The Roc Nation signee preludes his upcoming album with a new 7-track EP
Born and raised Chicagoan Vic Mensa has had a pretty erratic rise from obscurity to fame over the last 5 years; bouncing from sub-genre to sub-genre while simultaneously gaining more of a following with every musical release. Here, he supplies his fans with a short EP entitled ‘There’s Alot Going On‘ to build up to his (soon to be released) debut album, but how does it fare among the barrage of post-spring releases? And is it good enough to get you hyped for the LP?
Having followed Vic ever since his first solo mixtape ‘INNANETAPE‘ emerged on Soundcloud, I can safely say he’s come a long way; both in recognition and in musical output. While managing to showcase his potential enough to get people talking, the tape felt like a discount ‘Acid Rap‘ at times and in the end would prove to be the one and only time he ever pursued that aesthetic. His next few releases (including ‘Feel That‘ and ‘Down On My Luck‘) were much more inspired by house and electronica sounds, incorporating Vic’s rapping effectively and leading to a fair bit of commercial success that resulted in the him signing to Jay Z’s Roc Nation label. This EP, a prelude to his upcoming album, is merely 7 tracks long, but exhibits way more potential than any of his previous outings.
Hell, even the first track ‘Dynasty‘ indicates this could be his best material yet, with the instrumental building up to a huge drop midway through where trap-inspired production is paired with some grand choral vocals. Vic sounds a lot more aggressive here than he ever has before too, spitting with intent while keeping up a great flow and dropping lines like “Cemetery diggers will be ready for your favorite rapper / Catch him stompin’ in my yard, I step up like a Beta Kappa” and “I hit ’em in the head like Holly Holm hit Ronda“. This intense atmosphere is ramped up even more with the following cut ‘16 Shots’ , a Black Lives Matter banger that is dedicated to denounce any and all cops in the USA. It’s a socially conscious tune brilliantly masked in a hard-hitting beat, more than matching the MC’s relentlessness as he drops venomous lines like “Fuck a black cop too, that’s the same fight / You got a badge, bitch, but you still aim white“.
Don’t think Vic can’t be more flexible with sending a message though, as he shows in the penultimate track (and the best one) on the project; ‘Shades of Blue‘, a track that highlights racial relations in America by specifically referring to the Flint, Michigan water crisis in the first verse and his own struggle and where he stands in the second. He uses the imagery of rain alluding to water for the hook “Rain or shine, it’s all blue, it’s all blue / Ain’t no sun, it’s all blue, it’s all blue“, saying that no matter what happens the black community will always be second best in the eyes of the establishment. Over a mellow-yet-touching piano he questions why issues like this aren’t being given the publicity they should across American media, it seems they’d rather turn their attention to a popular internet video; “They got Damn Daniel distracting you on Instagram / Back again with the all-white media coverage“. While he’s angry, he doesn’t position himself as the Karl Marx of this theoretical revolution, as he admits that (like anyone) he has flaws and distractions that detract from his message: “And I can’t even spare a dollar to the movement / But I’m in the strip club spending dollars on that movement / I guess we all got room for improvement“.
He’s not afraid to embrace this side of himself either, with both bravado and arrogance shining through on the tracks ‘Danger‘ and ‘New Bae‘. The first has what is probably the hardest beat on the EP, with a thunderous sub-bass and some bumping synths, where Vic drops some mixed quality bars that range from the vicious “I don’t like the way that niggas talking like they bullet proof / Until they gotta find out what a bullet do” to the weak “You know that feeling when you at the bank / Tryna quit cigarettes going through withdrawals“. The second sounds like a cut off of a forgotten Travis Scott project, with the auto-tuned rapper crooning over a piano and rolling hi-hats combo, an overall mix that proves to be the most forgettable on the EP. You can tell these tracks were the more commercially-driven ones, and Vic doesn’t always shine here like he does on his socially-conscious cuts; expect for the moderately enjoyable ‘Liquor Locker‘, which features a guitar driven, R&B-type instrumental and a solid feature from Ty Dolla $ign. It serves its purpose as a romantic summer jam with a little bit of edge, and manages to fit in with the rest of the tracklist nicely.
The final track of the EP, one that shares its name with the project; ‘There’s Alot Going On‘ is really what you’d expect it to be judging by the title; an update on Vic’s life and what’s been happening with him. Except it isn’t just some diary entry to let the fans know when the album will be coming, it’s an exploration of the rapper’s journey from small-time MC to major label player and his ever-changing emotional state throughout it. The storytelling is incredible here, with the Chicagoan outlining his experiences with doing drugs in Hollywood, the dark side to his long-term relationship with his girlfriend and him ultimately moving back into his mom’s basement to get his head straight. There are so many quotable lines on this thing that I couldn’t possibly list them all, so I urge you to give this track a real listen; as it embodies a vulnerability and rawness with some wonderful narration that you rarely see in hip-hop these days.
Vic Mensa has dabbled in a host of different sounds over the past couple of years, some of the working out; some of them not. Here though, he seems to have found his feet as well as his remarkable rapping ability and pairs it with some really sweet production from the likes of Papi Beatz and Smoko Ono. For the most part his wordplay and storytelling are exquisite, and he showcases both his braggadocio as well as his conscious side throughout the EP. While there’s still no sign of the actual album, this impressive outing should sate fans enough for their patience to carry over for when that fateful day eventually comes, as it more than shows that the MC is one to surely keep an eye out for in the future.
Highlights: Shades of Blue, Dynasty, There’s Alot Going On, 16 Shots