Say what you will about Vic Mensa, but the man has done well for himself. Lest we forget, he spent the better part of last year touring alongside Jay-Z for the 4:44 tour, a position that many aspiring artists (with proper respect for hip-hop history) would cherish to hold. Of course, a recent “identity crisis” narrative has since been peddled, though a recent Forbes feature indicates that Mensa’s musical inspirations were always disparate. In fact, he spent much of his childhood listening to bands like Rage Against The Machine and Nirvana.
It was only after hearing KRS One’s The Mixtape and Nas’ Illmatic that he realized the glories of hip-hop. “I wasn’t really into hip-hop before that,” he admits. “I didn’t identify a certain way with hip-hop because I didn’t understand it. I didn’t get why Eminem and 50 Cent were so mad. I didn’t realize 50 had been shot nine times either, that’s a good reason to be mad.” Eventually, Mensa found him gravitating to Nas’ work, drawing a comparison between the rapper and a legendary American writer. ” What’s so ill about Illmatic is that I feel like it puts this timeless literary analogy in front of us for rap and hip-hop. You print Nas lyrics out, you write them out and it reads like [Ernest] Hemmingway.”
“Nas wasn’t a big-time kingpin in his music and wasn’t like a gangster. He was the observer and the narrator,” continues Mensa. He was an author and I always was a heavy reader, so Nas contextualized all this s**t to me as I’m starting to write lyrics and made me see hip hop as being an author and a narrator and create on that literary level of the greats, but in our own street-informed medium.”
Of course, Mensa also cites another Chicago figure as an integral part of his development – Kanye West. Upon recieving tickets to the Glow In The Dark Tour, Mensa found himself enamored with Ye’s grandiosity. “Then Kanye [West] being on the spaceship I was like, “Oh yeah, I need to be a part of this.” I was into rap, but I wasn’t trying to be a rapper,” he says. “I had been freestyling, but I wasn’t writing raps or writing songs or trying to do that. That was the moment that really made me want to be a part of it from a creative aspect.”