Vic Mensa

The Autobiography

Hip-Hop | Alternative | alternative pop

Roc Nation


vic mensa’s long awaited debut “the autobiography” is a goddamn masterpiece

July 31, 2017
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On some level, unless you’re someone like Janelle Monae whose whole deal in creating fictional worlds on her records, every album is an autobiography. But on his long-awaited debut, Vic Mensa pushes deeper, treating the record like a memoir.

Mensa takes the listener on a tour of his childhood; countless eulogies for his grandmother, even more for his big brother Dare. Potent memories of the first time he felt racialized by cops, almost dying trying to sneak into Lollapalooza, a suicide attempt. The stories are vivid and honest. In an age where so many artists focus more on self-mythologizing than truth, Mensa’s not afraid to make himself the villain in the story. He does so first in the Weezer-assisted “Homewrecker” (which deserves credit for being the first thing Rivers Cuomo has done in years that’s genuinely great and doesn’t need to be qualified in terms like “well, it’s no ‘The Good Life’ but it at least sounds like he’s trying” partly because it cuts out the middle man by just sampling “The Good Life” and letting Rivers sing new lyrics over it…). He takes it further though on the album’s emotional centerpiece “Heaven On Earth,” where he exchanges letters with Dare, before putting himself in Dare’s killers shoes. It’s that search for empathy that makes this record unique.

In its best moments, Vic Mensa mixes some of the best production in the game right now with a rare gift for storytelling. He enlists collaborators that know how to balance a forward-thinking aesthetic with timeless beats. It’s no surprise that the great Saul Williams pops up on 2 tracks, both on a riff on the Martyr Loser King cut “Down for Some Ignorance” and the Pharell-produced “Wings.”

The Autobiography turns Chicago into a character, complex in its depiction. Sometimes it’s the villain, sometimes a trusted friend. Sometimes it’s just home. The gang violence that took Dare is never far from Mensa’s mind, but neither does he simplify the situation down or make blanket statements. Between “Memories on 47th St.” and the Chief Keef assisted “Down for Some Ignorance,” he paints a vivid picture. Like all great autobiographies, Mensa paints in shades of grey.

All Vic Mensa had to do was show up on this one and prove himself worthy of the same success as his peers, and he’d have a classic on his hands. Instead he had the gall to come out the gate with a goddamn masterpiece. And The Autobiography is only the first chapter. One complaint though: why is “Rage” only a bonus track?