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Album Review: Vic Mensa – The Autobiography

4 min read
Photo: Frank Ockenfels III

The Chicago rap scene is one of the finest in the world, and sat on the throne is one Vic Mensa. After a number of impressive mixtapes and EPs under his belt, The Autobiography signifies Mensa’s technical first studio album. Over the course of the record, Mensa covers deeply personal issues such as the deaths of friends alongside his own struggles with his mental health. Seeing a hip-hop artist openly speak about mental health issues will be a significant milestone in reducing the stigma.

Plenty of albums these days could boast a list of collaborators more impressive than Pharrell Williams and Weezer, but young Mensa has all these and more! Taking their talent in his stride and using them to further his own talent dictates a wiseness way beyond his years.

Opener Didn’t I (Say I Didn’t) is powered by soul by the bucketload, carrying the torch of the Chicago music scene forward into the future. Spouting rhymes at a rate of knots, it’s clear that Mensa would bleed rap if he could. His flow may not be the fastest, but it’s certainly one of the most passionate. Dedicating the track to his deceased grandmother, Mensa feels he owes a debt to the women who made him – highlighting that male rappers can be key in pushing feminism forward.

Memories On 47th St. details Mensa’s his childhood growing up in the South Side of Chicago, a key part of which being the time Mensa first experienced racial inequality. “At age 12 I learned the difference between white and black, police pulled me off my bike, I landed on my back”, at a time when racial tension in America is once again reaching a catalyst, Mensa’s words echo hauntingly with the memories of those who continue to fall victim to unjust racial profiling. But not even a 15,000 volt electric shock to the arm can hold Mensa down, rap music was made for people like Vic – and people like Vic were made for rap music.

Mensa flitters between retrospective looks at his life so far towards his outlook on what the rest of his life will be like from now on. With Rollin’ Like A Stoner Mensa goes into the struggles of resisting the party culture surrounding drugs and alcohol that many famous faces fall victim to. Alcoholism and drug usage in the music industry is a serious issue, and once again Mensa shows his forward thinking nature by tackling such issues head on through his music.

Gorgeous features the talents of Syd (of The Internet) for one of many highlights across The Autobiography. Once again Mensa is tapping into the old Chi soul scene whilst refusing to dilute his own style, the result is an Outkast-lite intro that bleeds into a 2017 era version of Wasn’t Me by Shaggy (less gimmicky though thank god). Poor Mensa is only human, and Gorgeous covers his long list of girl problems. Granted he appears to have brought many of these problems on himself, but at least the boy is humble about his womanising.

Unfortunately Down For Some Ignorance (Ghetto Lullaby) isn’t the Ghetto Gospel follow up the world needs right now, instead it’s perhaps the biggest crossover tune on this record. Featuring Chief Keef and Joey Purp, it’s a skulking rap tune that would fill dance floors were it given the speedy remix treatment. Coffee & Cigarettes opens like a Queen song! On paper it seems out of place, but when play is pressed everything comes together in true Mensa style. There is a much softer side to Vic, as he digs down to his inner Frank Ocean to sing his heart out to the girl he loved and lost.

We Could Be Free enlists man of the moment Ty Dolla $ign to help, but again the spotlight remains permanently on Mensa. The closing moments of The Autobiography are much more tender than the first half, tracking the highs and lows Vic has experienced in his young life. It’s clear Mensa feels guilt about being a survivor in life where others haven’t been so lucky, making me want to yell MY HEART and support him forever.

Vic Mensa might not be as poetic as Chance The Rapper, but this Chicago prince more than proves himself of equal stature to his counterpart. He is thoughtful, passionate, caring and humble about his journey throughout The Autobiography and the result is an incredibly personal affair that will take you in and make you feel all warm inside. Hip-hop isn’t always aggressive and Mensa perfectly channels that softer side, bringing you into the bosom of Chicago pride. I’m not even from Chicago, but damn now I wish I was.