Two years after his ambitious but inconsistent and occasionally preachy release The Healing Component, Mick Jenkins has dropped a new album, Pieces of a Man. Four singles were released prior to the album’s unveiling, but the best two of these were inexplicably not included on it. This is frustrating, as these (‘Bruce Banner’, ‘What Am I To Do’) are far more compelling than any song that actually made the cut.
Mick is known for intricate wordplay and smooth, jazzy production, which Pieces of a Man has in spades, along with a more organic and laid-back sonic palette than found on any of his previous work. However, what is missing from this album, which was an important component of what made his previous works great, is compelling song structures and catchy, memorable hooks. What is presented on this new album is a set of fourteen tracks (and three supposedly profound skits that seem unfocused and fail to combine into a coherent message), which are, compared to his previous effort, extremely linear and uneventful. Thirty seconds into most songs, you will have heard everything the instrumental is going to do; there are no interesting beat switches or compelling choruses.
This is the primary issue with Pieces, and the reason it feels even longer than its 53 minute run-time: a lack of compelling song structure. Mick still brings incredibly precise, honed flows and smart lyricism, but the songs bore you. Halfway through the album I felt exhausted and in desperate need of a standout moment that, sadly, never came. This is in stark contrast to his last album, where songs like ‘Drowning’ and ‘The Healing Component’ featured layered and climactic structures, and gave the album a sense of unpredictability and variety.
Whilst his previous album had a few bad songs, which Pieces avoids by having a consistent quality, its highs outstripped anything offered here. There are no standouts. ‘Plain Clothes’ offers a change of pace from the linear beats as Mick swaps his rapping for soulful singing, but it is nowhere near as good as his best sung tracks (see: ‘Drowning’, ‘Spread Love’).
Adding to the tedium created by a lack of choruses or beat switch-ups, every rapped song adopts a very similar tone and tempo. Unlike on his breakout mixtape The Water[s], which had tracks where Mick spanned various emotions and levels of intensity, here every song adopts a laid back, quietly braggadocious style, as if he has nothing to prove. Whilst this fits the smooth jazz rap production and makes this album relaxing to have on in the background, 53 minutes of songs that all have the same tone really drag if you’re paying attention.
Perhaps most disappointing of all is the lack of interesting topics and motifs. It’s hinted at occasionally that the central theme is that you only ever see pieces of a person (which is intuitive and not particularly profound), but there is no song where Mick dives into this deeply, despite the album title. In fact, most songs centre around Mick a) bragging about how real he is (compared to all the fakers around him), b) how he brings the truth, or c) how hard he works on his writing. But in no song does this hard work and truth-bringing seem evident; despite his brags about educating us, I can find no solid or profound messages in any of these songs. This is in stark contrast to his last album, where songs like ‘Spread Love’ delivered a sincere and brave message (sentimentality not being something you often find in modern hip-hop), or ‘What Am I To Do’, a single released before this album which addressed police brutality and is far more hard-hitting and thought-provoking than any song that was actually included here.
It really can’t be overstated just how linear and repetitive these songs are, and how the complete lack of standout moments makes the album feel like a slog. Whilst every song is technically well performed and produced, there isn’t a single one that I would pick out and play on its own; they all blend together, creating smooth and undemanding background music – but this isn’t what I look for from Mick. I want songs that make me stop and think, interesting and left-field production, and choruses that I can sing in the shower. The Healing Component was a slight step down from The Water[s], but still contained some excellent tracks, whereas there isn’t a single cut on this album that could stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Mick’s best. Whilst undeniably well produced and performed, the lack of a coherent theme, engaging song topics or catchy melodies leaves the album feeling hollow and ultimately forgettable.