PLAYING DETROIT: Kari Faux and Mick Jenkins Warm Up Detroit Post Polar Vortex

photo by Sam Schmieg

Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins came through Detroit with spunky come-up Kari Faux last week and it was as underrated as Michigan winters are long. Jenkins, who spent the last few years in a reflective state, taking a break from touring, came back to the stage with a fresh perspective and a conscious mindset. Faux’s literal, sassy critiques on modern culture offered a light balance to Jenkins’ serious approach, discussing fatherhood, faith and perseverance.

Nestled in the basement of St. Andrew’s Hall, otherwise known as “The Shelter,” Kari Faux opened the show with the exuberance of being on a stadium stage. Her infectious energy and genuine excitement to be there lit up the room as she started her set. Although Faux is far past the point of having to introduce herself, she humbly took a census of people who knew of her in the room. “Raise your hand if you know who I am,” she joked. About half the room gave a loud cheer, while the other half waited for her to add, “Raise your hand if you don’t know who the hell I am.”

Whether or not the audience had hear her music before, her snarky lyrics had everyone in the room singing along. Before long, the basement was reverberating with the brash catch phrase from Faux’s 2014 song, “On The Internet”: “I don’t give a fuck if you’re famous on the internet.” Although the song was released a few years ago, it’s meaning has only amplified in relevance with “Instagram celebrities” reigning over pop culture. Faux asserts her ambivalence toward the cult of followers, reminding us that it’s more important how people act in person rather than how many followers they have.

Faux’s cheeky lyrics paint her more as a sassy best friend than a jaded performer, and this impression solidified when she opted to play a song outside her set for a fan. “You better sing along because I’m doing this one for you,” Faux said to a girl in the audience before performing “Color Theory,” one of her more recent releases. In fact, Faux’s natural interaction with the audience throughout her performance made it feel like we were all friends hanging out instead of strangers in the crowd. She has ways of saying things that are so poetically blunt, you wouldn’t dare disagree with her.

This lyrical poignancy is especially evident on “Fantasy,” a song about refusing to mold her personality or look to fit the standards of a man. “I’m no man’s fantasy, and I never plan to be,” Faux sings in the song’s hook. This song and most of her others – including her closing song “No Small Talk” – offer a particular type of empowerment that promotes expression and individuality, focusing on yourself and your own growth, and staying positive throughout the process.

Jenkins’ following performance was of a different vibe but followed in the same positive steps that Faux set forth. He entered the stage with his band – Zachary Smith (DJ), Manoah Hyppolite (Drummer), theMIND (Singer), Brent Hoyte (Bass) – and a reflective attitude. After his first song, he thanked the audience for supporting him after his brief hiatus. He explained that the record he released in October, Pieces of a Man, finds him in a different stage of life. “I’m coming from a place of reflection and looking back at where he’s been and where he’s from,” he explained.

But although Jenkins further embraces faith and spirituality on this record, he doesn’t fail to acknowledge all of the things that make him human. Before performing “Grace & Mercy,” he asked the smoke-filled room to “make some noise if you got up and got God today.” Almost everybody hollered back in response, even if it meant taking the J out of their mouths. But Jenkins’ God isn’t one who scorns at street life or a little bit of light drug use; instead, Jenkins sees God as someone looking over each of his decisions – questionable or not – as he’s grown in success over the years. Jenkins’ God is someone his fans can relate to and feel accepted by, whether they believe or not.

Jenkins made it easier to believe in a higher power every time he surprised fans by seamlessly floating into his singing voice, showing a different, vulnerable side of the rapper. Though Jenkins sings on his record, hearing him do it live feels like a special secret – like we’re witnessing him in a quiet moment when he thought he was by himself. In fact, his whole set felt almost conversational. His verses told the stories of where his mind has been the past two years and what he values now. He feels natural and confident, but not boastful, and grateful to be performing to a crowd that is echoing his every word.

Listen to Pieces of a Man below.

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