Vic Mensa & The Never-Ending Pursuit of Freedom - DJBooth

Vic Mensa & The Never-Ending Pursuit of Freedom

The first step is to make a mistake. The second step is to admit it in earnest.
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The most appealing thing about Vic Mensa is his willingness to admit to his mistakes.

When There’s Alot Going On dropped last summer, I was caught off guard by the brazen honesty the Chicago native displayed on the title track. While the loud and brooding “U Mad” hinted at Vic’s vexed mental state, it was hard to imagine him venturing too far outside the sunny days of acclaimed INNANETAPE. With “There’s Alot Going On,” Vic spits an all-encompassing epic about suicidal thoughts and attempts, cleaning coke off the table with his nose, and his relationship with longtime girlfriend Natalie turning violent. The whole verse is an emotional purge, where Vic uproots his pride and admits to every one of his wrongdoings.

Before we tackle his forthcoming debut album, The Autobiography—due out Friday, July 28—we need to rewind to 2013 and to Vic’s seminal INNANETAPE. We are mostly met with sugary flows over drum breaks and smooth ballads, as the Chicago sun peeks through the clouds on every track. Still, Vic confronted his pride all over the project. On “Time Is Money,” the hook is a humbling reminder that the money will never make the man. This is also where we begin to notice that even on his highest highs, Vic always takes the time to self-evaluate. It’s not until later in the track listing that we come to understand why.

There are many strokes of brilliance on INNANETAPE, but few as moving as the second verse of the Cam O'bi-produced “Holy Holy,” which is as dedicated to Killa Cam as The Autobiography’s “Heaven Knows.”

On “Holy Holy” Vic raps:

“Call your grandma, go light this L, go post bro bail / Hate to spend your last night in jail / Make a plan and try to make amends / Or maybe take a stand and tell how you feel / Sentimental recollection, revelation, resurrection, God, question / What would people think about if I died? / I wonder sometimes if this music I make / would keep me alive?”

Be it the death of his loved ones or the potential of his own, Vic’s modesty and his desire to reconcile stems from his constantly being haunted by death. Imagine the consequences of not making amends before your final days and then listen to Vic's bars on "Holy Holy," the weight of the world being transferred from his shoulders into the ears of listeners.  

For those who haven't closely followed his career over the past seven years, Vic once nearly died trying to sneak into Lollapalooza. His elbow made contact with a transformer, and he was zapped with 15,000 volts of electricity. He fell roughly thirty feet to the ground, back first. But as we know, neither of these things killed him.

This brush with mortality happened in 2010. Seven years later, growing pains and survival are the thesis of The Autobiography. To cope with his own finality, Vic has to resolve to be responsible with his life and his actions. Vic Mensa survives, in part, by confronting his pride—often just before it’s too late.

The ever-present fear of losing his life is also how we get songs like “Down For Some Ignorance,” which showcases the moments where Vic doesn’t address his own issues. When he raps, “These nightmares turn us into monsters / Memories on 47th street haunt us,” it’s hard to ignore how death has been a deciding factor in Vic’s life mantras.

The Autobiography is an album that dutifully amplifies the honesty of “There’s Alot Going On.” Mistakes color the hook on the Weezer-assisted “Homewrecker,” a song that finds Vic sharing the blame for a failing relationship, and on “Wings,” featuring Pharrell Williams and Saul Williams, Vic grapples with the inner voices pushing him towards suicide, speaking once again, candidly, about his battle with addiction.

“Picking pill pieces up out of the bathroom sink / Like an armored truck ride in the rink / I'd probably be a vegetable if not for medical attention / My self destructive habits have me itching like Tyrone Biggums / In the cyclone of my own addiction / The voices in my head keep talking, I don't wanna listen.”

The theme of Vic's music, like his life, has transitioned from overcoming his pride to overcoming his demons. Thus, we once again circle back to “There’s Alot Going On,” where Vic attests that airing out his mistakes is how he, “cleaned out my closet, I got rid of all of my demons.” Confronting his pride is how Vic lives through his darkest moments. It is also how he can become a better man. There can be no healing without the truth, and there can be no truth without penance. 

Vic Mensa has taken years to filter out and squash his hubris—and never once does he pretend that the work is finished—which leads us to the closing track of the album proper, “We Could Be Free.” After breaking down his pride and his flaws, Vic has finally learned to flip his shortcomings into fuel: “And my pride won't let me give up, Lord as hard as I try / In those times I try to remember / That we could be free.”

So what can we learn from Vic Mensa? The importance of self-awareness, of taking responsibility, of seeking help and not hiding from the ugliest parts of ourselves. We can also learn that admittance is the only way to achieve growth and acceptance. What follows, of course, is the feeling of freedom. 

Freedom is what we can learn from Vic Mensa.

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