By Kiki Camille, Music Journalist
Any Vic Mensa fan can tell you, he has never shied away from being his most authentic self, whether he’s opening up to listeners about trauma in personal life through his music, or his outspoken activism about Chicago, Mensa makes certain to draw clear lines in the sand with regards to his stance on social and political issues. My recent conversation with RocNation’s most outspoken recruit was par for the course.
Fresh off the release of two new singles, a rock collaboration with Tom Morello and sonic experimentation, Vic headlined the 2nd Annual Lucky Brand City Jam at SPIN; brining his fans a taste of both old and new material.
While his return was certainly a joyous occasion for his fans who eagerly camped out around the stage awaiting to get the best view for his performance, it also proved to be bittersweet as the event shared the weekend’s headlines with more than 35 people shootings and 3 fatalities cross the city.
Comparably, his performance at home comes just 24 hours after his song, “16 Shots” was used as evidence in favor of trial relocation for Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago cop who fatally shot Laquan Mc Donald 16 times back in October of 2014.
I caught up with Vic post performance to pick his brain on these recent calamities, the new direction in which his music is heading and a very likely Save Money collaboration project.
KC: Yo Vic! Welcome home. How are you?!
VIC: I’m good. My voice is a little bit gone from all this sh%t And I ate these hotdogs. So I feel pretty messy but, I’m alive (lol).
KC: Very early in your career, you seemed to get extremely personal in your music. You talk openly about past use of drugs, suicide attempts and all the things that have happened in your life to lead you to where you are now as an artist. Why did you feel it was important to address these things in your music instead of keeping it behind the scenes?
Vic: Well, music is my way of coping, decompressing, unpacking my life experiences past present and future. So, the more honest I am in my music, the more honesty I’m being with myself and the more I’m able to grow and progress.
In addition to that, it’s an added perk that we all experience variations of the same situations and emotions. So, me speaking about my mental health struggles, while helping me can also help a kid in Wyoming struggling with severe depression. Or a kid on the south side of Chicago; where I’m from. Especially on the subject of mental health. Being that it’s so stigmatizes in the black community, I know that people from where I’m from can be aided and helped by seeing one of their own be vulnerable.
For instance; black men. We’re not raised and taught to be vulnerable. You know? I think that when you restrict yourself from blunt honestly, that you hold yourself back from enlightenment and just progressing.
KC: I think it’s important that you said that. Especially since, as black people, we come from a culture that historically sweeps it under the rug. But now, artists expressing their struggles with mental health seems to be the new wave.
For example, Brandon Breaux, the artist who does cover work for Chance the Rapper has spoken openly about his commitment to addressing mental health awareness. Even Kanye and Kid Cudii. Both talked openly about thjeir struggles wit mental health on their newest project releases ‘Ye” and “Kids See Ghosts”. it’s beautiful that you guys are using your platforms to bring awareness
Speaking of those projects. How do you feel about the Def Jam recent wave of releases back in June? If you had to choose a “Top 2” out of the bunch, which would be your favorites?
VIC: I like the “Kids See Ghosts” one the best.
KC: Speaking of Kanye. He had some very provocative and polarizing things to say in the media recently/ A few artists, such as Chance the Rapper ,spoke out in his defense on social media. Seeing that Kanye is someone you’ve worked closely with throughout your career, what was your take on what he had to say?
Vic: Well, I don’t really want to speak much on Kanye. But, I don’t support Donald trump in any way; in anything he has ever done and never will.
KC: Respect. So, back to you. Not only do you not shy away from letting listeners into your personal life in your music, you absolutely are not afraid to get political.
It’s obvious that you’re passionate about Chicago and speaking up about corruption within our police departments and gun violence on our streets. Do you feel obligated as a Chicago artist to create songs like “16 Shots” and attack these issues head on in your music? Would you address if you weren’t an artist?
VIC: Yea. I definitely feel obligated. Chicago has given so much to me and it’s a city under constant attack from institutionalized racism. Being that I don’t exist without Chicago, it’s kind of like defending myself in a way. To defend Chicago, to try to make it a better place or to expose those who try to repress our community is really self-defense at the end of the day. So, I’m sure even if I wasn’t an artist I’d still be defending myself You know?
KC: Speaking of defense. I don’t know if you heard, but Friday, the Defense expert for the Jason Van Dkye trail relocation hearing used your song “16 Shots” as a defense as to why the hearing should be moved. What’s your take on that?
VIC: If we look at history, police officers don’t get convicted for killing black men or black women. It just doesn’t happen. So, I’ve never had much hope that Jason Van Dyke was going to be convicted.
I think it’s definitely unfortunate that they’re using my music to argue in favor of them moving his case to the suburbs to get an all-white jury. But if it wasn’t my music it would be something else. That’s the agenda. That’s what they’re going to do. That’s the racist, imperialist, militarized police agenda. they can try to manipulate or sway the judge’s opinion with my music. I can’t stop them. I might show up at court though, just let them hear it from myself.
KC: Can you call me when that happens? I want to be in that room.
VIC: Ha! Yea. Fa sho.
KC.: So, Floyd Mayweather and Karen Civil were just here hosting a panel with gun violence in Chicago as the topic. How do you feel about those who are not from Chicago, coming here to voice their opinions on issues that are specific to our struggle ?
VIC: I don’t appreciate people pimping our pain and they do it often. Everyone has an opinion, as they are entitled to. But obviously, Chicago is such a hot button topic that people often parasitically exploit involvement or comment on our massive homicide rate for opportunity.
I think it’s wack. But I think it’s part of the game. We just gotta be vigilant and call bulls*@t. Put it on front street.
KC: Switching gears quickly. Let’s talk more about the music. You just dropped “Reverse”, with G-Easy. You also dropped, “We don’t Need You”, with Tom Morello. On your Instagram you posted about that track and captioned it, “Work with your idols”. You’ve been fortunate enough to do this a million times over throughout your career. What was that like for you? Do you still fan-boy out? Or are you at a point now where you feel like you ‘ve earned it?
VIC: I feel like you can fan boy out and still feel deserving. I fanned out to f*&%ing meet Tom Morello. I’m the biggest Rage Against The Machine fan. You know what I’m saying? So, working with somebody like that is like a f*&%ing all time dream for me.
Same with working with somebody like Pharrell. It’s amazing! It’s so much more sweet even when these people that you idolize and studied your whole life materialize and manifest themselves as exactly who you knew they were from their music. THAT’S the sh%t! When they’re cool? You know? Just f*&%ing good people and obviously massively talented, creative and ingenious. That’s just a blessing. Yo know? Tom Morello is a really humble mother*&^%@er. Just really cool dude. Same for Pharrell
KC: Wow! I felt that way when I met Brandy last year. Often times we’re disappointed when reality doesn’t match real life. But She was everything I thought she would be.
Meta physical is your newest single. Sonically, is drastically different from anything you’ve done up until this point. I do know that you’re Ghanaian and that history was a partial influence. But this is a completely 180 degree switch for your sound. Do you think that this song defines a new stage in Vic Mena’s sound? Or were you just testing the waters and trying something new?
ViC: I don’t create just based on genre limitations. I listen to so many different styles of music that I’m just inspired by a lot of different things. I’m doing a series of projects, all in different sonic spaces and one of them is going to be in that Aftro-beats space.
KC: So when is the next project dropping?
VIC: The first project is going to be coming in the next month or two.
KC: So now for a game of rapid fire. I’m going to read you a series of Chicago related questions and I want you to tell me the first thing that comes to mind. First, “I’m so Chicago that…?”
VIC: I like mild sauce on my chicken!
KC: Vote Rahm Emanuele in for another term or vote in favor of the purge?
KC: Jordan or Lebron
KC: Lastly, the Save Money collaboration album is coming when?
Vic: By the end of 2018…