Fame and the music industry is not always an easy concept to deal with for some. Chicago artist Vic Mensa is the first to tell a listener the struggles a young emcee might face while riding that path to success. With his long-awaited debut of “The Autobiography” hitting the net and stores, on July 28, 2017, Mensa candidly speaks about battling with depression, anxiety, addiction, social injustice, and the frustrations of a black youth in today’s America. On each track, Mensa vividly and passionately paints a picture of his struggles and inner demons that give the listener a deeper look into the makings of this rising star.
Although he is relatively new to the rap game, Mensa has already reached levels of success in his career that many rappers are still striving to meet. At just 24, he has signed with Jay Z’s label Roc Nation, released the lukewarm hit “Down on My Luck” in 2014, headlined Lollapalooza, performed at several concerts and shows, collaborated with Kanye West, Skrillex, and worked with Chance the Rapper as part of the group Savemoney. Mensa’s accolades reach far beyond the culture of shelving out hit singles and features, which has become a norm for many up-and-coming artists. Mensa’s reach is steadily growing but even with all these accomplishments, little light has shed on the artist solely.
Appropriately titled “The Autobiography,” Mensa does not waste any time letting listeners know what he has been through growing up in South Side Chicago. Opening with “Memories on 47th Street,” he recalls his first encounters with racism and dealing with the police. Being pulled off of his bike at the age of 12, he realized, it did not matter that his ethnicity was German, Irish, and Ghanese, he was seen as just another black boy who might have been doing wrong in the eyes of the American judicial system.
This kind of reminder that no matter what he did in life, he would still be seen as nothing more than a negative stereotype in the eyes of the law, had some effects on the psyche. Seguing into adolescence, Mensa’s path took a bit of a darker turn with “Rolling Like a Stoner” and the Weezer-assisted “Homewrecker.” Both illustrate his battles with growing addiction and infidelity. These moments in his life were equally damaging and rock star-esque. The young emcee even boasts about having two women at the same time in the Syd-assisted “Gorgeous.”
The mix of drugs, sex, and partying fueled the next chapter of Mensa’s life and the sound of this album.”Down for Some Ignorance” is basically what a listener can expect; a gritty and heavy bass driven track. Accompanied by fellow Chicago rapper Chief Keef and Joey Purp, the song is supposed to serve as the album’s turn-up anthem, but falls short of really getting a listener hyped enough to bounce around the house with their shirt off or partake in any ratchet activity, i.e. Chief Keef’s “Sosa” or “I Don’t Like.”
With all the partying, sex, and drugs used to mask the trials of the star-to-be, he attempted to put a sound to his journey of escapism. The deep, Pharrell-assisted “Wings” illustrates the drug-induced thoughts going through Mensa’s mind. From suicidal thoughts to self-doubt and shame about his life; these are the beginning signs of self-destructive depression. All the success and accomplishments were overshadowed by the fact his mind was so chemically-induced that he could not comprehend his own excellence or part to play in his rise to greatness.
“Wings” is the start of the emotional part of “The Autobiography” and the beginning of introspection. One of the most emotionally rich tracks on the debut comes from “Heaven on Earth.” With The Dream crooning on the hook, Mensa pens an open letter to the passing of a friend. It becomes clear that it was more than just responsibilities and growing up in America that Mensa was running away from. There is a deeper pain he is going through; the passing of close friends. Hearing about the death of a childhood friend is always hard, especially on the path to stardom, and an artist may be surrounded by those who just want something from him.
It is not just the loss of old friends to street violence that Mensa is sensitive to, but the loss of many innocent young black people in America. If “16 Shots” and “There’s Alot Going On” was Mensa letting out his frustration to the senseless police brutality, “We Could Be Free” is his opus of hope that the country could become a better place for any color.
“The Autobiography” finds the artist not holding back in delivering an emotional, introspective, and informative piece about what really has been going on in his mind during his journey. From suffering due to police profiling and abuse at the age of 12, to coping with depression and self-doubt while battling an addiction, to the loss of close friends to senseless violence, he has risen above the dark times in his life and become another voice of Chicago in a post-West music era.
It is clear that he is passionate about his craft and the pain he has suffered, but his passion tends to outshine his lyricism in many of his tracks. Even with the aid of No I.D., Ty Dolla Sign, Pharrell, and others on production, Mensa’s words tend to ramble on the beat. Strong emotion and gusto begin to outweigh his ability to catch the rhythm and poetically deliver his words over the beat. “The Autobiography” is as much of a pop/rock album as it is a rap album. With no stand-out hits on this project, this album serves as more of an introduction piece than a chart-topping banger. The 15 tracks are not just a view into the mind of the artist’s pain, but therapy for Mensa himself.
Opinion by Tyler Cole
Edited by Jeanette Smith
NPR: On ‘The Autobiography,’ Vic Mensa Faces His Personal Demons And Emerges Stronger
Consequence of Sound: Vic Mensa shares debut album The Autobiography
Vic Mensa: Official Website
Featured, Top, and Fifth Image Courtesy of Roc Nation – Used With Permission
Second Image Courtesy of Twitter/Vic Mensa – USed With Permission
Third Image Courtesy of Philip Cosores – Creative Commons License
Fourth Image Courtesy of Instagram/Vic Mensa – Creative Commons License