Vic Mensa is part of a new generation of young rappers taking over the hip-hop world.
The 23-year-old rapper has already worked with several music industry legends, from Damon Albarn to Jay Z. He’s written songs for Kanye West, performed with J. Cole, and won praise for his searing, personal lyrics.
Like Chance the Rapper, Mensa is a new leader in the genre. With his new extended play “There’s Alot Going On,” he’s on the cusp of stardom.
Mensa’s mixtape “Innanetape” made waves in 2013.
After spending some time in the Chicago hip-hop scene, Mensa released his second mixtape on September 30, 2013, at age 20.
It featured a bunch of fellow Chicago rappers and quickly won acclaim in hip-hop publications. XXL wrote, “Vic shows a keen ability to bend words at will, cramming syllables into lines with obvious glee.” Songs like “Orange Soda” and “Tweakin’,” which featured fellow Chicago rap prodigy Chance the Rapper, revealed a talent for playful and witty lyrics.
His got widespread attention when he performed at Governors Ball.
Mensa said he wanted to work more with Albarn in the future, and it looks like his wish might come true. He’s been spotted in the recording studio working on Albarn’s upcoming album.
The rapper released his first official single in May 2014, and it made the charts in the United Kingdom.
“Down on My Luck” is highly danceable track that showed the artist’s versatility. He included it in his first EP, “Street Lights,” later that year.
As with Chance the Rapper, a collaboration with Kanye West put Mensa on the next level.
West and Mensa first joined forces on Kanye’s song “All Day,” which got Mensa a Grammy nomination as a co-writer. Later, they worked together on a version of “Wolves,” a song on Kanye’s album “Life of Pablo.” The two performed the song with Sia on a special 40th anniversary episode of “Saturday Night Live.” Mensa employed his vocal skills to a sweeter, more melancholic effect than he had in his previous work.
But when “The Life of Pablo” was released a year later, Sia’s and Mensa’s verses were nowhere to be heard. West removed them and added a few Frank Ocean verses to the song.
Another version of the song, with Mensa, Sia, and Ocean all included, leaked online. Fans asked Kanye to make that version the official one, and Kanye tinkered with the song even more. Eventually, he released the new version, with Mensa’s and Sia’s contributions included and Ocean’s outro as a separate short song, titled “Frank’s Track.”
Mensa found his voice with “There’s Alot Going On.”
Mensa released his latest EP on June 3, ahead of his forthcoming album, “Traffic.” It’s a sharp counterpoint to the various sounds he’s experimented with throughout his career. And it makes a political statement.
Lyrically, the songs tackles issues like the Flint Water Crisis and the Chicago government’s cover-up of Laquan McDonald. They also deal with subjects like the pitfalls of drinking too much and his dangerous upbringing in Chicago.
The album cover shows Mensa standing as a target for shooting practice, the bullets landing around him.
Mensa is releasing the album for free to anyone who pledges to vote in this year’s presidential election on respectmyvote.com.
The most important song on the album is its title track. Mensa directed the music video for “There’s Alot Going On” himself, and says he was inspired by Gun N’ Roses’ music video for “Don’t Cry.”
In it, Mensa sings about his ambition and self-doubt, tracing his life and career through his strained relationship with a former girlfriend, his disputes with former collaborators, signing with Jay Z’s record label, and working with Kanye West. It’s his opus and the best example of Mensa’s talent yet.
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