On the sixth floor of the Ace Hotel in Chicago, Vic Mensa played his debut full-length album, The Autobiography, for the first time to a crowd of excited fans, journalists and friends. The 24-year-old rapper wanted to debut the album in Chicago because it’s his hometown. Born and raised on the South side in Hyde Park, Mensa comes from a middle-class family but faced a storm of adversity. This album is, as the title suggests, an autobiography of Mensa’s life up to this point. Rather than boast about the fame and fortune he’s amassed, Mensa’s lyrics invite us into the inner workings of his everyday life.
A former protégé of Kanye West and a current member of the Savemoney crew, which also includes Chance the Rapper and Towkio, Mensa has never really bought into the lavish rap lifestyle. “I grew up in a gated community, but I knew all about what was happening in my hood,” he said to the crowd before playing “Memories on 47th.” The track is a look into Mensa’s childhood and how Chicago has shaped his lyrics. Like many Chicago rappers, the city is a part of his persona, but its influence can really be felt in his songs. In 2015, Mensa protested alongside thousands of Chicagoans over the murder of Laquan McDonald by white police officer Jason Van Dyke. “16 Shots,” one of his most well-known and powerful songs, is about McDonald’s murder — “Ready for the war, we got our boots strapped/100 deep on State Street, where the troops at?”
Mensa makes a point that the album isn’t really about guest stars, but those who are featured on the album really show his range in musical tastes. “Homewrecker,” a slightly angry yet heartfelt ballad about his ex-girlfriend, is a collaboration with Weezer. “Pinkerton is my favorite Weezer album,” Mensa said before playing the track. Rivers Cuomo wails at the end of the song, and Weezer fans will recognize their alt-rock guitar sounds throughout the track.
The most powerful songs on the album are “Heaven on Earth” and “Wings,” two songs about a subject that’s famously been avoided in the hip-hop community: mental health. “Heaven on Earth” is a tribute to Cam, aka Dare, a friend of Vic’s who was murdered over a trunk full of drugs. The song is told through multiple points of view as diary entries and letters; it’s a feat of songwriting that demonstrates the rapper’s emotional capabilities and growth since his freshman tracks.
“Wings,” the standout track on the album, is a collaboration with Pharrell Williams and Saul Williams that has Mensa telling the whole world about his near drug addiction and persisting thoughts about suicide. “I really want y’all to listen to this one,” Mensa said before starting this track, and everyone (save a few girls who just had to use Snapchat) lowered their phones and cameras in respect. “The voices in my head keep talkin’ / I don’t wanna listen / You’ll never be good enough n*gga…you’re still a drug addict, you’re nothin’ without your medicine…” Vic’s rapped about these issues before, but “Wings” carries a different weight. Rather than talk about those around him, the rapper focuses on his inner demons, ones that everyone has had to battle before. His ability to get in the listener’s head is one of his biggest strengths, and this is what will separate him from other artists in years to come.
The listening party ended with the world premiere of “Rage,” the visual accompaniment to The Autobiography. With a huge smile on his face, Mensa’s father stood beside his son in an old concert tee of Vic’s and some very classy kicks. (Vic playfully pointed that out to the crowd: “Find my dad, he’s wearing Yeezys!”) With such an incredible debut album (Mensa has only released mix tapes up to this point), it’s impossible to project where this rapper’s going to land. One thing’s for certain, though–he can only go up.
Mensa will be supporting Justin Bieber’s stadium tour throughout the U.S. and Canada from July 29 to September 6. He will also be playing back in Chicago at Riot Fest on September 16.
The Autobiography will be released on July 28. Preorder the album HERE.