Late Pass: A Beginner’s Guide To Vic Mensa


Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration
Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

Let’s admit it, we all have a favorite rapper of two that we wish we started listening to well beyond when we actually did. So for our new series we will be showcasing an artist that you probably should be listening to by now, but for whatever reason maybe they flew under your radar, and you want to get up to date before they continue to take off. So for this week, there is no better rapper to showcase than Chicago’s Vic Mensa. With the release of Kanye, Vic, and Sia’s new collaboration ‘Wolves‘, there will be a lot of rap fans who are just now learning all there is to know about the SAVEMONEY rapper. Vic has been huge in the city of Chicago for quite some time, but maybe you have slept on him for too long. Don’t worry! We got you covered with a Late Pass.

Born June 6th 1993, Vic Mensa really started to get into rap music during middle school, and when he began to pursue his own music, Vic did it a number of ways. Beginning his solo work, Vic put out his 8-track Straight Up mixtape in July of 2010. However it wasn’t his solo work that got Vic his first initial buzz, as his group Kids These Days (which formed in 2009) really helped shaped the young Chicago artist’s career. Kids These Days, which comprised of Vic, Macie Stewart, The Social Experiment’s Nico Segal (Donnie Trumpet), and more, was an indie band from Chicago which landed performances at Lollapalooza, SXSW, Summerfest and more. Releasing their first big project in 2011, their Hard Times EP, the group’s debut album Traphouse Rock not only was a fan favorite, and featured a young Chance the Rapper, but it was also produced by Chicago’s legendary musician Jeff Tweedy of Wilco.

Although Kids These Days was immensely unique (combining the sounds of rock, jazz, blues and rap) and a big collaboration of Chicago most talented young artists, the group eventually parted ways in 2013. While this could have been the end of a music career for many in Vic’s position at the time, Vic made the most of out his talents and picked up his solo career that was put on the back burner after the initial success of Kids.

After a couple of guest features on Chance The Rapper’s mixtapes, 10 Day and Chance’s critically acclaimed Acid Rap, Mensa put out his true solo debut with his INNANETAPE project. Releasing the project on September 30, 2013 (just months after Kids These Days parted ways), INNANETAPE was instantly received well by fans and critics. XXL rated the album a XL (4 of 5), explaining that “(Vic’s) captivating flow shines brightest in the songs with rock-like production flourishes like ‘Magic’ and ‘Hollywood LA’, but he explores a range of sounds throughout, like on the synth-filled “Yap Yap”, giving the tape excellent replay value.”

After the success of INNANETAPE, Vic continued to grow as an artist, explore his sound, and land himself a number of great opportunities. Perhaps one of the biggest moments of Vic’s career came less than a year ago as Vic performed at Lollapalooza in August of 2014 (a few months after Vic was named one of XXL‘s “Freshman of the Year”). Not only was this Vic’s hometown festival, but just years prior Vic almost died trying to sneak into the festival when he fell off a bridge and electrocuted himself. Mensa describes this experience in his INNANETAPE’s outro.

“Yo, shout out to everybody that believed up ’til this point. I feel like I’m on top of the fucking world right now. King Kong shit. I fell off a fucking bridge. I got electrocuted by like thirty thousand volts of electricity. I was in the hospital for three nights, then got on a flight to New York to go meet with Atlantic Records the day I got out. I came back, I was on stage the day I got back with a cast on my arm. That’s me. Save Money still alive. You know it’s like nine months ago I was in such a different place, I was in a fucking band and everything I had fell through the cracks right before my eyes. A lot of people probably didn’€™t think I’€™d still be on my feet after that, but the only thing you can count on in this life is change.”

Vic Mensa
Photo by Dan Garcia/The Early Registration

Fast-forward a few years later and Vic was performing on the same Lollapalooza stage that his good friend and SAVEMONEY affiliate Chance The Rapper was rapping on just a year before. Performing a number of tracks from INNANETAPE, as well as his 2014 singles ‘Down on My Luck’ and ‘Feel That’, Vic really put on for his city. Speaking first hand, as I was in the photo pit and backstage taking photos of the performance, anyone who was within the festival grounds and not seeing Vic perform that day, certainly did not get the full value out of the their wristband.

And since last summer Mensa has certainly kept busy. One day he is in Chicago, recording his upcoming projects or performing for sold-out hometown crowds, and the next day he is traveling the globe, performing for international crowds of thousands. Somewhere in between too, Vic found time to work with Kanye for Ye’s forthcoming 7th studio album. What may be even more impressive is how the young Kanye fan, whose dream collaboration was Kanye West, was able to keep it all secret. Now he is performing for huge nationally televised audiences beside Kanye, his biggest song to date was just released on iTunes, his notoriety is increasing every second, and we still have yet to hear his debut album Traffic (or his anticipated EP Street Lights, which fans will hear first).

As someone who has been following Vic Mensa since Kids These Days, it is very exciting to see him start to get the recognition that his talent and energy warrants. I was first able to see him perform live at Lollapalooza, and the energy he brought to his performance was not matched by other artists that weekend (which includes Eminem, Outkast and more). I also was lucky to have the opportunity to work as a videographer for Vic’s hometown performance a few months ago at The Metro in Chicago. Given his notoriety in the city, Vic could easily give a lackluster performance and continue to sell out venues in the city, yet he still gave his all for the performance, which was memorable for everyone in attendance. In just one year Vic Mensa’s friend and collaborator Chance The Rapper went from Lollapalooza’s BMI Stage to headlining the festival (a huge jump) and becoming a household name in rap, so we can only imagine what Vic can do in that same time frame, but with a huge co-sign from Kanye West.


So where should you start?

I highly recommend listening to Vic’s entire catalog but especially his INNANETAPE project (as well as his recent singles). If you are on a time budget however, start with ‘Down on My Luck’, ‘Feel That’, ‘Orange Soda’, Chance’s ‘Cocoa Butter Kisses’, and ‘Wimme Nah’. You will notice that every song has a different feel and sound, so much so that it is hard to believe that all the tracks come from the same artist. His catalog really speaks to the diversity of his talents. Not only can Mensa sing and rap, but he has the ability to create different moods and themes, even on just one project.

What should you look out for?

Expect some features sprinkled along the way, but next up is Vic’s Street Lights EP (which is expected soon, and definitely in 2015). The EP at this point should either be finished or near completion (maybe some final mixing). Next comes Vic’s debut album, Traffic, which we also expect to come at some point in 2015 (late 2015 maybe?). There should be some nice collaborations on both projects, as well as production from Stefan Ponce, Ludwig Goransson, and more.

Where can you see Vic live?

If you’re in Chicago, you can always catch a Vic Mensa performance somewhere. Anywhere one of his fellow SAVEMONEY rappers (Chance, Towkio, Leather Corduroys) is performing, you can probably expect at least one song from Vic. However, fans in Chicago can certainly catch him at this year’s Pitchfork Music Festival, along with Chance the Rapper and Wilco (nice how that all worked out). Fans on the West Coast though, should definitely catch Vic at Coachellaon April 10th and 17th.

And of course, follow Vic on Twitter for upcoming dates and announcements, on all things Vic Mensa.

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