Vic Mensa, “The Autobiography”
Over the past few years it’s been hard to be a Vic Mensa fan; his campy EDM single “Down on My Luck” came right between jaw-dropping Kanye West collaborations, and the fearless protest jam “16 Shots” came on the same EP as the poor-man’s-Travis-Scott drone “New Bae,” almost redefining hit-or-miss output. On June’s The Manuscript EP, the rapper/singer sounded far more concerned with his “hip-pop” side than his Chicago conscious rap side—after all, it’s not easy to strike that balance the way his buddy Chance does. Finally, Mensa’s debut LP The Autobiography finds him more musically focused and intellectually connective than ever, but his apparent urge to be Common and Justin Bieber at the same time still wears on his content.
The twenty-something’s artistic turbulence over the years only makes the first track on The Autobiography, “Didn’t I (Say I Didn’t)” that much more elating—it’s a clear sonic homage to Kanye rapped over a sped-soul sample with The College Dropout’s same cheeky candor. Fierce organ-based gangster banger “Memories on 47th St.” follows; already, Mensa’s marked his territory as a to-the-bone Chicagoan. On the song, he raps out entire events of his life chronologically, including a time he nearly died falling off a bridge while, poignantly, sneaking into Lollapalooza. It’s impossible not to feel his pain here.
Lyrically, though, Mensa can get a little too simple, and his punch lines get a little less tolerable every time. “It’s like Macklemore at the Grammys, man, I just feel like you got some shit you didn’t deserve” is forwardly hilarious, but later, “I’m right there on cue like a pool stick” and “Women are like a greatest hits album—they get the best of me,” come in the same verse, and he doesn’t let up from there. Hiccups are sometimes forgivable under his moving themes and subjects, as he leaves no stone in his troubled city unturned—for example, “Heaven on Earth” offers the sort of psychological insight into gang violence that few artists know how to articulate, but the song’s chorus and aesthetic drown his potential as a rapper in corniness.
“Homewrecker” samples the morose guitar solo section of “The Good Life,” an old Weezer single that Pavlov-triggers sexual frustration for anyone who grew up on Pinkerton, making it a perfect instrumental for Mensa to dish on past relationships. He’s quick to identify as a childhood rock and roll fan in interviews, and songs like these reveal his rare ability to marry rock and hip-hop spirit simultaneously. At the same time, “Coffee & Cigarettes” demonstrates when his instincts as a rock singer lead him to total commercial drivel.
Moreover, Mensa is an admitted fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and on The Autobiography he’s like a hip-hop Anthony Kiedis—not quite as artistically adept as his counterparts, but even his clumsiest lines and choruses are delivered with a magnetic confidence you can’t help but warm up to.