EP Review: Vic Mensa Reflects on His Past to Build a Better Future

Since Vic Mensa dropped his debut mixtape Innanetape, his career has been rocky to say the least. Although being named as an XXL Freshmen in the class of 2014, his debut studio album, The Autobiography, was a commercial flop upon its release in 2017. Since then, he has released a rather forgettable rock album, and has made headlines not because of his music bur rather due to controversial comments and bizarre actions.

All this considered, it is difficult for an artist in Vic’s position to make a strong comeback after years of being out of hip hop relevance. It often takes great personal introspection, the willingness to accept one’s mistakes and a rededication to one’s craft in order for an artist to recapture the appeal that once sparked his or her career.

Vic Mensa is able to do all of the above on his new EP, V TAPE. Although just seven tracks, the EP shows a rejuvenated Vic who is ready to accept his mistakes and lay his flaws bare for all to hear. By doing so, he is able to rap with a stronger conviction than ever over a variety of production styles that all highlight his technical abilities as a rapper. But the EP is much more than a display of strong rapping; it is a powerful self reflection of an artist who has suffered in the past, and is ready to use his failures to create new success.

Vic makes his past flaws and mistakes evident throughout the EP, as he constantly alludes to his missteps that have plagued him in the past. Vic raps at the end of the first verse of the EP, “I sacrificed for the greater vision / Sometimes you gotta pay the ultimate price to make n****s pay attention,” and asserts on the second verse, “What’s up with all the weapons? / Can you stop getting arrested? / Please forgive me, I know not who’s kid I affected,” all over a soulful, bass heavy beat that brings out the grit in Vic’s rapping style. He continues on “MACHIAVELLI,” as he raps “Became a hazard to my health like Corona to an asthmatic / I Roc like the old Jay but I’m a backstabber ’cause I un’d myself,” over more upbeat production that brings out Vic’s natural charisma and energy. On “XGAMES,” Vic admits his shortcoming in his personal life with a former lover over a synth heavy r&b type beat, rapping, “I made a mess, I cannot make amends / Wish I could change your mind / You such a dime, shit don’t make sense / I just wanna spend time / Feel like I’m wastin’ yours and mine.” Vic makes it evident throughout the album that he is primarily blaming himself for his personal shortcomings, and is not shy about letting the listener know.

Through his pain, Vic’s rapping takes on as strong a form as he had first coming into the rap game in 2013. His flow, lyrics and punchlines all shine throughout the album, as lines like “Smoke ’em like Lamar, ball like a young Odom / Where crack hit the Chi the same year as Michael Jordan / My trap phone got more rings than Robert Horry,” on “MACHIAVELLI” display his natural lyrical ability. We see more of the same on “DIRT ON MY NAME,” as Vic raps over a west coast style of production, “BET, clown with a freestyle / I’m a demon but thе devil’s in the details / Free my nigga Jamеs in them chains / Gave him 15 for a leg shot, we need a retrial,” which not only displays his lyrical ability, but shines light onto issues of mass incarceration as well (more on that later). Vic continues his lyrical assault on the emotional and introspective track “2HONEST,” rapping “A river that knows its source could never run dry / That’s why I had to cut out the middle man / Hate from all directions assassinatin’ my character / I felt like Malcom X in J. Edgar Hoover’s America,” as he acknowledges the isolation he has felt over the years. Vic’s lyrical ability and steady flow are perhaps at his best on V TAPE, as the EP has no shortages of clever lines, important lyrics and engaging wordplay.

One of Vic’s points of passion is providing aid for black communities in his native city of Chicago, and he continues to bring light to important issues on V TAPE that run wild in his city. Vic first mentions his friend, James, on the opening track “VENDETTA” when he raps, “Talk to James on the phone daily / He twenty-six in Dixon, they don’t want him out until he turn eighty,” and later reveals on “DIRT ON MY NAME” that he was sentenced to fifteen years in jail for a non fatal gunshot crime. On “MACHIAVELLI,” Vic raps, “Shit is like apartheid if you seen the South Side / No upward mobility, they got n****s paralyzed,” as well as “The game’s funny, a n***a went from robbing in the hood / To the Robin Hood of Englewood, I’m feedin’ n****s / They produced these circumstances by beatin’ n****s / Mistreatin’ and misleadin’ n****s,” revealing the troubled state that his city is in, as well as his work to help those struggling in poverty. Vic shines even greater detail on his city on “BETHLAHEM / SC FREESTYLE,” a song that features a soulful, slower style of production that shifts into a more uptempo beat that uses the same sample as Jay-Z’s “Where I’m From.” Vic raps in his first verse of the song, “I tell my guys I miss ’em, they in dire conditions / Tryna survive in prison, praying they don’t die in Dixon,” as well as “Back in America, they treat us like we Aborigines / Original man, they triеd to white out our history / As if the first universitiеs wasn’t Egyptian / Lauryn Hill said it best, it’s just miseducation / And Section Eight is just modern-day segregation.” Vic recognizes the horrible prison conditions that millions of black men and women find themselves in, and understands how the history of this country helped contribute to mass incarceration. Vic asserts at the end of his verse, “The business is keep us addicted to pharmacists / So we too preoccupied with prescriptions for politics / Give ’em mass incarceration, leave the children fatherless / I’m the voice of a generation, we won’t be silenced,” indicating his never ending battle to combat the effects of the American prison system. Vic details the horrible poverty that plagues his city in the second half of the song, “Eat Flaming Hots for breakfast, ’cause that’s all they can afford / Forty-four percent of Englewood beneath the poverty line from where they living poor,” as well as the violence, “Active shooters in the city, this is not a drill, trust me it’s real now / Came for a photo op’ to show your opps / You wanted to visit O Block, ended up having to stay ’cause you got shot.” The shuddering detail Vic uses when describing his city, along with his natural lyricism, allow for the listener to feel for Vic’s city the same way Vic himself does.

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of the EP is Vic’s vulnerability and his struggles with mental health that he details at the end of the project. On “2HONEST,” Vic pours his emotion over a melodic, synth based beat, as SAINt JHN’s beautiful vocals help provide the raw emotion that Vic gives on the track. Vic reveals his battles with depression he faced in his past, rapping “Contemplatin’ self-destruction, equatin’ myself to nothin’ / Fixated on my regression, I felt like Benjamin Button / I collapsed in my depression, I just couldn’t write for nothin’ / When I stared at my reflection, all that I felt was disgusted.” Vic goes on to rap, “Do you know what the fuck it feels like to wake up every day in distress? / Pissed off at yourself, neglect, so you just lay in your mess / And people depend on you, got so much shit on your chest / That your train of thought can’t seem to find a way to express.” The emotion Vic raps with is extremely heavy, as Vic goes on to detail his childhood trauma, rapping “I find a notebook in my parents’ crib from when I was five / I went inside and said ‘I hate myself, I wanna die,’ I cried / I couldn’t even fathom a child feeling so lonely / So next time a n***a tell you ’bout Vic, say they don’t know me / I need to be loved, I need to be loved / I needed the drugs ’cause I couldn’t do it / I couldn’t do it, I was goin’ through it.” The vulnerability Vic displays is truly amazing, and the listener can not help but to feel sympathy for Vic as he pours his heart onto the track.

Vic culminates his past struggles with music, Chicago violence and mental health on the final track, “REBIRTH,” an ultimate victory over his past demons while continuing to acknowledge his imperfect nature. The production is slower and empty, allowing Vic’s lyrics to shine through, and with the help of talented vocalists BJ The Chicago Kid and Peter CottonTale, Vic is able to detail his past actions that revealed his deteriorated mental state, and finally come to terms with them. He raps, “Tatted Alexandria name on my arm as a promise ring / Then I broke it like a joke, now I’m laughin’ at myself / It’s easier to place the blame on everybody else / I’m yellin’, ‘Fuck the world’, but it’s really a cry for help,” realizing his mistakes and his need for help. Vic ends the EP with four powerful lines, rapping “Now I got my personal all tangled on my mic cord / Could either break you or make you appreciate life more / It only differs in perspective, you witness my crucifixion / Welcome to my resurrection,” before the beat cuts and a gospel choir finishes the album with soaring, uplifting harmonies. Self acknowledgement of one’s mistakes is always difficult, and hearing Vic’s story of confronting his inner demons provides hope to all that one can overcome anything with the right guidance and state of mind.

Vic’s transformation from start to finish on V TAPE, and indeed in his personal life, is an amazing spectacle to witness. It is not easy for anyone to detail their problems and personal issues to someone else, let alone to lay them out on a public media for all to hear. Vic’s bravery, courage and determination to better himself and improve his mental state is inspirational, and his vibrant lyricism and constantly exciting flow is proof that rededication to oneself can help one refine their craft even further, whatever the craft may be. Vic is able to pack so much emotion and passion in just seven songs, and the journey Vic takes the listener on feels much longer than the twenty six minutes the EP takes up. V TAPE is an inspirational rap project that also functions as a self-help guide, all while delivering lyrically over intriguing and varied production.

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