Out of Chicago: Introducing Vic Mensa

By Elena Lopez

Courtesy of howsmyliving/flickr
Courtesy of howsmyliving/flickr

The streets of Chicago seem to have produced yet another rising star. A newcomer to R&B and contemporary hip-hop, Chicago native Vic Mensa has begun to make a name for himself with his mixtape, “INNANETAPE,” released on Sept. 30. Mensa is the second Chicago- born 20 year-old to make waves in the world of hip-hop recently, following in the footsteps of his close friend, Chance the Rapper.

In 2010, he released his debut album, “Straight Up.” While the album met with very little critical acclaim, the overwhelmingly positive response to the album throughout the internet inspired Mensa to continue his career.

Around this same time, Mensa was a member of the band Kids These Days. Kids These Days were popular in the Chicago area, while notable performances on Conan and South by Southwest served to boost the band’s nationwide profile. Unfortunately, almost immediately after their most high-profile performance at Coachella this April, the group split up. It was after the break-up that Mensa quickly released “INNANETAPE” to wide acclaim from both critics and fellow rappers alike.

“INNANETAPE” attempts to represent the internet’s influence on the mixtape format. Using the more accessible format to his advantage, “INNANETAPE” proved to be far more commercially successful for Mensa, and landed him an opening slot on J. Cole and Wale’s tour, “What Dreams May Come.”

Each track on “INNANETAPE” flows so effortlessly together that it is nearly impossible to tell when one song ends and the next begins. Mensa may not yet have reached the musical and lyrical power of hip-hop’s top echelon, but he has definitely created a unique sound whose originality is matched by few. The lyrical and musical skill Mensa consistently displays on “INNANETAPE” is unique and unparalleled in many ways.

Tracks like “Orange Soda” and “Hollywood” show the influences of contemporary R&B artists like Frank Ocean. With a soft, up-tempo and melodic beat coupled with rap and meaningful lyrics woven together in cohesion with each other, Mensa’s sound stands out against the rest in it creativity, and through the lyrical insight he offers on different levels throughout the mixtape.

An obvious influence on Mensa is fellow Chicago native and best friend Chance the Rapper. He appears on the track “Tweakin,” referencing their recreational use of acid to help them write some of their more creative lyrics. Both of their verses are absurd and full of ridiculous lines, but their flow is impeccable and somehow the eclectic sonic effects are pleasing, taking the listener on a little acid trip of their own. Mensa explores a plethora of sounds, anything from rock inspired tracks like “Magic” to synth-filled tracks like “Yap Yap.” His wide range of musical taste and influences makes him likable to a variety of listeners.

Vic Mensa has some other big up-and-coming rappers featured on the tape, including Ab-Soul and Chicago based artists Rockie Fresh and BJ the Chicago Kid. And while he currently isn’t signed to a record label, the internet has helped Mensa reach unexpected audiences who have quickly given Mensa a large, supportive fan base.

Vic Mensa has taken notes from Chance the Rapper, Childish Gambino, Frank Ocean and plenty of others to create a truly unique contemporary hip-hop and R&B sound. Fans of those artists will flock to Mensa after listening to tracks like “Holy Holy,” “Magic” and “Orange Soda.” They will surely get sucked into his melodic voice and his witty ability to bend words and create infectious tracks. After listening to Mensa’s work, any listener will want to tune into his frequency and keep him in mind when they think about the ever changing face of hip-hop.

Elena Lopez can be reached at [email protected]