Mick Jenkins Credit: Bryan Lamb

On “Stiff Arm,” three songs into Mick Jenkins’s new Elephant in the Room (Free Nation/Cinematic Music Group), Chicago performer and activist Ayinde Cartman delivers a scorching rumination that doubles as thesis statement for the album, identifying a key paradox of Black life in America. “Our existence is the elephant in every boardroom,” Cartman declares. “How we larger than life and lurking in the shadow?” Jenkins elaborates on this thought with his dependably cerebral observations, delivered with a poise that balances stentorian gravitas and inviting cool. He avoids the conventions of big-time bangers—blunt lyrics, bombastic music, simple hooks, and direct, sugary melodies—in favor of textured nuance, but the songs on this album are as worthy of replay as any Top 40 single. Jenkins travels through cozy R&B (“Gucci Tried to Tell Me,” which foregrounds the sweetness in his singing) and cool modern funk (“Speed Racer”), and he favors instrumentals that scuff up polished, urbane melodies with underground hip-hop grit; one such track, “D.U.I.,” features a brooding guest verse from Chicago underground phenom Greensllime, Jenkins’s longtime live DJ. It’s been a few years since Jenkins dropped a full-length album, which is basically an eternity in hip-hop, but he’s used the time well. A few of the tracks here that he’d previously released as singles—including “Truffles,” which transforms a dragging clatter into a low-key rhapsody—hit much harder in the context of Elephant in the Room.

Mick Jenkins’s Elephant in the Room is available through Bandcamp.