By Eric Epstein
Photos by Ben Moskow
22 Nov, 2019
At the House of Vans, Mick Jenkins and Kevin Gates played at what felt like a glorified warehouse party. The wooden scaffolding, high ceilings, and skateboard ramps scattered throughout the venue gave the space an industrial and urban feel.
Music collective Yeti Out and Chinese-born rapper Bohan Phoenix opened for the “Vans Musicians Wanted” festival.
When Chicago native Mick Jenkins was introduced, he received a thunderous applause before thanking the crowd and promptly starting his set. He made sure to rep the venue’s namesake with a Vans-branded jacket, t-shirt, and red checkered shoes.
Jenkins didn’t have overwhelming stage energy by any means, but he did make sure to rap nearly every bar of his set — an impressive feat considering the wide array of flows and rhythms that his songs feature. However, he was especially passionate while performing “Jazz” from his 2014 album The Waters, and his 2018 single “What Am I To Do.”
Jenkins made very quick transitions between songs and rotated between his older music and songs off of his 2018 album Pieces of a Man. He teased the audience that he would be dropping new music by the end of the year. “Lemme hear it if y’all want some new shit,” he shouted to the crowd as they cheered and applauded.
Throughout his set, Jenkins repeated his manta, “drink more water,” while the audience chanted along. Cans of water were handed out to audience members as they entered the venue, so the crowd definitely had the means to follow Jenkins’ advice. True to his brand, Jenkins’ beverage of choice was Fiji water that he sipped throughout his performance.
Before he performed his finale, the title track off of The Waters, Jenkins thanked the live drummer that played for his entire set, encouraged the audience to “make some motherfucking noise cause you breathing,” and spoke about his past year — including getting engaged.
Louisiana rapper Kevin Gates took the stage about 15 minutes after Jenkins’ set ended. He came out with an abundance of energy and got the crowd fired right from the get-go. He was able to more or less maintain that level of energy throughout his performance, as he bounced up and down the long rectangular stage that extended toward the crowd. Unlike Jenkins, however, he played his lyrics in the background and skipped out on lines quite frequently. Gates was also clad in a Vans t-shirt and shoes.
At one point in the set, Gates acknowledged some of the sexual dance moves that he had been doing throughout his performance. “If you have a problem with me being sexually explicit, please cover your ears and eyes because I’m not fucking sorry at all,” he told the audience. He also went on a long and convoluted rant about his struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts. Although he ended the talk by saying that those who are suffering from depression are not alone, his meandering speech that seemed to glorify suicide at points convinced me that although Gates is only a mediocre hip-hop talent, he is even less adept as a mental health spokesperson.
Before his finale, “I Don’t Get Tired,” Gates said a short prayer into the microphone where he thanked God, his friends and family, and the audience for his current situation. Afterwards, he smiled and called the prayer “simple and gangsta.”
Overall, I was extremely satisfied with the show that Mick Jenkins put on. Although he is not super high-energy or animated, he let his unique brand of gritty, intelligent, and technical Chicago hip-hop shine. I appreciated the energy that Gates brought to his show and his antics between songs definitely made it a unique show, but otherwise his live performance was pretty lackluster and I will not be trying particularly hard to see another one of his shows.