Vic Mensa – INNANETAPE – The STiXXclusive Review

One thing that people have been lost in the shuffle with, is the fact that Chicago still has a lot of artists that put out quality music. If you’re not a Kanye West, Twista, and/or Lupe Fiasco fan (and it’s arguable that their best days have far surpassed them), Common is still around (The Dreamer/The Believer is still great) to represent the main faces of Chicago Hip Hop. Now, since Chief Keef came out and the exposure of Southside Chicago’s violence taking a mainstream wave of unnecessary proportions, people forgot about the music, and Chicago was getting the wrong type of attention (they still are). I look at Chicago like I do Toronto, and although I’ve never been there, I’ve always heard great things about the city. Their range of various genres of music and how they’re embraced by so many cultures is what makes the music that much better. House music was founded in the city, and if you listen to enough of Kanye West’s music, progressively, you could hear it coming out through each album as he got further away from the soul vibes. The main question is: who is going to carry the torch and lead for Chicago Hip Hop on a major scale when the older heads have long retired? Chance the Rapper is one answer, but Vic Mensa is right there with him. I first heard him (ironically) on Chance’s song Cocoa Butter Kisses from Acid Rap, and I had to run back his verse time after time after time. It was that good. Then, producer Jonathan Lowell sent me Did It B4, and although it was older, I was still digging it. Having released multiple cuts from this upcoming mixtape, I was interesting in hearing just what he could bring to the table. His rivalry with Chance pushes him to try to one-up him, so would he? My early prediction was that he would, but with Acid Rap being as good as it is, he would have to pull off something serious.

vic-mensa-innanetape

The introduction, Welcome to Innanet, (internet, for those who didn’t catch on up to this point) came in with such a bang with crashes of what sounded like he had a rock band in the background. If you know Mensa’s history, he was the lead in a band called ‘Kids These Days’ (listen to Traphouse Rock, it’s dope), and thus that’s where you can make that sonic connection from what you hear here. Blended in with sounds of electronics, like radio dial tuning, and dial up internet starting up (shout out to Netscape Navigator/AOL way back then), Vic settles you in for what’s going to be a different listening experience. Because a lot of people had built up their own levels of anticipation for Vic (a majority because of his great verse on Acid Rap), this was an opportunity for Vic to tell his story and to assume his own position as an upcoming rapper in the game. The crazy thing about this track is that it’s literally all first verse (I hope some people got that reference), and in a nutshell, it’s Vic depicting just who he is, a bit of his past with the band, reveals some stuff about his character, who he wants to be as an artist, and also the challenges he faces ahead of him as a solo artist.

“I’m an artist, no need for a canvas
Campin’ the van at the local campus
What do you mean he not there yet?
Hair-brained adolescent ass on the airwaves
Pullin’ to your city with my niggas in the caravan, ridin’”

One thing that people need to understand about Vic’s style of rapping is that he goes off beat a lot, he switches up from rapping fast and slowing it down, and he usually goes on long ranges on a single breath, but his energy and ability to maintain his consistency of his charisma is what makes his music that much intriguing to listen to. If you listen to punk rock or even rap/rock bands, the lead rapper often has that same style (Vibonics, for example). This is one of the best intros that I’ve heard on any project, because he set the tone from the jump and wasn’t messing around. It’s like he picked up where he left off with ‘Kids’ and the instrumental (produced by Vic himself) played a great part in the transition from speeding up, but then out of nowhere, it slows down.

Orange Soda is a song that really has nothing to do with the beverage (the video has it all over, but that’s as close as you’ll get to the reference), but from the beginning, you get that soulful groove and the hook played into it so well that you really could look at Vic like “damn, you can sing too? Flourish.” A lot of songs have their theme laid out in the hook (technically that would be a chorus), and Vic continues from the intro into just what he his frustrations were with being an artist, although now it’s a different chapter in his music career.

“Know when you want it, but just can’t have it
Especially as an artist, don’t that shit make you mad
Just breathe, breathe, breathe, it’s all in your head
Know these labels wanna sign me for an arm and a leg”

These lines pertain to not only artists, but it’s a fact of life – we want to do so many things, but because we can’t attain it right away, we get antsy and frustrated with everything the world doesn’t have to offer us. Hence, why the ‘breathe breathe’ line makes sense is because we have to sometimes just close our eyes, take a step back, and understand that our talents & skills are on the radars of others (depending on what field you’re in). Everything just takes time, and they happen at their own pace.

Vic believes in his abilities as a rapper and has goals set for himself that he wants to accomplish, and that was highlighted in the second verse. The process of growing up (headed into his 20s) is something that a lot of people ponder and wonder if it’s all going to be alright. He highlights his work ethic of producing and rapping on days end because he wants to be great and his love of the game is so much bigger than just the music itself. That right there showed me that he truly has passion for music, period. Not just Hip Hop, but overall, he just wants to make everything to its true potential. Being looked at as the underdog is the motivating factor for him, and like most underdogs, that’s how they come out with some of the best stuff (although, I don’t think he’ll be looked at as an underdog after this tape).

The sound of Lovely Day reminded me of some old school kind of House music, and what I liked about this project thus far (it’s technically a free album) is that sonically, there were different sounds in the first 3 songs, which led me to believe that there was going to be a slew of variety, which is a good thing. What has also impressed me thus far is that Vic is a good lyricist the way he strings his lines together. I often found myself running back lines just to catch what he was saying, and a good chunk of them were impressive (I definitely nodded in approval). The song itself is pretty much a day in the life of Vic: Wake up, smoke up, have some fun, make some music and here we are with the Innanetape.

A cool thing about Chance & Vic are that not only are they great friends, but they’re also competitive with each other, so they’ll pretty much always try to outdo each other. Chance blew, and now Vic blew. Acid Rap is in a lot of people’s top mixtapes of the year, and Vic is making the case for his being in that discussion, so it’s good that they push each other, because at the end of the day , that would make for better music. Tweakin’ is a term that I heard on Kendrick Lamar’s track m.A.A.d city:

“And they wonder why I rarely smoke now
Imagine if your first blunt had you foaming at the mouth
I was straight tweaking the next weekend we broke even”

So, it turns out that ‘tweakin’ is basically when you’re ‘tripping out’ from being high – simple as that. This track with Vic featuring Chance would basically be about them being high (we all know Chance experimented with Acid, so this is up his alley), but there are also other meanings. This track has that trap bounce kind of feel to it, but it has its own sound. The hallucinations lead to outlandish ‘Tyler the Creator’ type of lyrics

“Sound like Ray J and Chris Brown on Celebrity Deathmatch
Where the latter of the two get his neck slashed
Or slapping a paraplegic with a pair of crutches
Or wiping my ass with Rosie O’Donnell’s mustache
I got Martha Stewart cooking yola
Molly in the cherry cola, rub it on your areolas”

What got me hype the most was just how Chance’s ad-libs came on before his verse (don’t ask why that hyped me, but it just did). He continued with the hallucinogenic theme of it, but he looked at it as one of those friends that looks into everything deeper than it is and questions things into a deeper perspective. In Chance’s verse, he makes Illuminati references, and is posing as the more thought provocative of the 2 on this song, until he comes to his senses at the end of the track, all to lead you on to believe that they were high the entire time, and the point of it wasn’t to make sense of what they were saying. I liked the concept of it, I can’t lie.

The FUN! interlude is what the essence of an artist should be. Vic highlights that, yes the music industry is a grind, but he makes music because it’s fun, and it’s enjoyable to him. That’s what it should be. Of course he wants to turn it from just a hobby and turn it into a business, but when you’re not enjoying it, what are you in it for?

“Music is about fun, music is fun to me. I love it. More than fun it’s about love. I need to just not forget that”

People say that music is Magic, because it really does something to you that you can’t understand, and that’s what magic is. Magic can be anything that you believe in (ah, you see what I did there), and for Vic, this track reflected his past year and just what he did to get to this point of success – that success being his album. From the humble beginnings to the bright future he has in front of him, you could say that it’s magical how it all happened for him, although hard work and effort put him in this position to begin with.

“Where would I be if not standin’ on the stage, spillin’ my heart out on this page
Paper, viewing movies and rubber toilets to get paid
Do you believe in magic? I know I do
Only thing better than dreamin’ is seein’ it all come true”

What I like about this track is that I can relate it to my life, and I’m sure that if you had a good year, or maybe it wasn’t even just a year, seeing yourself at a greater position than where you were at previously, it really is magical just to see where and how it all happened; it’s like it was a blink of an eye, although it may not have felt that way initially. Jesse Boykins the 3rd is a singer that I was put onto a few months back, and honestly, he’s one of the more underrated singers out right now (Rocki Evans and BJ the Chicago Kid are up there as well). It goes back to the emphasis of having fun that Vic talked about in the interlude (and also at the beginning of the 1st verse), and magic is a staple of fun, especially when you’re still young, adolescent, and somewhat innocent.

SAVEMONEY is a group that consists of a lot of Chicago artists (Vic and Chance being part of it), and saving money has been a constant emphasis in the rhymes up to this point. On Time is Money, the concept of making & saving money is no truer spoken than here. The track was produced by Boi1da (which I found to be really surprising, but still a great pick up), and with a feature from fellow Chicago rapper, Rockie Fresh, I had a feeling that this track would be pretty dope, although I was a bit skeptical of Rockie (it’s the MMG aura; I feel it tarnishes people). Vic vents out about his home and the atmosphere in Chicago from his perspective that people see on the news a lot (the violence in the city), and I can draw a comparison to how Chance did on Pusha Man, and Acid Rain.

“Tryin’ to be optimistic with the politicians
Cut schools, buy guns, but when the shots is lickin’ at the ones that’ll lose they son
Instead they send ’em to private schools and pull back on public funds
While functioning as if they could begin to fathom where the fuck we comin’ from”

There’s always politics involved when helping people could just be the number 1 priority. It’s the same thing for a lot of cities, but Chicago has had the attention of the United States for the longest time, but in order to understand the people, they need to see just how they live, which is Vic is saying – they don’t and they won’t. It sets up the people for constant disappoint and continuing depression. Continuing with the theme of time equalling money, Vic also had a bar that really stood out:

“Time is money, every second I spent in high-school clockin’
Should’ve been on the road fuckin’ with hoes, fallin’ through holes in my pockets
But everything happens for a reason
If you choose to look at it that way
And put truth into the things you do
And really believe what you say”

Now, education is important, but there were people I knew that they felt like they were wasting time with school and not wasting time making money. Hence why people drop out, don’t go to college, and just want to make money. There’s nothing wrong with being money motivated, but there’s always the people who become lazy and complacent with life, and next thing you know, they wish that they went to school to find better opportunities for themselves. Vic has gone from songwriter to lyricist, to a type of preacher all on the same album. It’s great to see the fact that he has his range and the fact that he can make you think and entertain, that’s important, because you want to keep the listener interested in what has to be said.

“Money makes the world go ’round
But don’t forget it when you get it
My pops told me, told me, “Make money
But the money you make don’t make you””

It’s important to remain true to yourself when you get a certain point of status in your life. You can make a lot of money, and that’s great, but the money doesn’t define you; the money should be representative of who you are as a person and what you did to get it. I find it better to be life motivated than money motivated (that’s just me at least).

Even Rockie Fresh dropped some knowledge on the track, and although he’s not the best young rapper out from Chicago, he’s still signed, and he does have a flavour to him that got him signed to MMG in the first place.

“Gotta get the check, these niggas wanna say, “Turn up”
But then they turn up and then they earn what?
Nothin’, they frontin’”

Overall, I liked this song because Vic was saying some concrete and down to Earth things that could prove to be life lessons in the future that I would teach my kids about how to follow what you believe in and that no matter what, be thankful of the life you have although there will be rough times. Just work towards better ones so you can reflect on what was, and at the same time focusing on what is and what will be (oh, and save money, because you’ll need it one day).

I’m a Freddie Gibbs fan, so when I heard the beat for YNSP, and recognized that it was from BFK (Bout It Bout It to be specific); I felt that Vic had to rip it. I honestly mean this when I say that I haven’t heard a disappointing track yet, and I didn’t feel like I was going to any time soon. This was Vic’s statement saying he’s going to come into the game and takeover, which is necessary – Hip Hop needs the hunger, and the younger generation coming up is slated to make some noise if they just continue making music. Being signed is something that has been in Vic’s face before, but because of the industry wanting him to sound a particular way, he decided that he needed to find his identity and come back stronger (I guess you can say that he did).

“I was on a plane feelin’ like David Blane
I blow ’em out the water when they try to put me in a box
Box with God when I throw fists
High society Haile Selassi out with a full clip”

With success comes pressure, and when you feel yourself becoming successful, the question is: how can you handle it when it hits you? Many people don’t have to worry about putting themselves on that type of platform, but it’s essential for Vic, in his position, to think that way. The only way to go is up.

The skit at the end of YNSP transitioned perfectly into Hollywood LA, which is one of my favourite songs off the album (it was released before the full album dropped). One nugget that I found out was that the skit was mimicked from The Notorious B.I.G’s skit for Going Back to Cali (little history lesson for the kids), and I have to give Vic some respect for paying homage to one of the greatest to ever do it (it’s cool that I can relate to more artists around my age to appreciate things like this). Hollywood, LA is the place where so many want to be, but it’s the place where so many people are scared to be. The bright lights can be so intimidating and not everyone can handle what comes with that lifestyle. Vic is determined to make it big in the City of Angels by any means, and is well aware of the risk & reward that comes with it.

“Hollywood, Los Angeles
Streets of gold and good canibus
But ooh I know you so scandalous”

This is also the first mention of his girlfriend, and as we all know, rappers don’t really like to expose anything related to their love life because it messes with the game, but honesty is always the best policy, especially in this industry if you want to make a respectable name for yourself.

Holy Holy is a song that is very personal to Vic, because it’s dedicated to his friends who died, and from there it deals with reflection about what would happen if everything would just end the next day for him and how he’d be remembered. It’s something that a lot of people think about, as gloomy as it sounds (I often think about death, unfortunately).

“What would people think about if I died?
I wonder sometimes if this music I
Make would keep me alive
But what if my tape never dropped or my album had flopped
Or I stopped at a red light and a semi-truck ran into my ride”

Ab-Soul’s feature on his was coming from a very dark place inside of him, because Alori Joh was his girlfriend who died in 2012, and he even had a song about it on Control System (Book of Soul). I looked at this track as the continuation of the song, and you can tell that he’s still grieving. Having not felt complete because he doesn’t know what caused her death, you would have to understand the pain he’s still going through. It’s a sad song, I can’t even lie. It makes me think of my grandmother and others that I’ve lost along the way in life.

Fear & Doubt played into the same vibe of self-reflection and wonder of just who Vic is and if he thinks that he can live up to whatever potential he knows he has. This was a song that I didn’t really take in more than others, because it seemed to have just flew by me each time, but sitting down and properly taking it in, it’s the pressures of success that seem to have Vic in a constant questioning session with himself

“Questionin’ what is my life to become?
I wonder if I’ll ever be the man, my momma wish I was
Or will I end up victim to the hand of a gun?
Given the current circumstances I stand alone
No one to hold me but me, I mean it’s hard not to be stressed
Stretchin’ myself to the bone, can’t feel my chest
I been heavin’ cause all this smoke I been breathin’ in just to not be depressed”

Joey Purp added fuel to the fire with a dope verse of his own by throwing in bars of just who he is, the problems with people in the community, and even dealing with prime examples of struggle and adversity in his own life and comparing it to the lives of others, determining just if they have it as hard as him. There’s a passion to the verse and the delivery definitely attributed to the vibe of the song.

Yap Yap was a short one, but a good one, because not only is the hook catchy as hell, but Vic talks about gun violence and the culture of just how American society treats their judicial system because of their heavy gun culture – it’s not exactly progressive as a country, but it’s been like that for hundreds of years, it’s not like they’re going to change anything about it.

“How to make it in American
Where they die by the power of the gun and they live by the fair one
And the fair one is rarely an option, if you ain’t got one I advise to carry one”

When he says “SLAM” on the track, they serve as meanings for guns, drugs, and the sound of a jail cell when the doors close. There are a lot of society conspiracy theories that rappers have talked about when it comes to the treatment of Black people (although Vic doesn’t directly specify a particular group), and Rap music was built upon the social issues of Black people. Vic is just providing more examples of the cycle of what happens and why more and more people end up in jail over petty crimes. Everyone has a story, so it’s good to hear it from different perspectives. RUN! (hey, it rhymes with FUN!) is a track that continued the theme of guns, but it more so personifying his past and present; going away to reflect on just what it was that made him change his perception of music, but he came back and he really has no choice but to stick with the music, since that’s all he knows and wants out of life – to win with music as his main staple. Thundercat (on the Brainfeeder roster) on the track gave it a very 80s Pop music feel to it, and I felt like I was watching one of those crazy B movies that my mom grew up watching. It fits Vic’s personality and just how the album was sounding, sonically.

The biggest compliment that you can receive in the hood by your peers is when they call you That Nigga. Going through just everything that he went through for this moment to happen, it really is a moment of appreciation. Like Kanye West’s Last Call (just not as long), Vic’s outro described the series of events that happened as he was building up to the release of this tape: going on tour with Disclosure, going on tour with J.Cole, attending meetings with record labels, and also falling off a bridge and electrocuting himself. From all the downfall like people calling him a failure, and being in a band that broke up, he believed in himself enough to get back on his feet and rise to new heights as an artist, and with that, he became that nigga.

Vic Mensa is going to be a name that will be sticking around for a while, and this mixtape gives you a bit of everything that he can do when it comes to him either rapping or singing. The crazy thing is that he does both well, so his versatility will definitely give him the edge over many when it comes to opportunity for stardom and ability to make great music. With INNANETAPE, you learn a few things about Vic: he’s passionate about his music, he doesn’t have boundaries when it comes to his music because you know he’s very expressive, and he’s determined to win in this game. One can only hope that more music stems from here, and having seen him live in concert, the lights will only get bigger as time passes on. Listen to the tape for something new, fresh and fun. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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