Mick Jenkins brings messages of hope and resilience to Cambridge

Live Review: The Chicago rapper and lyrical messiah goes hard Friday night at a sold-out Middle East

“Boston make some motherfucking noise if you’re ready for a show!” Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins was full of nothing but raw and unbridled energy as he took the stage at The Middle East Downstairs this past Friday (January 25). Jenkins, a lyrical messiah, uses the heaviness of politics and history to thematically shape his songs, bravely brought messages of hope and resilience to a sold out Cambridge crowd.

Backed by a live band, his tenderly rumbling baritone indulged onlookers who may have any doubt about his ability to perform. And quite frankly, the man was simply phenomenal. From the poignant reflections found in opening song “Stress Fracture” to the ethereal undertones of “Ghost,” the world-weariness of Jenkins’ voice made his songs that much more alluring, dramatic and potent.

The vibrant nature of “Jazz” felt newly like a bold deconstruction of the genre’s most sentient and influential Black figures. The hypnotic denseness of “Grace and Mercy” emphasized Jenkins’ indifference to time; every word is slowed down, every vowel is enunciated, every image is depicted with the utmost reverence. The old-school feel of “Soft Porn” trades in hip hop’s typical hedonistic boasts for more sensual and impassioned bars.

The positivity of “Spread Love” managed to conjure up an emotional dislocation for those in attendance who thirsted for songs that were less subdued. They received their wish when Jenkins churned out fiery live renditions of “ Understood,” “U Turn,” “Gwendolyn’s Apprehension,” and “Pull Up.”

Throughout the evening, Jenkins effortlessly basked in both his poetic complexity and his rigorous physical stamina when it came to performing some of the most meaningful songs from his catalogue. What the man brings to modern day rap music is tough to explain; Jenkins’ verses are layered and invigorating while his jaded wit hones in his grand artistic ambitions. With the momentum he currently has, there’s nothing stopping the emcee from dreaming big.

Photos by Ralph Paul for Vanyaland; follow Candace McDuffie on Instagram @cmcduffie1.