Mick Jenkins is not a great performer. And honestly, it doesn't really matter. Experiencing the Chicago rapper is akin to watching a protagonist from one of French director Jean-Luc Godard’s films: effortless and cool.
The meat-and-potatoes lies in the lyrics, which is why people came, filling Trees in Deep Ellum for his Pieces of Man Tour. The youngish audience came open to the at-times preachy messages on failure, endurance and even a real-life parable on suicide from the bill's performers.
Jenkins is an intellectual, using his platform to deconstruct what he calls “fake news” and negative thinking. His audience Friday night was clearly in need of authentic, old-school concert give-and-take with their hip-hop hero. They were engaged and responsive to each call to arms from Jenkins and opener Kari Faux.
Faux came onstage to a quote from Kenny Powers, the nihilistic central character of HBO’s Eastbound & Down. The belligerent bravado of Powers set the tone as Faux opened her set with "On the Internet," a sardonic takedown of troll culture in the darkest corners of the net. To be honest, Faux was a more engaging set, tight and possessing a well-selected track listing. She put on a relaxed performance.
The laid-back casual sex anthem "Lowkey" featured in the hit show Insecure embodied the laissez-faire mood inside the packed venue, hazy with weed smoke and Instagram posting. Faux is an engaging artist, free from posturing and slick marketing tactics. She prefers to deal directly with her fans, which tallied at almost full capacity, providing a welcome counterpoint to Jenkins' seriousness.
“Say ‘Hell yeah’ if you gonna do some shit this year you ain’t never done,” Faux said between songs. Nearly the entire crowd clapped back in agreement.
A funny moment occurred while Jenkins prepared to come on stage. His DJ played UGK and OutKast's "Int’l Players Anthem" from 2007, and at one point actually had to admonish the mostly millennial crowd for not knowing the lyrics to the modern-day Texas anthem.
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“Wait, what the fuck? Aren’t we in Texas? I need everyone to rap along to this song right now,” he joked.
Once on stage, Jenkins felt the love, as much of the audience had been clearly riding with him since his 2013 Trees and Truth, singing along to every lyric. He stopped to thank them for the loyalty at multiple intervals throughout the night. The Chicago emcee was at his best between shrugs, declaring he mostly stays at home nowadays with his new fiancé, enjoying the simple things in life. Tracks like "Soft Porn," "Jazz" and "Grace and Mercy" were crowd favorites, slow-burning songs that allowed Jenkins to take his time in his delivery, one characterized by an effortless drawl that gives you the time to take in every metaphor.
"Gwendolynn’s Apprehension," beautifully performed by Jenkins and his impeccable backup singers and band, would fit perfectly over a scene in Godard’s Breathless, where actors Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg coyly play mind games while discussing missed connections and possibly traveling to Rome together. Jazzy keystrokes and fluttering drums of Jenkins’ popular underground hit would replace the sweltering strings of Martial Solal’s score, as two lovers talk around their future. It was a conversation not unlike the one between Jenkins and his fans throughout the night. And like most great meandering discourses, it was at its best when the questions were left for the audience to think about well after the show ended.