Vic Mensa Talks Personal Debut On ‘Rap Radar’
With his official debut, The Autobiography, Chicago rapper Vic Mensa offers a hard look into his life. The album finds the Roc Nation rhymer putting his experiences on wax like relationship drama (“Homewrecker”) and the death of his friend in a robbery gone wrong (“Heaven On Earth”).
“This album is for me really returning to square one and the themes I’m touching on, just the lyrical content and the production, the styles included and sampled, the people involved, it just feels like the way that I would want to do a debut album,” he tells Elliott Wilson and B.Dot on episode 4 of the Rap Radar podcast. “This is what feels the most me, the most personal, the most revealing, the most honest…”
His South Side roots seep into the super personal project, which was executive produced by Dion “No I.D.” Wilson. He offers context about living in Hyde Park in a two-parent home, and being exposed to drug dealing and police brutality.
At the root of it all, Mensa believes that it’s pain that fuels hate and does his best to find the good in evil. “I’m not making music per se to be a role model but with a song like “Rollin’ Like A Stoner,” I wanted to do that little piece right there before it to give you context to make you not just think I’m glorifying running around and popping pills and driving drunk and falling out of shit,” he says.
“I’m talking about it because it’s shit I really did and it’s shit that I might do to this day. The underlying theme of “Rolling Like a Stoner” is I have a problem that nobody knows so I’m just telling my experiences and I want them to be understood as just that — experiences ‘cause I feel that nothing that I do am I doing to follow a trend or just to glorify drug use or violence.”
Elsewhere on the podcast, Mensa also breaks down the “new birth of the Roc” line in “Say I Didn’t” and being a student of the rap game, even before meeting his Roc Nation boss, JAY-Z. “I was really studying Hov’s music before I ever shook his hand and I kinda knew him before I knew him. That’s the cloth that I stitched my own pattern from, it’s like the cloth of Hov and Kanye [West] and Common and No I.D. and all these people that I’m now blessed to have in my life. I think it’s not a coincidence.”
“I’m bringing a new energy to it, to the family that’s informed by the past and also, I’m bringing my own specific angle,” he continues. “I grew up reading Malcolm X and Huey Newton. I got a couple things to add. At the same time with Kurt Cobain and Prince and JImi Hendrix, I feel like I got a couple energies to build on to already the strongest brand in hip-hop.”
Mensa also digs deep on the intense track “Heaven On Earth,” where he raps from his perspective and that of his fallen friend, DARE, and the killer. “I was just in a zone, trying to give perspective, and give sides to the story, and I feel that very rarely are the victims and perpetrators of Chicago violence taken out of just being numbers and brought back to being human beings. I’ve never met a purely evil person.”
The pensive lyricist also reflected on how Hov advised him to remove a diss towards another rapper from the album and how he had patched it up with the MC himself.
“You have such a bigger purpose than diluting my message with disses and silly feuds because honestly in that situation, the person that I had mentioned in a lyric was managed by somebody I’ve known for a really long time too and I wasn’t taking into account what was going on with this artist,” he explains.
“When I spoke to that person, he broke it down to me, too, that really made me think. He’s like, man, we have so many people trying to keep us out of the building. We been tryna get in the door for so long but not we in the building in a really major way as a community that it’s so unnecessary, whatever the problem may be or preferences in music, it’s just unnecessary as a young black man to be pulling down another black man, point blank period.”
Mensa also notes that this project is one he could be proud of. “This is music that I know I can stand on in 15, 20 years, and I can honor this song that I wrote for my homie that got killed in Chicago, I can honor these different records and experiences, and I think they’re gonna be around for a long time.”
Watch the full episode below.
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