Vic Mensa is a Chicago based rapper/song writer signed to Jay-Z’s “Roc Nation”. Throughout his come up in the rap game he has been releasing a multitude of songs including: mix-tapes, EP’s, and has made a number of popular singles, (such as “U Mad” with Kanye), but nothing quite credible in terms of artist value and context. Finally, in 2017, we get a little portal into who Vic Mensa really is, and what he’s all about on this debut album of his, bluntly titled “The Autobiography”. I haven’t been the biggest fan of Vic based on what I’ve heard from him so far, I guess I just can’t really relate with the subject matter he’s been talking about, but I will be going into this project with open ears; let’s see how this one plays out.
The album starts off with a song called “Say I Didn’t“, which is kind of a “look at me now” and/or “I told you so” track, where he goes off about all the things he’s done so far and his ability to stay true to his word, no matter what anyone has to say about him. A nice little opener, but for me all I could hear on this track were strong influences from J Cole. Yes, I know Vic is a different person with a different personality and background, but his cadence, inflections, and word-play are so damn similar to J Cole on this song…hopefully he doesn’t use this sound for the rest of this project, cause it kind of kills the actual story he’s trying to tell when you’re so distracted by his lack of originality. On the next track, “Memories On 47th St.” you’re hit with some extremely introspective and eye-opening lyrics from Vic, and a decent instrumental from the producer of many of the albums songs, No ID. Vic talks about his life before the fame on this track, when he was living on “47th St.” This song was a great way to put you in the body of Vic Mensa, and to understand what kind of person he was back in the day, and the things he had to go through to get to where he’s at currently. He also talks about the drug dealing game in his timeline:
“In a land of desperation, we often turn to self medication as a coping mechanism, some make a living as hood pharmacists.”
This next track “Rollin’ Like A Stoner” is in my opinion, one of the weaker, if not weakest, tracks on this album. It’s produced to sound like a club banger, and is very similar lyrically to Kendrick Lamar’s anti-alcohol smash hit “Swimming Pools”, except in this song he’s talking more about the negative effects of constantly smoking pot and being ignorant about it “Rolling like a stoner, I got a problem and nobody knows”. The chorus is abysmal, with Vic singing this awkward melody that I can tell won’t be anything memorable, because unlike “Swimming Pools”, this song is just a little too aware of its contrasts. “Homewrecker” is the beginning of Vic writing about his ex girlfriend Natalie Wright, this song features a god-awful outro featuring Rivers of Weezer singing “a home wrecker” that goes on for around a minute, I don’t know what Rivers was thinking with this track, but its one of the worst vocal performances I’ve ever heard from the guy.
“Gorgeous” is a scummy love track that continues his stories with Natalie, where he talks about being with two girls at once (yes, cheating), and how he just can’t seem to pick one, because they’re both “gorgeous”. “It ain’t my fault I can’t pick you both”… actually man, it’s kind of entirely your fault. This song just triggers me, and even though i do like the chorus melody and the production on this song, it just gives me a terrible stigma towards Vic, but I guess that’s the point of this album, its an autobiography, so he has obviously learned from his many mistakes, as all of us have had to in one point of our lives. “Heaven On Earth” is in the same dark story telling realm as the second track “Memories on 47th St.” that uses the “Stan” formula to share a conversation between Vic’s late passed away friend Killa Cam, or “Cam”. The first verse is told through the perspective of Vic writing to Cam, the second is from the perspective of Cam writing back to him, Really enjoyed this song, probably my favourite on this album, Vic’s story telling rapping capabilities really shine on this track and the 2nd, and if he only focused on this vibe, I think this album could’ve been a lot more cohesive, because he does go all over the place in this album, sometimes forgetting about the whole “Autobiography” entirely. Following this track, is a little skit interlude: “Card Cracker” which is a mysterious voice talking about all of the shit he’s stolen and how he was able to get away with it by putting blame on someone else…which is a nice little seg-way into the next “club banger” song “Down For Some Ignorance (Ghetto Lullaby)“. This song features members of Vic’s posse Chief Keef, and Joey Purp. The title of the track pretty much speaks for itself, the song is about ignorance, and although it wasn’t as bad as the banger “Rollin’ Like A Stoner”, it is a catchy track, and these guys are definitely spitting in this track.
The surprisingly singing vocals only track Coffee & Cigarettes is a piss poor attempt at a love ballad in which Vic compares his exes, specifically Natalie, to the love/hate relationship with the coffee and cigarette combination in the morning. Easily forgettable song for me, Vic Mensa has displayed his singing “talents” pretty prominently on these tracks, but I definitely don’t think its his strongest area artistically, he does however, seem to have a promising path in story-telling rap. There was also a lyric that made me eye-roll pretty hard, something about having Vic on an Amber Alert…um ya, pretty out-there line there, Vic. “Wings” is a song produced and co-starred by Pharrell, and features an outro from Saul Williams. The song is one of those “Climb the tallest building and spread your wings, [Fly away]” tracks that’s about reaching out and taking grasp of your goals/dreams. Been there, done that, but again, some nice bars from this man.
“Heaven on Earth – Reprise” is a relatively lengthy, ethereal continuation of the latter track with the same name, and features some beautiful melodies from The Dream. This interlude cleverly introduces the track “The Fire Next Time“, which is a song about getting out of this metaphorical “fire” and finding the inner fire inside, over coming these troubles he’s had in the past. I liked this song, it had some very vivid imagery going on, and you can tell these words are coming from deep inside of Vic’s being. on “We Could Be Free” the production leaves out a beat to enable all of your attention towards the lyrics. This is Vic’s best singing on a track so far that I’ve heard, where he talks about his struggles with depression, and Ty Dolla $ign does a nice job at complimenting the track with his iconic voice.
The second last track on the album “Rage” is one of Vic Mensa’s first self produced tracks, upon first listen of the track, for some reason it reminded me of Imagine Dragons, with its epic, anthem induced chorus featuring some huge harmonies and large gated drums (kind of sounds like a Kashmir sample??). Vic mentioned that this song is meant to be an epic about his life and perspectives on his position in the world currently. Given that this song is one of his first self produced tracks, it is excellently executed.
Lastly is the second Pharrell produced track “OMG“, which features Pharrell’s iconic “1,2,3,4” count-in intro. The beat is this sinister, almost swing influenced hip-hop joint that fits very well with the also featured Pusha T. It seems Vic Mensa was attempting to rap on the same vibe as Pusha T usually hits us with, and it works out really well for him on this track. Vic didn’t have a second verse for the song until Pusha sent him his verse for the track, Vic wanted to go hard on the second verse like Pusha did on the third, and well, he certainly delivers on that verse.
Will I be going back to this project? Probably not to be honest, it was a pretty hard album for me to get through and research/review, because honestly this album just sounds like a big mesh of Vic’s influences stylistically, and doesn’t really let Vic’s originality shine through, even though this album is literally an Autobiography for Vic. This is his debut though, so maybe on his next album we’ll get a better grasp of Vic’s true, original sound….maybe not though.