreenSlime, Mick Jenkins’ tour DJ, and it all made sense as to why he was booked to do his own stuff on the tour. He proved to be a very good DJ as the night progressed, so perhaps he should stick to that.
The next act hit the stage almost right away (another rarity at rap shows), a stocky man clad in a bucket hat with dreadlocks over a yard in length hanging past his waist. jSTOCK, AKA “Stock Marley”, a member of Mick’s Free Nation collective hailing from Columbus, Ohio, was a big step up from the first opener. His lyricism, crowd control and powerful delivery were all made apparent by the end of his first song. He had the crowd eating out of his hand, nailing an a cappella that had them hanging on every word, especially the poignant quote “believe the truth, not the man telling it.” He said every song he performed was available on his recently released Propaganda mixtape, which I’ll definitely be checking out. While his set did seem to drag a bit by the end, performing two more a cappellas which seemed like a bit of overkill, jSTOCK’s performance impressed me, and now I was ready to see Mick tear it down as well.
DJ GreenSlime (who also spun for jSTOCK) didn’t even leave the turntables, only playing a couple records before Mick emerged from backstage to a roaring ovation from the still reasonably small crowd of about 300. As the Philly staple “What We Do” by Freeway blared through the TLA’s sound system, Jenkins smiled at the crowd, clad in a hoodie that simply read “DON’T BE MAD.” The beat for fan favorite “All That Jazz” dropped (amplified by an energetic live drummer) and Mick went off as the very receptive audience rapped along. The Chicagoan wordsmith didn’t talk too much between songs, banging out one after the other to keep the momentum going. He ran through the track his tour is named after, “Spread Love” from last year’s The Healing Component album, as well as “Angles” from the same LP. I greatly enjoyed his performance of one of my personal favorites of his, “Comfortable” from Water[s], which was a suitable song to do, since he emanated pure comfort while on stage.
Throughout his no-nonsense set, Mick had his fans responding to the call-and-response chant of “drink more water!” every time he shouted it, bellowing it back as loud as they could. I couldn’t help but notice that the majority of the crowd was made up of Caucasian males in their early twenties (although there was a surprisingly decent amount of females there as well), which is fine. But I don’t think I’ll ever stop cringing just a little bit every time I hear a mostly white crowd shout the “N-word,” which they did repeatedly during the chorus of “Martyrs.” I realize they’re just reciting lyrics they love and mean no harm, but my cringing, in the words of the illustrious Mr. Diddy, can’t stop and won’t stop. However, this potential awkwardness didn’t phase Mick at all, flipping the bird as a potent sample of N.W.A.’s classic “Fuck Tha Police” blared through the speakers as an interlude that’s still timely today.
The 25-year-old spitter reached back into his catalog, performing songs from mixtapes released in 2012 and 2013, which the crowd responded well to despite most of them not being familiar with the material. “The Healer,” one of his most well written tracks, went without a hitch, and one of his most fun songs, “Your Love” from the Wave[s] EP had the women in the building dancing feverishly. I noticed Mick’s voice growing noticeably scratchy towards the end of his hour-long set, which is something I can definitely empathize with as a performer who’s played a good amount of longer sets myself. This is bound to happen when you’re rapping your ass off without the full vocals in your show tracks (which is always a bad look). Overall, the guy put on a pretty flawless show, only growing since I saw him at The Barbary a couple years back.
He ended his set on a high energy note, bringing jSTOCK and the rest of his Free Nation comrades out to go crazy during the banging posse cut “Social Network” by Hurt Everybody, which he is featured on. It was an unexpected closer, which led me and the majority of the crowd to think he’d be coming back out to perform at least one more track, since the whole show had ended at 10 p.m. on a Friday night (probably the only time a rap show will do that in Philly this year). He exited to the sounds of Kendrick Lamar’s new banger “HUMBLE”, which made me think how well Mick would fit as an opener on a Kendrick tour someday. The majority of the reasonably small but passionate crowd lingered after he left, chanting “encore” for a solid minute straight before the TLA put on the house lights to signify that Mick was definitely not coming back to the stage. While I wouldn’t have minded an encore at all, I definitely wasn’t disappointed in the work Mr. Jenkins put in during those 60 minutes. As I enjoyed the obligatory Lorenzo’s slice that you just have to eat after a TLA show, I was thoroughly satisfied with the concert overall, and I hope Mick continues to spread love to the music community long after this tour ends.