Vic Mensa has gone through a very emphatic transformation in recent years, and I’m not talking about his rock star appearance or Roc Nation allegiance.
When he left Kids These Days and released his debut solo project INNANETAPE back in 2013, Vic introduced himself as a soulful kid who could rap, sing and make good songs (“Orange Soda,” “Hollywood LA”) with natural ease. Since then, after a brief period flirting with house-influenced, festival-ready anthems like “Down On My Luck” and “Feel That,” Vic Mensa’s music has become much more urgent and political-minded.
There’s Alot Going On was a perfect title for the short-but-eventful EP Vic dropped this past summer: he addressed drugs, depression, and near-death experiences, as well as wider issues like the Flint water crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement. But there was one particular tragedy in his hometown of Chicago that fueled Vic Mensa’s latest project, specifically the song “16 shots”: the murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot 16 times by Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke (who has since been indicted for murder) in October 2014.
“I was inspired to make the song by my time down on the ground floor in the street, when we were revolting against that shit,” Vic told Beats 1's Ebro Darden of “16 Shots,” referencing the November 2015 protest that arose after the footage of McDonald’s murder was released publicly. “This record is like self-defense, you know? Because to me, Laquan McDonald represents Emmett Till, which represents every name down the line and since then, a lot of things have changed, but one main thing hasn’t changed is that our lives are not respected.”
Commemorating the two-year anniversary of Laquan McDonald’s death, Mensa released a powerful video for “16 Shots” over the weekend. The five-minute clip finds Vic taking the fight to trigger-happy cops, coming up against three baton-wielding officers before facing a full riot control unit. The most stirring scene comes when Vic gets pummeled by police bullets, and the camera pans above his lifeless body to reveal dozens of chalk outlines next to his own, a painful reminder of Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland and the countless black lives taken by police in recent years.
However, Vic Mensa’s one-man protest can’t be stopped and he eventually picks himself up, looks one of the cops in the eyes and calmly walks away — black, breathing and proud.
The police can kill black lives, but like civil rights leader Medgar Evers said, they can’t kill an idea.
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: TIDAL