Vic Mensa: What Exactly is Going On?

By: Netah Osana  |  August 29, 2016

12879979184_efe7ef3f7f_bDropping his first seven track EP this past June, up and coming Chicago rapper, Vic Mensa, manages to pack a lot into a few songs. There’s Alot Going On is quite true to its name, a personal and political album that weaves Mensa’s bitter struggles and rewarding achievements, while intermixing tracks that address global issues such as racial injustice and inequality.

The opening track “Dynasty” establishes his album as a personal memoir, the predominant theme of the track being his elation and pride at having been signed to Jay Z’s Roc Nation Records label. This excitement is unveiled through his countless references made to the aforementioned label. In particular, the lyrically impressive line, “If the Roc is here, throw up your diamonds and hood cubics/ No ID said it’s time to take these goofy n****s out rap/ Drop bombs over Baghdad on these SoundCloud outcasts.” This references the record label while throwing shade at the nobodies on SoundCloud and making a pun referencing OutKast’s single “Bombs over Baghdad.” However, though Mensa’s album begins as an autobiography, there is an immediate shift in gears as he introduces a new theme on the second track, “16 Shots.”

Also serving as the inspiration for the art on the album cover, “16 Shots” hits close to home, as it’s a focused and powerful song about the shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago, Illinois. On October 20th, 2014, McDonald was shot 16 times by a Chicago police officer in the span of 13 seconds. Mensa’s anger toward law enforcement officers is evident through the passionate and furious tone he uses, and lines like, “Tension is high, man these n****s is irate/ You can see it in they eyes, they wanna violate” and “Somebody tell these mother******s keep they hands off me/ I ain’t a mother******g slave, keep your chains off me.” His contempt and rage is very much prevalent and he doesn’t shy away from being blatant and forceful as he condemns the systemic racism black people face.

On a track later in the album, “Shades of Blue,” Mensa addresses another world issue: the ongoing water crisis in Flint, Michigan. Although Mensa’s flow sounds slightly off on this track, with the instrumental background music and his rapping clashing at times, his lyrics are sharp. He manages to paint quite a vivid picture of the authority’s inability to fix the lack of basic human needs the citizens of Flint are currently facing: “Color of morning pee coming out of the sink/ It’s 2016 who would think/ Kids in America don’t have clean water to drink?”

“Danger” brings Mensa’s album back to the autobiographical slant it established in “Dynasty,” as it illustrates his life growing up in Chicago’s crime-ridden South Side neighborhood. However, it is my least favorite track on the album, as Mensa’s rap game is offbeat, his rhyming is awkward, and the hook doesn’t really pair well with the flow of the surrounding verses. He does get better as the song progresses, but I wish it had a more fluid sound throughout.

The fourth and fifth tracks, “New Bae” and “Liquor Locker” seem out of place, as they don’t follow the theme the album is trying to establish. However, as the lighter tracks on the album, they offer a refreshing vibe, since the first three tracks pack a heavy punch. They are both quite catchy; “New Bae” sounds more pop and auto-tuned, with an upbeat electronic keyboard riff in the beginning, and “Liquor Locker” sounds more R&B and less rap with soulful, beautiful guitar riffs throughout the song, rendering it my favorite track. Although they may disrupt the flow of the album, seeming out of place for Mensa’s music style, they impart a more jam worthy, popular sound, a necessary recess from the somber gravitas felt on this album.

The album closes with a very honest title track, where we get a final and deeply personal glimpse of the ups and downs Mensa faces as he gets further and further into the spotlight as a professional rapper. From dealing with problems of addiction, to battling depression: “The violence and the lies slipped suicide into my mental health/ I did acid in the studio one day and almost killed myself.” Mensa lets it all out as he airs his dirty laundry and reels his listeners into one of his most genuine and personal songs. He realizes ultimately that the only direction from here is up, and now that he’s laid all his cards on the table, he “wrote [his] wrongs all in this song now [he’d] like to welcome ya’ll to [his] season.”

In just half an hour, Mensa’s album inspires a wave of different emotions: anger with the police as I am faced with a stark image of brutality and racial injustice, thinking about sex, partying, and drinking, and finally, that final track, which leaves me feeling dismal, but also sympathetic. I commend Mensa for being able to lay down all his stories, thoughts, and emotions while remaining succinct and to the point. He manages to furnish an album mixed with pop jams, political odes, and personal struggles all in a mere seven tracks. Serving as a prelude to his approaching debut album, he gives us a sneak peek into what sounds, themes, and ideas we can find in his upcoming works, and I’ll be sure to check out what comes next as he develops into a promising and successful rapper.