Ten minutes before I’m scheduled to call Vic Mensa, an email arrives from his manager, Dan Weiner. “Vic wants you to hear this music in advance of the call,” it reads, along with three Dropbox links. On pressing play it instantly becomes clear that we’ve made the correct cover choice in Mensa. He undoubtedly did great work on his funky, soulful breakthrough mixtape ‘Innanetape’ - good enough, in fact for a fully formed artist. But when I first met up with the Chicago rapper two years ago in Manchester, where he was warming up for Danny Brown, I certainly wasn’t expecting as many creative twists and turns as we’ve witnessed from the phenomenal run he’s embarked on since. Maybe I should have anticipated it. I witnessed ‘Down On My Luck’ for the first time that day, stood in an empty room as he sound checked the track as if he was playing Madison Square Garden. He was fresh off a tour with Disclosure and the track seemed destined for pop greatness, but I couldn’t help feeling that his ode to Chicago’s house music culture was just a label-enforced grab for the mainstream before he returned to making tracks like ‘Orange Soda’.
It wasn’t. The track grew on me over the months that followed, and with subsequent releases like Kaytranada collabs ‘Wimmie Nah’ and ‘Drive Me Crazy’ it became clear that this was a new chapter; an artist continuing to level up creatively. Looking back, Mensa has always explored new territory with his music, and artistic rebirth isn’t new for him, having initially risen to acclaim as the front man of Kids These Days, a genre-defying band that also gave a start to Nico and Stix of The Social Experiment. It would be unfair to say he’s gone full circle, given the undeniable artistic growth that is clear throughout a string of releases and collaborations over the past 18 months. But a play through the band’s ‘Traphouse Rock’ and its interpolations of songs like The Pixies’ ‘Where Is My Mind?’, it’s clear that Mensa has taken it back to basics in order to progress. And we’re not just talking the rock ‘n’ roll fashion he’s adopted, with his bleached blonde hair, leather jackets and skinny jeans.
“I’m never satisfied with anything,” Vic admits, of his defiance to sit on one signature sound like so many others. “It can make things hard for myself, but it also pushes me. Because there’s never a moment where I’m like, ‘Okay, I’ve done it, I’ve achieved my mission.’ The things that inspired me as a kid, Jimi Hendrix, 2Pac’s ‘Dear Mama’, Nirvana ‘In Utero’ and ‘Nevermind’; they are just so meaningful - that music that really started my fire is just so timeless that I’m not comparing myself to a standard of Internet popularity and current music.” And the new songs - which will appear on his forthcoming debut album ‘Traffic’ - are relevant-yet-timeless, connecting from first listen and growing deeper on repetition as Vic soars over production that rebels against the trap-heavy turn-up anthems that have flooded the market lately. “The things that push me, and motivate me, are The Smiths and Morrissey, fucking Jay-Z’s ‘The Blueprint’, that’s the type of shit I’m putting myself next to in the levels of artistry that I’m trying to achieve - in my own way.”