Mick Jenkins at the Pitchfork Music Festival in 2016 Credit: Ashlee Rezin / Chicago Sun-Times

In a December episode of new WGN podcast The Cornerstore (hosted by journalist Tara Mahadevan and Young Chicago Authors artistic director Kevin Coval), Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins talks a little about his frustrations with Cinematic Music Group. He began working with the Brooklyn-based hip-hop indie in 2014, and it released his breakthrough mixtape, The Water[s], his 2015 follow-up, Wave[s], and his debut studio album, 2016’s The Healing Component—though by 2016 his relationship with the label had soured. Jenkins tells Mahadevan and Coval that he considers THC only technically a Cinematic release: “For the last two or three years, I’ve been operating completely out of my own pocket. I was in the hole . . . cleared that, and have not used a dime of label money since. I’m in the midst of getting out of my deal.”

Jenkins was unusually quiet for most of last year, but on Halloween he dropped “Vampire in Brooklyn,” whose somnolent jazz instrumental contrasts sharply with his vicious raps. “Vampire in Brooklyn is my take on my dealings with one of the vampires/bloodsucking culture vultures the industry is populated by,” he tweeted the following week. Given the circumstances, it’s easy to read the song as a shot at Cinematic founder Jonny Shipes: “Scoop up a nigga ‘fore he learn the ropes,” Jenkins raps. “Take from that nigga when he look away.” On The Cornerstore, Jenkins admits he was naive about the industry prior to signing with Cinematic: “There wasn’t necessarily goals outside of the creation of the content—there wasn’t goals for how to move it.”
Since then, Jenkins has released two EPs straight to Soundcloud: Or More; the Anxious in November and Or More; the Frustration this past Saturday. On my favorite track from the new EP, “6AM Matinee,” Jenkins raps with fire and precision about losing his innocence young by growing up amid gun violence. He’s clearly made a new priority of taking control of his career, and he’s just as thoroughly in command of this track: when the instrumental segues from a sparse, ghostly melody into an overdriven horn sample, he doesn’t miss a beat.