Vic Mensa Shows A Courage Rarely Seen In Hip-Hop (Audio)
Having freshly delivered his Roc Nation debut There’s Alot Going On last week (June 3), Chicago, Illinois’ Vic Mensa’s latest work has been making the rounds in the blogosphere and on the radio. Over the weekend, he visited Hot 97 in New York City to deliver a freestyle over “Drug Dealers Anonymous” and was slated to perform at the local Governors Ball Festival, but inclement weather prevented him from taking to the stage. Nevertheless, Heads are being treated to his talent through what is being called the most insightful work of his fledgling career, which began with 2012’s Traphouse Rock, which he released as a member of the now-defunct group Kids These Days.
Now a Grammy-nominated songwriter for his work on Kanye West’s “All Day,” Mensa is being heralded for the personal subject matter of his new project which, despite being only seven tracks long, manages to dose listeners with a full serving of reflections on life, its struggles, and its victories. That vulnerability is on full display on the E.P.’s title track, a bold look into the psyche of an artist who admits he isn’t perfect in the very first bar. He details his foray into fame at a young age, the vices that came along with it, and a particularly dark incident in which he “ended up in the closet with my hands around her neck.” In admitting that he was “too proud to apologize,” Mensa paints an image that is often not conjured up in Rap music – that of a man whose shortcomings lead him to act in shameful ways. For the video, it is just Vic—rapping his own reality, giving Heads a glimpse into his own life and times.
“There’s Alot Going On” is a searingly intimate track that includes references to drowning, addiction, psychosis, depression, and suicide. For those reasons, it may be one of the most relatable tracks of his career. After all, vulnerabilities are part of our composition. Earlier today (June 6), Mensa joined The Breakfast Club to discuss the song, EP and where his thoughts are these days. During his time on the show, the MC displayed his vulnerabilities and how he parlayed them into work meant to enlighten, engage, and uplift.
Charlamagne Tha God opens up the conversation with his thoughts on Mensa’s “16 Shots,” which he calls “a very, very socially conscious record” that he’s “sure is gonna piss off a whole lot of police.” Right away, it’s evident Mensa’s goals with the song are to ignite rebuke from those in positions of authority, as he responds to Charlamagne’s comment about the police likely being pissed off with “that’s good.” But what is also evident is that there’s much more to the record than an undertone of “FTP.” Mensa goes on to say that the song is a record he made “based on my experience back in the street in Chicago after a kid named Laquan McDonald was murdered by a police officer named Jason Van Dyke. He clipped on him 16 shots. Super unnecessary and then they withheld the video,” he says of law enforcement’s handling of the incident, explaining that he believes it went down like that so the mayor, Rahm Emanuel, could get re-elected. As he describes it, McDonald’s death was an example of the “one degree of separation” he personally feels.
His purview on the matter is not surprising, given the frequent reports of gun violence in his hometown. On June 4, the New York Times published “A Weekend in Chicago: Where Gunfire Is a Terrifying Norm,” a deeply troubling piece which outlined the 64 shooting victims and six deaths that took place in a 48-hour span. In reflecting on “16 Shots,” Mensa says such occurrences of violence are “close to home for me. It’s not just something I’m seeing on the news or something that I’m detached from.” The residual emotional effects of such trauma reverberate throughout the whole E.P., including “the idea of trusting in people that are supposed to be in positions to help us,” he says.
For such a young artist, admitting so publicly, through his work and through is words, that trust has been repeatedly betrayed is rare, particularly when qualities like self-reliance and detachment are overwhelmingly prevalent in Hip-Hop.