The Catalyst

Vic Mensa

Vic Mensa

Mon, December 18, 2017

Doors: 8:00 pm / Show: 9:00 pm

The Catalyst

Santa Cruz, CA

$30.00

This event is 16 and over

Vic Mensa
Vic Mensa
Standing on the front porch of his childhood home, Vic Mensa points to a gas station on the main road adjacent to his block. “I saw a man get held up at gunpoint right in that parking lot,” he says, jumping off the porch and crouching next to a fire hydrant. “I watched from right here,” Mensa adds doing a military duck walk. In his eyes it was clear he was reliving the moment as he told it. On his long-awaited debut album The Autobiography, Vic Mensa taps into pivotal moments in his life, reliving each one from one track to the next.

Raised in the nefariously gang-divided South Side of Chicago, Mensa embodied the “good kid, mad city” narrative. The product of a Ghanian father who is a PhD professor and a white mother who is a physical therapist from upstate New York, Vic’s reality was different from the Section 8 kids across the street from his Hyde Park home and the projects up the block. His friends, though multicultural, didn’t have the household Mensa had. “That wasn’t my world when I went home,” Vic recalls, emphasizing his liberal multiracial upbringing. “But in the eyes of the world I was a Black man, so that’s what I grew to become. Certain instances chose my race for me.”

He punctuates that sentiment with a story from the age of 11, where he was riding his bicycle and pulled off by police who mistook him for another kid who ran from them the day before. That same year he discovered hip-hop, absorbing KRS-One, Public Enemy, and N.W.A. He later met his first street mentor, a graffiti writer who tagged DARE and added Vic (who tagged REAK) to his Jam graffiti crew. Years of graffiti, battling in school, and sneaking in verses on local rappers’ tracks in the studio gave Vic Mensa his hip-hop sea legs.

In 2011, however, Vic lost his mentor DARE to a random act of senseless violence. He details the story on his Autobiography cut “Heaven On Earth,” which includes a dialogue to and from DARE. On the track he emphasizes living out his dreams in DARE’s memory, and given the five years that followed, Vic’s accomplished that and then some. As part of the Chicago collective SAVEMONEY with Chance The Rapper and other local upstarts Towkio and Joey Purp, Mensa toured globally and word of his talent traveled fast. His solo debut mixtape INNANETAPE in 2013 set the stage for his XXL Freshman cover in 2014. He reached the ears of Roc Nation executive Lenny S who introduced Mensa to Jay Z. A Roc Nation deal was the result. Mensa went on to help pen Kanye West’s esoteric “Wolves” track off The Life of Pablo, and in the Spring of 2016, Mensa dropped his critically acclaimed EP There’s A Lot Going On.

The project brought a level of emotional discourse that Mensa never introduced in previous works. His video for the track “16 Shots,” brought a graduated level of social commentary as visuals depict Mensa on the run from the cops. That very scenario that almost cost him his life years back by leaping over train tracks during a chase and gripping a voltage-carrying rail where he was nearly electrocuted to death. He has the tattoo of the volts over the scars to prove it. “16 Shots” also shows dash cam footage of the 2014 murder of Laquan McDonald by Chicago police.

His full-length debut The Autobiography incorporates many of the unabridged versions of his experiences and thoughts described on the EP, only with a more strongly defined understanding of himself and the world around him. On The Autobiography we meet the real Vic Mensa.

“As I was in the process of writing The Autobiography, I found there was an element of storytelling in the songs,” Vic says of the album title’s origin. “It was very autobiographical: no filler, just real recounts of things that have happened in my life. I knew what stories I needed to tell.” The project delves deeply into Mensa’s psyche, where subjects like love are reoccurring themes, yet so are the concepts of life and death. As the artist spent months searching into his childhood, he began using it as a vessel to explain his young adult self. He found a lot of demons along the way. “I was moving into the darker side of things,” Mensa admits, “speaking on addiction, depression, and violence—the less prettier parts of my life.”

The result is a well-rounded body of work, where intentional sequencing weaves a sonic memoir deserving of the album’s title. Tracks like “Didn’t I” present Mensa manifesting his destiny while also learning to value what he has. “It contains this conversation of me speaking to my dad, just recognizing how lucky I was to have a dad,” he says. “Also I’m speaking to my homies about some of the things we’ve been through.” There’s an added “I told you so” moment tacked on. “I’ve been saying since I was a kid that I was going to be a famous rapper and shit,” he says proudly.

“Memories On 47th Street” discusses Mensa’s life on his old block (47th Street) from birth to 17, with background vocals from Mr. Hudson. The dark “Rollin Like A Stoner” presents Mensa’s struggle with substance abuse as escapism and how he dug himself out of it. “It’s about substances used to mask pain and problems,” he says of the track, co-produced by No I.D. and 1500 or Nothin. “This album is like a drug-induced haze that I spent a lot of the last four years in, and I had to come out of it really to talk about it.” Rock group Weezer checks in on the tumultuous “Homewrecker,” where Mensa discusses two toxic relationships in his life—one with a woman named “Natalie” (referenced in previous songs), and another “Alexandra.”

The electronic-tinged intro “Gorgeous” is the gateway drug to the aforementioned “Heaven On Earth,” where Vic comes to terms with life versus death. He echoes that sentiment with “Down 4 Some Ignorance,” detailing violence in the streets of Chicago. The song guest features fellow Chicagoans Chief Keef and crewmember Joey Purp.

Other songs like the Pharrell-produced and Saul Williams-guested “Spread My Wings” talk about Vic’s experiences with love. “I talk about relationships that I’ve had on this album, and I try to paint full pictures of the good, the bad, and the ugly,” he explains, footnoting that “Wings” is a “symbolic suicide.” An intro by The-Dream leads into “The Fire Next Time,” where Vic expresses finding a fire within him during the darkest hours. He reaches that pinnacle in the Ty Dolla $ign assisted “We Could Be Free” before erupting into the closer “Rage,” where Mensa says he’s “going out in a blaze of glory.”

While Vic Mensa is really just getting started, it seems as though he’s lived a thousand lives and The Autobiography is proof of that from beginning to end. While Mensa has poured every ounce of his emotions and thoughts into his debut album—visually reliving them in the music—his mission remains clear. “I just want people to understand me as a young man in this troubled world,” the 23-year-old says, “with a lot of opinions and experiences, a lot of truths, big ideas, and revolutionary principles.”
Venue Information:
The Catalyst
1011 Pacific Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA, 95060
http://www.catalystclub.com/