With a rollicking lyrical flow and a smooth baritone voice, rapper Mick Jenkins speaks effortlessly over an array of ethereal keys. Each of his enunciations is clear, carefully and precisely delivered, and for a moment the music surpasses catchy, drifting into the realm of mesmeric. He carries the track, his lyrics guiding it along and ultimately leading it into silence.
This pairing of rhythm and patient lyrical delivery defines Jenkins’ debut release, “The Water[s],” a 15-track venture that boasts an experimental, yet profoundly self-aware brand of dreamy rap. While some songs seem mismatched with the album’s overall aesthetic, the final product proves to be a fresh and engaging experience that takes a markedly impressive look at musical care and moderation.
Opening with “Shipwrecked,” Jenkins is quick to set the dreamy tone for the rest of “The Water[s]”: The track’s beat begins placidly, driven by a collection of sedate drums. Even as the track builds in intensity, it remains restrained, its beat always allowing space for silence. The less-is-more mentality is perhaps “The Water[s]” most impressive asset: Jenkins avoids barraging listeners, opting to deliver his lyrics over minimal sonic backdrops, allowing the listener to focus on what he is saying instead of the beat he is rapping to.
However, the album does, on a few occasions, lose sight of this moderation. The track “Dehydration” is particularly guilty of this, trading the carefully crafted minimalism of tracks like “Jazz” for more aggressive and ultimately more stereotypical beats. These moments betray the overall sound of the album and may end up jarring listeners who have lost themselves in the album’s more hypnotic moments.
Despite these brief hiccups, “The Water[s]” is a truly absorbing debut for a developing hip-hop artist. It would seem Jenkins has delicately evaluated his music-making priorities, and the result is indicative of this care — an able and gripping collection of tracks that delivers the musical and lyrical smarts the hip-hop scene thrives on.