Vic Mensa Tackles the Chicago Struggle on Debut Album ‘The Autobiography’

Vic Mensa has been slowly but surely carving out his place in hip-hop. From a guest spot on Kanye West’s “Life of Pablo” album alongside Sia to the dance heavy verses on Flume’s “Lose It,” this young Chicago MC has been meticulously working his way up the ladder. With two EP’s under his belt – 2016’s “There’s Alot Going On” and 2017’s “The Manuscript” – Vino, as he calls himself, is finally ready to unleash his official debut, the aptly titled “The Autobiography.”

Mensa came out of Chicago alongside Chance the Rapper in an after-school rap program geared toward young south siders looking to channel their creativity into something positive. Chance helped put this crew of rising rap stars on the map with young Vic by his side. “The Autobiography” however, hence the name, is all him. From his personal ascent to the plight of his hometown, this album speaks from the soul of a young creator looking to make his mark.

From the outset, it’s clear Mensa has much to say. “Didn’t I (Intro)” details his rise, his insatiable work ethic and the concerns of inner-city Chicago natives who feel he’s left them behind. During the hook in the first song on his first album, Mensa takes the opportunity to give props to mom: “Didn’t I tell you, you was gonna see us at the top, mama?” Mensa also shouts out his label, Roc Nation – led by Jay Z – in a bold line calling out a new era in the label’s history, “Didn’t I tell you this was the new birth of the Roc, mama?” It’s a powerful track indeed, written by Mensa and a plethora of other artists including Ty Dolla $ign, No I.D. and BOOTS, the famed Beyoncé collaborator.

There are plenty of personal moments throughout the album, many of which are downright revealing. Mensa talks about everything from suicide to depression to near-death experiences to drug abuse. This is becoming a motif for Vic, rapping for the under-represented and the down-trodden, be that others or himself. He even has a song about the Flint water crisis (“Shades of Blue”).

Through the sincerity, however, there are a handful of cheesy moments that are hard to ignore. The Kid Cudi-sounding “Rolling Like a Stoner” is cringe-worthy at times; “Rockstar life/I got the salt, I got the spice/Fuck every night/And if she bad, I hit it twice.” “Homewrecker” is on the same level, featuring Weezer’s lead singer Rivers Cuomo and sampling their song “The Good Life.” Here, Mensa raps on his past relationship calling her “the wifey and the homewrecker” with Cuomo coming in with shaky vocals on the outro to reiterate that she is, in fact, a homewrecker. “Rage” tackles the heavy issue of teen suicide, an admirable topic to shed some light on indeed. Unfortunately, the song is peppered with lines like “N****s thought I was gone, I Derrick Rose from the trenches.” Closing out this debut is “OMG,” featuring Pharrell and Pusha T, in quite possibly the most Pharrell sounding song since the “Dope” soundtrack. The two do right by Mensa here, as one could easily imagine this tune cropping up on radio stations everywhere.

It’s hard to pin down what Vic’s actually going for sonically. Each song is distinctive in that they ride an odd-line between rap and pop. His bars are at times raw and ominous followed abruptly by those that are hard to take seriously. While there is much to be said about his writing style, there’s more to be said about his substance. Mensa’s eager to tell the world about the struggles young Chicagoan’s face, about the violence that’s currently plaguing an otherwise beautiful city. The battles he faces are prominent as well. His bout with depression and thoughts of suicide make this album an important one for those afflicted with similar thoughts. It’s easy for critics to latch onto the surface-area issues that infect this album, and rightfully so. Despite these superficial issues, it’s important to acknowledge that Mensa has a lot on his mind worth exploring.

The Autobiography” is available on Apple Music July 28.