At this point in his life, Vic Mensa has existed as many things to many people. Since stepping into the game at sixteen in the blog’s early days, he’s since navigated to the top and every corner that the music world offers. In 2013, his Innanetape,released only months after Acid Rap, had the city looking to a continued excellence with Mensa and Chance as the stalwarts. Since then, Mensa has embarked on a musical journey that has seen him transform from the boom-bap, instrumental sounds of Kids These Days to the dance-infused melodies of “Down On My Luck” and “Feel That”. Nowadays though, he’s segued into a punk-infused place of creation that has felt erratic since the release of There’s A Lot To Talk About. While he may still be looking for his classic, his latest project, Hooligans,finds Mensa working to settle into a new realization that might still be just beyond his grasp. Up and down in nature throughout, Hooligansgives listeners a peek into this latest intonation, but it may be a bit too scattered to achieve what he was hoping for.
Since he was a student at Whitney Young high school Mensa has been a thoughtful, revolutionary-minded individual. A regular at protests around the city, a staunch supporter of the city’s most important voices and leader of his community outreach program SaveMoney SaveLife, Mensa wears his politics on his sleeve everyday, sometimes literally. With so much of his messaging focusing on current events, police misconduct and the actions of fellow rappers, it was a bit off-putting to not catch much of that in the content of this project, which seems to jump back and forth from club songs like “Reverse”, “Klonopin” and “Dancing In The Streetz” with a few thoughtful singles sandwiched in between. Vic’s always been best when he appears vulnerable, which inherently is a rarity with the sort of insincerity that’s been inherent as of late. When he does take the cape off, close his eyes and allow himself to tell a story, he can do it with the best of them. The problem though is that we only usually get one of these songs on each album, often slotted in, like this one, just one before the end. This summer for instance we covered Mensa and SaveMoneySaveLife’s Bait Truck efforts to give away shoes in West Englewood in response to a well-publicized Chicago Police Department sting in the same neighborhood. A true man of the people, he was there all day in the blistering sun overseeing the giveaway, meeting with those in the community and putting real time in to make a difference. With so much thinly-veiled stunting on social media and the trend of turning the worst people into superstars, Vic really walks the talk, and should be celebrated for it. The thing is, I want to hear music about that. I want to hear music about how he feels about this SixNine stuff without having to take it to a beef. Honesty and sincerity will forever be at the heart of any creator from this city, on his latest project those elements feel a bit more buried than in the past.
Rapping over a sample of The Geto Boys’ hit “I Tried”, Mensa centers himself , thinks less and just let’s it go. His life has been dense, filled with more experiences than many of us could ever imagine before he could legally drink but it’s in these moments that he’s able to cut through the forest of memories and explain life in ways thats entertaining, thoughtful and deep without trying. It’s where he excels and the track even boasts Charlie Wilson of all people, but again is fairly lonely on the track listing.
Drug references throughout feel flat, forced, unexplained. “I know I said I quit drugs last time, that was last time, life in the fast lane.” Since 2014, Mensa’s music has been a amalgamation of him at times opening up, but in between creating a sort of altruistic facade that doesn’t always feel as authentic as it’s delivered. This isn’t meant as a reason to belittle anything about the artist, mores it serves as an observation in the evolution of someone trying to make sense of things in the spotlight. “In Some Trouble” with Ty Dolla $ign seems like a clear Roc Nation cash grab in an attempt to score Vic a single that has also been just out of reach since breaking out on his own. He’s always been a strong, unwavering voice. To me, he cemented his legend locally when he called Akademiks a bitch on Complex to his face. All we need now is for him to get to know himself a bit more, listen to that voice that’s obviously there throughout and create some more honesty. Vic Mensa is certifiably one of the best artists to emerge from Chicago in the last decade or beyond, it’s yet to be seen if he can certifiably live up to his own potential.