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Rapper Mick Jenkins Loves the Museums in Pilsen

The hip-hop artist tells us why he chose to live and make music in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.

by Caroline Thompson
Feb 4 2016, 5:00am

Photo courtesy of Mick Jenkins

In honor of our new VICE Guide to Chicago, we asked some Chicago-based musicians and artists to act as our virtual tour guides and fill us in on their favorite spots in the city. This time, we hit up rapper Mick Jenkins to hear about why he chose to live and make music in Pilsen.

VICE: Hey, Mick. How long have you lived in Pilsen?
Mick Jenkins: The last two years.

Why did you move there initially?
I wanted a place where I could be myself. Before that, I felt like I was always under someone. I was always living with my mother, or with my aunt, or with a friend, or just in some kind of space where I couldn't be myself. I always felt like I had to operate in a certain way because somebody was doing me a favor.

I chose to live in Pilsen because it was a better neighborhood than the one I'd been in, but it was still on the South Side and it still had all of the qualities I loved. For the past two years, it's kind of been myself and the music, and this is a place that's definitely allowed me to do that.

How would you describe the neighborhood to someone who's never been there?
It's a changing neighborhood. It's very easy to see the Mexican influence. On the weekends, when you're out walking up and down the streets, you see that so many of the businesses are marketed in two languages. It's also very apparent in the style of food—you can just tell how influenced the whole neighborhood is by the Hispanic community.

It's definitely also a cozy place. There are other areas in Chicago where you can look up and down the street and be uncomfortable, but Pilsen is kind of on the border. In some areas you might feel like it's a little dingy, but when you live there you're in your space and when you walk around the streets, or hang out in the parks or at the corner store, you feel like a part of the area—a part of the culture and the character.

Describe the kind of people who live in Pilsen.
Creatives, honestly. That's who I see mostly. Pilsen is filled with galleries and creative spaces, and it's just got so many artists. The part of Pilsen where I live is closer to the highway on Halsted, in the Art District.

What's the best free activity in the neighborhood?
There's a carnival on Cermak that's pretty cool. It's something you should stop by. It has rides and attractions and it's largely Hispanic. It's full of lots of people with different lives and different food.

What's the weirdest thing that's ever happened to you on the CTA?
I was on a bus once, and the driver kicked these guys off. When they exited, the bus wouldn't start, because they'd cut it off. There's a button on the back of the bus under this flap—I don't know how it works—but it shuts the bus down. It really messed with the driver. You could see how they'd lifted up the hatch. We had to wait for another bus.

I don't know if you can still do that to a bus, though. This happened when I was in high school.

Let's say I want to take a walking tour of Pilsen. Where do I go?
Depending on how much of a walk you're ready for, I would start on 18th and Canal and just head west. Once you pass Halsted, you'll start seeing a lot more of the Hispanic flavor of the neighborhood. You'll see stores and thrift shops and food.

What's the best taco joint in the neighborhood?
I'm a vegetarian, so I usually have to make my own. Nobody out on the street is really making vegetarian tacos.

What do you do when you're bored?
I go to museums. There are low-key museums in Pilsen. There's a museum right across the street from me that I didn't even realize was a museum. I thought it was a school. It's a Hispanic heritage museum.

Is it the Museum of Mexican Art?
I think that's exactly what it is. On 19th. I like all at museums, so when I'm bored I try to find some new ones.

What's the most serene spot in the neighborhood?
There's a bocce ball park by my house with benches that are there year-round. It's a nice area, like a family place. It's mowed periodically and the community tends to it. I always wonder, Who keeps these balls out here? Why don't they get stolen and shit? That's what would happen in any other neighborhood.

On 18th, and a little further down Damen, there's this really nice restaurant patio. They let people come sit there even if you don't want any food. It's just outside and really, really colorful. These places are tended to by the community, indirectly or directly. Everywhere I've been in Pilsen is kind of serene—even other people's houses, or just walking around the neighborhood.

*****

MICK JENKIN'S QUICK PICKS
Favorite bus line: J14
Worst outfit you've worn during a polar vortex: Just a jacket and T-shirt, trying to be cute.