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Vic Mensa is in his eponymous era. However, there’s more to Victor than one may think. The Chicago native is poised to detail the stories emoted on the 18-track album as he and a team of three enter VIBE’s Los Angeles office. An eager smile sets a warming tone for conversation as his chains add a subtle flex to his otherwise casual t-shirt, basketball shorts, and gas station shades.
“I’m human, so that means that I’m multifaceted and I exist in so many different forms as we all do. So in an album, especially named Victor, it has to be a mixture of those things,” explained the 30-year-old.
“There are moments in this album where I’m in deep prayer, in communion with God, and there’s moments in this album where I’m at [a] strip club, and there’s moments in this album where I’m on my hands and knees crying in a jail cell, praying to get out, and there’s moments in this album when I feel on top of the world or I’m experiencing abundance and wealth and success. It’s a representation of all those things.”
Features from Ty Dolla $ign, Jay Electronica, Thundercat, Chance The Rapper, and more round out the diverse LP. It’s clear that the future and the past are simultaneous focal points, all in an effort to apply lessons and move forward. Victor is his “Sankofa,” a word in the Twi language of Ghana meaning “to retrieve.” The album presents full-circle moments, honest reflections, and faith-powered optimism as he navigates the complexities of his consciousness.
Was there any excitement when you were creating and realized, “I have more to say, I have more than this EP?”
Vic Mensa: I do it for me first and foremost. I think the first thing that I feel is like a catharsis, an emotional release, and that helps me process my own life. Then I do it next, for people that listen and care about my music and are in tune with me. But at the same time, obviously, you have to do it for people that don’t know anything about you. It’s also for people that don’t like you… It’s like it’s all of that at one time.
That is nerve-wracking for sure because you make this music that is the culmination of so much struggle and triumph and joy and pain and love and hate and fear all at once, and then you put it out in the midst of 10,000 other releases on one day. It is like you put your soul on display to be judged. I don’t think that… people that don’t pursue a creative passion sometimes can fully understand that. They just take it as like, ‘Oh, this is music. Maybe I like it, maybe I don’t, maybe I just don’t give a f**k either way.’ But I don’t know that people all the way understand what it’s like to struggle over something like that you love and then be judged on it. But that’s what we signed up for though.
If Victor was a movie, what genre would it fall in?
That was a quick answer.
It’s dramatic. It’s a story of redemption. That’s the way I see it, and it is the hero’s journey, the classic hero’s journey, to experience these valleys and peaks and that’s the same hero’s journey written up by Homer in The Odyssey, and Star Wars, or any classic story has to have those moments of it’s in struggle when you don’t know if your hero, your protagonist, will make it and those breakthroughs.
That’s funny. When you said drama, the word ‘heroes’ is the first word that came to my mind. And what would you think is the lesson learned by the main character, the hero in this album?
I think humility is a lesson learned and shared by my character in this album. I think also I speak a lot about karma. I speak about the principle of, ‘Judge not, lest you be judged. Condemn not, lest you be condemned.’ It’s very biblical in a way. I’m not Christian, but in the creation of this album, I definitely did spend time studying the Bible and the stories of the prophets. The album itself is rooted in Islam, which I’ve been practicing, and something many people may not know about Islam is that in Islam, we honor the same prophets as the Bible.
So many of those lessons that those prophets’ lives illustrate are the same lessons that I’m illustrating in this album like unwavering faith and to triumph fear. Jonah got swallowed by the whale—that was the depths of despair and doubt and I’m sure everyone else was uncertain about whether he could make it out. He was uncertain about whether he could make it out. It is such a simple but powerful story and that’s the type of story that I’m telling here.
What were some of your favorite moments from the album?
Definitely ‘LVLN UP.’ That’s one of my favorites. That’s the joint that I produced and I made from some samples of African music and a song I’m really excited just to share. I got some dope visuals and things like that. ‘$outhside Story’ is another one that I really love to be able to have Common on. That record as well, is amazing for me because I’m just the biggest Common fan as well as Malik Yusef, my big brother who’s doing the outro poem on there. ‘Law of Karma,’ that’s another one that I love for real. ‘STRAWBERRY LOUIS VUITTON’ is probably my favorite song on there. That’s another one that I produced and ‘The Weeping Poets’ with Jay Electronica, that’s my favorite verse. That’s dope, because I’ve been studying Jay Electronica for 15 years now. I still remember where I was the day and time that I first heard Jay Electronica’s ‘Exhibit A.’
Where was it?
I was in a place called the Thompson Center in Chicago and I must’ve been 15 or 16, just acting bad with my friends after school in this downtown building. I was listening to it and I ended up getting locked up that day, too. I remember that so vividly. And to be here 15 years later, side by side with him on a record, that’s what I would’ve envisioned for sure as a high schooler. I wouldn’t have envisioned that that’s the type I would do, but it’s dope to see it come to fruition.
Looking forward to the next 50 years of Hip-Hop, where do you hope the music continues to evolve and how do you hope the industry continues to evolve with it?
The music industry needs a radical upheaval, perhaps in the way that the film industry is undergoing a radical upheaval right now. We were just having a conversation about a show that I’m on that’s coming out that I can’t even promote, because of the strike. Largely they’re striking because as the industry has changed into streaming, the people writing and creating these films and these shows are not being properly compensated and it’s a massively profitable business. Musicians are experiencing the same thing. You stream a million times and you get like $4,000. I don’t know how that’s equitable, how that really makes sense, [or] what metric that’s based on, but that needs to change, for sure. And the music, I would say, is a reflection of the people. We can’t expect the music to change as the people don’t and obviously the people will change. Is the trajectory, is the direction right now, [a] clearly identifiable positive direction? I can’t say that, but the movement of people is not linear. We might progress in some respects and regress in others, and I think that’s happening.
I do think we all got to do our part. I don’t spend too much time obsessing over the lack of consciousness in our culture as Black people, although it occurs to me. It’s also, what am I doing personally? How do I impact it? We’re up against so much. We’re up against so much misinformation, so much disinformation, so much miseducation—shoutout to Lauryn Hill—and so much opposition, people trying to erase our history, so much distraction…So many agent provocateurs, it’s like people of our race or our community that you’ll find all over social media telling you why racist s*t isn’t racist.
That’s the way they use us though. It’s like the Black police officer phenomenon. Put a Black face on it to hide the truth of what it really means…People will stay fooled, people will stay sedated, people [will] stay too drugged out to focus on what’s really happening. But at the same time, as you saw in 2020, people will also wake up and take radical action. And if the last radical action that happened was as extreme as it was to the point that these establishments are getting literally burned down—then what’s the next one going to be?
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