Vic Mensa – The Autobiography Album Review
Over the past few years, the hype around a debut project from Vic Mensa has continued to mount, and for good reason. He has a cosign from both Kanye West and Jay-Z, is signed to Roc Nation, and had mainstream success with the 2015 party banger “U Mad?” After releasing the EP There’s Alot Going On in 2016, Mensa is back with his debut album The Autobiography.
Since bursting on to the scene, Vic Mensa’s style has changed significantly from the guy people first fell in love with during his XXL cyphers and freestyles. Mensa has dived head first into political issues both inside and outside of his music career, being seen at protests and being very public about who he supported in the 2016 Presidential election. His sound has changed as well and can be classified as a punk rap style.
These are welcome changes as Vic Mensa has shown incredible progress over the years, most notably his singing voice, which gets better with each project. The production on the album is also top notch, thanks in large part to Executive Producer No I.D. From start to finish, this project mixes variety and flow that can be appreciated by passive or critical listeners.
Vic Mensa’s strongest attribute continues to be his storytelling abilities, the best example of this story telling being “Heaven on Earth.” Over the five minute and 17 second runtime, Mensa tells the story of his good friend and Chicago graffiti artist Killa Cam, also known as DARE, who was killed in Chicago in 2011. The song serves as a letter to his friend in heaven and how they interact now that he is gone. Mensa illustrates the complexity of a friend’s death in a way modern hip hop artists often avoid. Lyrically, Vic Mensa is not as strong as his contemporaries, but instead offers more emotional and immersive storytelling than his counterparts. Mensa is raw emotionally, which hits home with such a serious subject matter. He’s very personal with the listener and is not afraid to share the most intimate details about this situation. There is the great storytelling that is just great about putting you in the situation, but then there is Mensa, who puts you in his emotions and uses the listener as his diary.
Some of the themes on this album conflict with one another in a big way though. Both “Homewrecker” and “Gorgeous” find Mensa telling stories of his past cheating, but both songs feel misguided in the way he describes the women in the songs. He calls them “crazy” for the way they react to infidelity, when in fact their reactions are rational and justified. Then later on “Coffee & Cigarettes,” Mensa talks about his first true love and recognizes that his cheating ways cause warranted, negative reactions from the women he loves. “Coffee & Cigarettes” is a beautiful love song that makes it hard to understand how Mensa could have come to the conclusions he did in his earlier tracks.
Another aspect of Vic Mensa’s life he talks about extensively are his “demons.” “Rollin’ Like a Stoner,” although styled like a pop hit that you would undoubtedly hear at a college party, has Mensa repeatedly say, “I got a problem nobody knows.” “Wings” takes a look at the depression that Mensa alludes to throughout the entire album and the addictions it has spawned. Mensa is so candid about suicide in a time where people are afraid to talk about it, and rightly so as it is a touchy subject. But Mensa pulls you in and tells you the true realities of his life many other rappers are afraid to lay out. His life is not all fast cars and diamond chains, but also heartbreak and a want for something more that currently leaves him empty.
Mensa poignantly ties these themes together with track 13, “We Could Be Free.” On “We Could Be Free,” Mensa sings beautifully about a future where he and his enemies put their differences aside and live as one. Vic Mensa on the song sounds deeply saddened by the things he has seen in his city of Chicago and, even if he becomes sort of a sacrificial lamb, he wants to do as much as he can to fix the city. Mensa’s singing voice to some will sound bad, especially compared to true singers. But this strained voice as he tries to hit the highest of notes reveals a man just wanting for change. This young Chicago native wants us to fix this world and leave it better than those before us are leaving it.
As good as this album is - and I would consider it one of the better hip hop releases this year – it still feels like Vic Mensa has a lot of room to improve. His story telling is already top notch, but if his lyricism continues to improve and he continues to get more political in his music, Mensa can become one of the biggest stars of the genre. Even without the lyrical capabilities of other rappers, the young Chicago rapper is already creating better projects than 90% of his contemporaries.
David Arroyo is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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