Vic Mensa Shares His Life Story on ‘The Autobiography’ Album
Chicago’s reemergence as a breeding ground for rap talent may have been spurred in large part by the city’s patented drill sound, however, its extended presence on the national stage has been more the product of artists that would rather heal their hometown than glorify the violence that engulfs it. Vic Mensa, an artist out of that mix, is one of Chi-town’s more beloved scribes, as well as one of the city’s outspoken voices. This has resulted in his impact reaching far beyond the vocal booth, with his opinions on racial, sociopolitical and cultural issues all moving the needle.
Although the past few years have seen Mensa’s name pop up in more headlines than on tracklists, with the rapper having only released two EPs since his breakout 2013 mixtape, Innanetape, his sporadic activity has done little in terms of tempering anticipation for his major label debut. Having sorted through the personal turmoil, Vic Mensa, has returned with a renewed purpose on his long-awaited debut, The Autobiography, an album that places listeners squarely in the artists shoes, as he walks us through the peaks and valleys that defined his life in and out of the spotlight.
Executive produced by No I.D., who recently lent his Midas touch to albums by JAY-Z and Vince Staples, The Autobiography captures Vic Mensa finding comfort in nostalgia, as he harkens back to the characters and landmarks that are synonymous with his growth from a boy to a man. Sharing his sentiments for those closest to him, Vic Mensa opens The Autobiography with reverence on “Say I Didn’t,” a soulful composition produced by Carter Lang, BOOTS, Smoko Ono, Papi Beatz, No I.D. and Vic Mensa himself. “Didn’t I tell you this was the new birth of the Roc, nigga?” Mensa boasts, flaunting his affiliation with the house that Hov built, a partnership Vic marked by getting a tattoo of the label’s storied logo on his neck in 2015.
Featuring a sample of Darondo’s “Didn’t I,” “Say I Didn’t” plays as an open letter, with mentions of childhood friends and parents, and finds him atoning for straying from his Chi-town roots. “I got Chicago on my mind like I’m Ray Charles/Georgia, promise I’ll be faithful,” he rhymes, a line that is indicative of his hometown doubling as the muse to his debut.
Pictures of South Side are painted on “Memories on 47th St.,” an intense offering detailing Mensa’s close calls with a fate alternate to that of his current position as a rap star, including the 2010 Lollapalooza incident that nearly cost him his life after being electrocuted. One of the more eclectic newcomers in rap, Vic Mensa’s diverse palette of inspirations are showcased early on The Autobiography, as a sample of rock band Weezer’s “The Good Life” appears on “Homewrecker,” a selection inspired by his volatile relationship with ex-girlfriend Natalie Wright, whom Mensa has referenced on previous releases. With additional vocals provided by Weezer’s lead vocalist Rivers Cuomo, “Homewrecker” wins with its rollicking backdrop and Vic Mensa’s detailed storytelling, making it one of the album’s early highlights.
With death being a recurring topic in his music, it’s no surprise that ghosts from Vic Mensa’s past are present throughout The Autobiography, particularly Chicago graffiti artist and close friend DARE, who passed away in 2011, after being the victim of a shooting. His death is a tragedy that deeply affected the rapper. Vic Mensa chronicles the events that led to DARE’s death, as well as his feelings about his untimely passing, on “Heaven on Earth,” which includes an appearance by The-Dream, one of a number of high-profile collaborations on The Autobiography.
Fellow Chi-Town natives Joey Purp and Chief Keef pop up for a little reckless behavior on “Down for Some Ignorance (Ghetto Lullaby),” with Vic mocking the National Guard’s presence in his city as a response to the epidemic of violence that has made Chicago a poster child for murder and nihilism. Then Saul Williams and Pharrell Williams crash the party on the album’s lead single, “Wings.” Produced by Pharrell, “Wings” is, as Mensa himself describes, an “Introduction to Victor, not Vic Mensa/The one you never meet in a XXL issue.” He touches on his issues with mental health and battles with drug addiction, before picking up the pieces on “The Fire Next Time.” Vowing to leave the drama behind him while trudging forward with his head held high, “The Fire Next Time” finds Vic taking on the phoenix, rising from the ashes of the despair that clouded his vision in the wake of his rise to fame.
The liberation of Vic Mensa’s debut album is cause for celebration in itself, given the extensive wait, but that sword is a double-edged one, as it also puts added pressure to exceed expectations, which The Autobiography unfortunately doesn’t. While the LP is worth the wait and a worthy debut, it lacks the explosive selections and raw exuberance that put Vic’s Innanetape mixtape in classic territory and ignited his buzz. However, the rapper manages to deliver an album that puts you in tune with who he is as a person, marks the horrors of his past, and is indicative of his bright future as one of the more impactful artists in hip-hop.
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