PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Vic Mensa: The Autobiography

While it may not be his most innovative offering, detailed execution and honesty make it worthwhile.


Vic Mensa

The Autobiography

Label: Roc Nation
US Release Date: 2017-07-28
Amazon
iTunes

Chicago has been making its mark in the rap game as of late. Much of that can be attributed to the success of Chance the Rapper and the much-publicized free release of Coloring Book in 2016. But Chance’s SaveMoney co-member Vic Mensa thinks there’s room for two in the new frontier of Windy City rap, making waves of his own since his mixtape Innanetape came out in the fall of 2013. And even before that his indie rock-jazz-rap fusion group Kids These Days put out a couple of excellent EPs that turned heads. The early Vic Mensa had a lot of life and carefree spirit in him, much like the attitude we’ve come to love from Chance.

Last year’s EP There’s Alot Going On, however, marked a change in tone. After signing with Roc Nation, an already differentiating factor from his fellow Chicagoan, Mensa took on a darker, harder-hitting sound with heavier subject matters like police brutality (“16 Shots”). On his most recent delivery, The Autobiography, Mensa continues to convey the heaviness of street life with a glimmer of hope for change through tried and true narrative methods. While it may not be his most innovative offering, detailed execution and honesty make it worthwhile.

“Say I Didn’t” begins the album as a prologue of sorts about how Mensa has now “made it” whilst giving us a glimpse at his musical beginnings influenced by ‘70s soul (Darondo, Ray Charles, Diana Ross), old school rappers (Ol’ Dirty Bastard and Nate Dogg), and alternative rock groups (Weezer). It’s a feel-good intro to start off an album that quickly turns somber and emotionally heavy for most of its runtime.

The ironic “Rollin’ Like a Stoner” sounds like it should be the club banger of the summer. But over the murky synths and ticking trap hi-hats, Mensa outlines his issues with drugs, alcohol, depression, and feeling anti-social. The outro adds a bit of foreshadowing: “Dreaming of the good days that I had / Now I'm hearing the voices in my head / Tellin' me to jump off of the edge / I got a problem nobody knows.”

These lines are immediately followed by “Homewrecker”, a track where Vic admits to two-timing his girlfriend over a sample from Weezer’s “The Good Life”. Rivers Cuomo interweaves the two songs as he closes out pleadingly, “I wanna go back.”

More importantly, “Stoner” introduced Mensa’s suicidal thoughts, a major focal point for the rest of the album. His depression hits its lowest on “Wings” featuring excellent production from Pharrell and an outro from Saul Williams. Vic’s loose flow eases over the beat, and when the beat picks up, Vic’s intensity glues him to the rhythm as he voices his self-hate, ending with “Climb the tallest building and spread your wings.”

In that low of suicidal thoughts, Mensa realizes that there are others in pain and asks on closer “We Could Be Free”, “Who am I to contemplate suicide / In those times I try to remember / That we could be free truly / If we only knew we were slaves to the pains of each other.” And with this message of brotherly love, Mensa ends his narrative with a hope for a better present and a continuing fight against the struggles of depression and pain.

It’s clear Mensa put a lot of thought into the arrangement of his album to create an impact and get his message across. And his honest attempts are undeniable. Thematically however, barring the specifics of Mensa’s life (which we could’ve done without on tracks like “Gorgeous” and “Coffee & Cigarettes”), much of it can be compared to other greater works. The narrative of “Heaven on Earth”, while intriguing and still a highlight, strongly brings to mind Eminem’s “Stan”, even using the scratching of pencil on paper and utilizing a very similar twist ending. And some of the spoken word interludes remind of Kendrick Lamar’s expertly executed narrative poem on To Pimp a Butterfly.

Another issue that plagues Autobiography is the occasional cheesy lyric flubs. While being immersed in this depressed, moody state for most of the album, lyrics like “Tryna take over the world like Pinky and the Brain” and talking about smoking with Kurt Cobain who apparently likes Mensa’s work come across as silly and insincere.

With a few misfires and a fairly traditional take on narrative set aside, Mensa’s Autobiography is still so well-crafted that it makes (almost) every track worthwhile. Let’s hope that after working through the darkest parts of his history, he’s able to push forward with new life and vigor akin to what he delivered earlier on in his career.

6

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Books

Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.

Music

Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.

Books

Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.

Film

In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.

Music

The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.

Television

The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Music

The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller
Music

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.

Music

When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.

Music

20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.

Music

The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.

Books

Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.

Music

Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."

Music

50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.

Film

Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.

Film

The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.

Music

Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Music

'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.