'What's with all the hoopla?' is a series where I do some quick analysis on albums old and new that I feel are conversation generators. The inspiration came from writing exercises where I take track-by-track notes on an album, summarize my thoughts in a journal entry and write a script meant for short voice tweets. The written portion below is the script. Use the link to go the Tweet. I'd love to hear your own thoughts and have a conversation about these albums I'll be thinking about critically!
Mick Jenkins' 2014 mixtape, The Water(s), is a metaphor for spiritual rejuvenation. Just like all living things need water to live and the signs of dehydration are outwardly obvious, Mick Jenkins uses the mixtape to say that spiritual health is just as vital to life and signs of poor spiritual health are equally as clear to him. While it's typical of evangelism to highlight salvation through the rewards of the afterlife, The Water(s) stands out to me for the braggadocios way that Mick Jenkins focuses on the revitalizing effect of spiritual health in individuals and communities in this life.
In Christianity, heaven isn't an actual location but an eternal closeness to God, the ultimate goal of faith. The actions you take in this life are meant to bring you closer to God in the next. Mick Jenkins sees a different end goal for faith in its more practical effects. On the title track and conceptual heart of the mixtape, when he thanks God for the waters he's making it clear that the waters aren't literally God, but a tool given to us to use. To him, spirituality isn't just about earning the waters of the afterlife, but living with closeness to God on Earth.
Throughout the mixtape, Mick Jenkins refers to himself as a black sheep because of the way that the dehydration of people around him has been so apparent. Social and environmental pressure has previously caused him to question himself for feeling different, but the confidence in himself that he raps with now reveals just one of the worldly benefits of hydration. On "Healer" he carried that confident practicality into a gentle love song where Jean Deaux sings that her lover feels like water, and soothes her aching soul. When focused on our own spiritual health, the rejuvenating effect spills over and we can in turn hydrate those around us. In this way, he's drawn an optimistic portrait of spiritual healing through a sort of pay it forward effect that washes over entire groups in waves, starting with one individual's self-confidence.
While he's speaking directly on his personal faith and the condition of the communities around him, one thing that makes the metaphor particularly useful is the flexibility to adapt the specifics to the spiritual needs of whoever listens. Because of water's nature as a universal requirement for life and the base revitalizing effect of hydration, the water can flex between many aspects of spiritual health: the faith to to stick to a path, the strength to fight addiction, the satisfaction to withhold avarice, or the power to change life on Earth — the waters are whatever you need them to be and more.