why kanye's protege vic mensa isn’t mad
As Vic Mensa drops a dastardly new video for ‘U Mad’—the first single off his forthcoming solo effort—with fellow Chi Town superstar Kanye West, we catch up with the phenom about why Yeezy will always be youthful.
Photography Eric Chakeen
Vic Mensa can't slow down. Since releasing 2013's Innanetape—his breakthrough second solo mixtape featuring Chance the Rapper, Ab-Soul, and Rockie Fresh—the now 22-year-old rapper has spent the past two years on a stratospheric ascent to the game's upper echelons. Lately, Vic's been hard at work with his hometown hero, Kanye West. The pair's collaborative track, Wolves, premiered at Yeezy's NYFW presentation, and before dropping a menacing video for his forthcoming album's debut banger U Mad this morning, the duo staged a surprise performance for an awestruck group of high schoolers at Chance the Rapper's recent Open Mike event in Chicago's South Side. But in spite of spending so much time with Time's Most Influential Person of the Year, Vic has only developed a stronger sense of self (and as we learned snapping a few photos in a nearby Dave and Buster's, is one hell of an air hockey player.) As you watch sparks fly, lights flash, and Vic thrash in a straight jacket, get to know the rapper destined for the moon.
What or who inspired you to first start making music? I heard you were a Nirvana fan growing up.
I have a Nirvana tattoo, they were one of my favorite bands growing up. Before that, I was into The Who, Guns and Roses, and AC/DC—those are some of my earliest influences. I think some of my father's African music had an early influence on me as well as The Beatles from my mom and the jazz she used to listen to. Later on, I just started listening to everything rap. From Jay-Z, Nas, and Kanye to Wu Tang, Pharcyde, De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and Dilla to UGK and Three Six Mafia—Academy Award winners!
How did growing up in Chicago influence your sound?
What really influences me most is my environment, whatever that may be. Growing up in Chicago and just being from where I'm from, I was a couple blocks from dangerous hood shit and a couple blocks from multi-million dollar mansions and the President's house. Just being in the middle of all that without ever having a real firm, cemented footprint because my family lived in the middle of these places but wasn't necessarily wealthy or rich, I was just in a space where I could choose my world and I just had pieces of both. But as I grew older, the mansion, million dollar side of it didn't apply to me anymore and I was more of an outcast from that. But I'm influenced by everything that goes on in my life, just because I make music from a personal perspective.
Speaking of Chicago, tell us a little bit about your surprise show performing for high schoolers with Kanye at Chance's OpenMike event.
That was dope! I think that experience is what I would look to right now as my crowning achievement up to this point in time. Obviously I've performed shows for a lot more people and the stakes have been higher, but that show was a moment that held more significance to my life and lives of the people in attendance than anything I've ever done. To be able to do something of that magnitude for my own people on the South Side of Chicago is really a dream come true.
Over the course of your collaborative relationship with Kanye, what's the most valuable thing each of you has learned?
Ye has taught me to be very critical. I've always been an extreme perfectionist, but Kanye will have you visit your verse five times just trying to make the shit is perfect. He really creates in the moment and so that's why a lot of what involves Kanye that I've been around is so spur of the moment. I think what I've been able to bring to Kanye's process and to that situation is a connection point to Chicago and bigger than Chicago, the youth of now. Kanye will always be youthful because of his spirit and the pure imagination in the way that he creates. But before we went out there and did the open mic joint on the South Side, there wasn't really a bridge between this generation that we live in and a superstar like Kanye West. Even though he's from the South Side and still knows people on the South Side, there was no bridge between what's really going on right now and what shaped a lot of what's going on right now. I'm basically just the next generation of what he started and what they started. I'm influenced by that, but it's many other influences that brought me to where I am.
Does it feel like things have happened quickly?
I've been working and really focusing for a lot of years, at least since I was 16. So all those times when I was coming home from school and not even going to the park or some shit, just going downstairs to the basement to write raps. I never thought I was doing this shit to play, I always thought I was doing this shit to try and take over.
What's the most exciting thing about being young today?
We're living in a world with fewer and fewer boundaries every day. Whereas the sky was the limit 10 or 20 years ago, now the limit is like outer space; we're gonna be on the moon with colonies and shit I'm sure before I turn 50 years old. The ceilings are just floating and constantly rising. It's cool because we're able to sidestep a lot of formalities and limitations that people before us really had to try and break down, and now a lot of them are being broken down.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Eric Chakeen