Vic Mensa: The Autobiography | Album Review
A catalog of Kodak moments that have punctuated his life.
It seems commonplace for every rapper to have at least a song chronicling their life or at least a phase of it. All the greats tick that box, the aspiring greats want to tick that box, so it’s interesting to see an artist attempt to do same with his major label debut.
Victor Kwesi Mensah is a Milennial. No, not the Pejorative connotation, he’s a young man caught in the whirlwind of life aboard an air balloon that was shabbily constructed by the preceding generation. He is the son of an African immigrant, he is a poster child for the city of Chicago, the same Chicago Kanye told us has 600 caskets in one year, same city where Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times by Officer Van Dyke, same city that gave us Common Sense, the city notorious for it’s escalating tension and violence. More importantly, Vic is from the city which houses the brightest set of creative talent since the dominant Spanish soccer side of 2008–2013.
Vic Mensa has come a long way; from Kids these days to “Innanetape”, which was the first piece of the puzzle, he survived a near death experience, scored a deal with Roc Nation, and we thought we’d get Traffic but it got shelved, before he beat depression, boosted his profile with some high brow features. and contributions, gave us “There’s a lot going on” as a window into his head. Then “The manuscript” was a pointer in the direction we were supposed to look to not the miss the arrival of The Autobiography. It’s been a long road for Vic and he has scaled hurdles. Now like Dashrath Manjhi, has cut through mountains to give us his major label debut, aptly titled.
The Autobiography is a collage of carefully handpicked beats to accompany a personal tale of self development intellectually, emotionally, familially, psychologically and professionally. It follows a recent trend of tell-it-all vulnerability in Hiphop. This time however, his has the adolescent feel to it, young adults and teens can relate with his struggles, losses, dreams and weaknesses.
We know we have said we don’t do album reviews, but i had to make an exception for this one.
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The first chapter DIDN’T I ( Say I didn’t); curtains raise with a dreamy sample of Darondo’s Didn’t I, then we hear a knock. I’m guessing Vic had a studio in his house, pops just reminded him that he spends too much time in the studio. Immediately the drums drop the introductory paragraph is away. We are treated to a very cocksure chorus then tales narrating a lot of what Vic and his friends have been through, what he put his family through and how he turned out good, more importantly how he saw all this coming to fruition.
The next track MEMORIES ON 47TH STREET, using his foundational street as a symbol, he continues the narrative, it’s a good move to explain in better details his trials, Chicago violence, racism, his near death experience and the love his parents have always shone. Throughout the ride Vic doesn’t skimp down on details we know the gangs swarmed the areas, we know the teachers were being typical towards a black man and we know they weren’t able to derail him. Not even a thousand volts could. The most compelling story however was the first time he got high. I’m sure a lot of us can relate. Don’t lie… ROLLING LIKE A STONER is a song with an infectious hook; do not allow it fool you into dancing off alone though, it is an adequate reflection of the life an addict lives one characterized by suicidal thoughts and depression underneath the surface of the thrills. Drug addicts never really admit they have a problem. Vic calls himself a “disaster” here amidst the frenzy, it doesn’t get more vulnerable than that. Vic has always been open about his drug use and how he got past it, I’m willing to stake that this song was birthed during that phase.
“She said everything you say is a lie, I text you and you never reply, sometimes I wish I could have been with a regular guy” opens HOMEWRECKER, a somewhat revealing insight into his relationship possibly with Natalie Wright, she may or may have not caught him cheating but the descriptive words here are top notch, now we need an accompanying video to cement the genius of this song. Vic has spoken about his relationship with Natalie previously (See U Mad and There’s a Lot going). We need more songs chronicling love stories like this in rap music, even if this love might have been a bit dysfunctional, filled with violence; a weird kind of love, but still love.
Relationship is the theme again on GORGEOUS as Vic addresses the lingering Ex phenomena side by side the fact that men want to eat the cake and have it. I don’t pity his head however. HEAVEN ON EARTH one of the best songs of the album finds Vic examining the death of a close friend, the first verse serves as an open letter to the late pal, he switches character to the deceased pal on the second, the third verse brings the incident to light and we are abreast with the circumstances leading to Dare’s death, the lyricism here is praise worthy, Vic paints us a vivid picture through his heralded but still underrated storytelling ability, here we find it gallantly supported by a lush chorus from The Dream. This song will keep you hooked like a coitus gist. The smoking with Cobain part is genius though. However, the second reprise of this song will get you in your feeling. Dream still got it. In a world of cheap brags, Vic has so far showed us something beautiful. You definitely get the feeling Hov is his boss.
After a brief skit the Drill sound comes alive on “DOWN FOR SOME IGNORANCE”, a song wild enough to choreograph a riot, a sound that will be the cause of many mosh pits. This is the proof that Chicago youths are militant, if there any doubts left. If I ever get into Mixed Martial Arts this is my entrance song. Thank you Vic. Thank You Joey. Thank you Keef. Now I need a coach.
COFFEE AND CIGARETTES is bound to bring you down from the dizzy heights of adrenaline rush that the previous track takes you to. Vic attempts to flex his vocal range to varying success but the story is poignant, a time capsule to his first experience of love and the rap at the end tells us all we need to know. WINGS is cut from the same cloth as the other introspective raps on the album, or any where instrospective raps are from. The dream makes another welcome appearance on HEAVEN ON EARTH (REPRISE) and touches on the concept of making bad choices, life and death.
Nirvana and more importantly Kurt Kobain influences are vivid on THE FIRE NEXT TIME, No I.D’s guitar riffs and synthesized kicks are the platform for some of the most braggadocio based raps on the album. Vic goes from likening himself to Rocky Balboa, to giving us grooming tips from Andre 3k in under 4 minutes. This is one for the live performances.
The singing returns on WE COULD BE FREE, a song preaching positivity, preserverance, and enlightenment as the keys for successful living. Something tells me this song was created in a reflective state, one shunning violence. It’s a good song, folks will like this, it will help some see the light. TY Dolla $ign makes a stellar contribution with those modulations.
RAGE throws you back into the issues on Race, Suicide and Gang Violence that Vic has repeatedly described. Could this be the song referenced on There’s A lot goin Going On? I’m sure Vic fans remember these lyrics “ then I wrote rage that was me screaming out through the pain” .Either ways it’s a stark reminder of what Vic represents portrayed via rock influenced instrumentals.
In weeks leading up to the album release Vic was open and thankful about how Pharrell helped him grow and shed his ego. I want to thank Mr Williams for the chorus on OMG, this reminds me of what he did with Clipse, rolling back the years effortlessly to aplomb and Vic doesn’t disappoint as he goes in rabidly on the instrumental, drops gems and a sneak diss at Donald Trump. My question is this.. why let Pusha go last huh? This looks likely to be the song radio will pick for rotation a smart choice for a single Vic.
Autobiographies are written to chronicle existence, and as such they are more likely to see the light of day when the subject has accomplished things. Considering the preceding, Vic couldn’t have chosen a more poignant title. This album is a catalog of Kodak moments that have punctuated his life, that of his friends, and his enemies; his relationships and empathy. We find buried within wax, time capsules of his addiction and the withdrawal phase, suicidal thoughts and of when he killed his ego. The story may not have been relayed in the best possible way but it’s a solid debut mashing up styles and methods. Vic will probably not get enough press from this, but acclaim will definitely pour in. He’s one of the most efficient picture perfect storytellers in the game, an ability that almost beguiles his age and experience. He will only get better and have greater themes to discuss. Vic has delivered a solid album here and he will only get better because he loves music.
Vic Mensa might not be the best lyricist or the most efficient rapper of this new breed, but he’s the most complete and rewarding listen, complete with a unique ear for beats rich on rock riffs which goes to further exemplify his musical affinity. Vic Mensa is a creative who isn’t just rap. He is music. He’s just chosen rap as a medium of expression. Even though he might not have the conceptual execution of Chance — frankly he doesn’t need to, he’s his own artist, he will experiment as he progresses and we expect him to succeed. There is no average song on this album. Here’s an advice however, blast There’s a Lot Going On before this one, everything falls into perspective and it helps you feel the Vic Mensa essence. Yes, there’s an essence.
Vic Mensa is here people, a quote from a fellow Roc Nation signee describes his rise thus;
UrbanCentral Rating Tier 2: #Loudspeaker
By Nico for UrbanCentral follow him on twitter @WordsbyAG
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