Album Review: #8: Vic Mensa - There’s Alot Going On
by Sarah muhammad
Over the last several years, I have had the great pleasure of watching Vic Mensa develop his skill and sound into something. During high school/early college years, he was in an indie rock/hip hop band called Kids These Days, a band that gained a lot of local acclaim in our hometown of Chicago. During my undergrad years in 2013, he released his first popular mixtape (his actual first was released in 2010) titled Innanetape, and in 2016 he released the most lyrically impactful project of the year, titled There’s Alot Going On. The album art is worth noting on this release, with a black and white image of Vic shirtless, exposing his tattoos and a target tattooed on his chest, a symbol of him being a target as a Black man in society. At only seven tracks long, Mensa is able to unpack critical issues of the times including growing police brutality, government corruption, the urgency of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, and his own road to redemption and forgiveness from his past mistakes and failures. The opening track “Dynasty” is a nod at his current label Roc Nation and he manages to waste no time coming out the gate with hard hitting bars (“Yeah, I carry the Roc like a runnin' back/hundred miles and runnin' back...Vic the young hitta, I want it with any nigga/My problems' deeper than rap, ain't a problem to bury niggas/Cemetery diggers will be ready for your favorite rapper”), where he is claiming his position in the game and challenging any other rappers that surmise that they can out rap him, and rightfully so. The track ends with a chilling clip from a rally held for slain Chicagoan Laquan McDonald, where the chant “16 shots” is repeated several times into the next track, titled by that exact name, as the number of times the victim was shot the night he was murdered. “16 Shots” leaves nothing to the imagination as Vic specifically calls out Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and the police officer that killed McDonald, Jason Van Dyke, waging a full on war of the people vs. authorities (“Ready for the war we got our boots strapped/100 deep on State Street, where the troops at?/The mayor lying saying he didn't see the video footage/And everybody want to know where the truth at/On the South side where it's no trauma centers, but the most trauma...he never had a chance/And we all know its cause he black/Shot 'em 16 times, how fucked up is that?”). “16 Shots” represents the deep emotion of anger, sadness and frustration of every Black person in America dealing with the grief of police brutality, both directly and indirectly, making it very clear that we are not laying down without a fight (“Tension is high, man these niggas is irate/You can see it in they eyes, they wanna violate”), similar to the Malcolm X quote “by any means necessary”. The track ends with a bone chilling voice over of McDonald’s family lawyer describing the aftermath of the killing, followed by warning sirens. On “Danger”, Vic takes a looser but still lyrically abrasive approach at describing his own spontaneity similar to the danger on the streets of Chicago, and using the description of a ‘dangerous’ woman (“I wouldn't trade it for nothing, unless/She was 5'7", pretty waist, coke bottle, basket case”) as being the only substitute from his own fast life. Perhaps the most heartfelt song on the album is “Shades of Blue”, a song dedicated to the struggle of Flint, Michigan in the water crisis following the rapper’s visit to the town earlier this year to help provide resources. The lyrics on this track will make the hair stand up on end (“Color of morning pee coming out of the sink/It's 2016, who would think/Kids in America don't have clean water to drink?/Like they cut the EBT, took 'em off of the link...So now the poor people get the shorter end/Of the stick, ain't that some bullshit?/Shorty thirsty, he just bought his fourth fifth/It's lead in the water gun, he dying from a full clip”) by providing a shaking amount of imagery to the concept that this is a real issue in 2016 that could happen to anyone, and goes on to affirm the influence and power that those in similar positions to him have to make a positive change in society. Some of the more lighthearted songs on the release include “New Bae” and “Liquor Locker” featuring Ty Dolla $ign, presenting a nice, even balance to the serious content which is mainly featured in the project. The project ends with a run on title track where Vic discusses the story of his rise and fall from success, his path towards redemption and moving back towards the top, and his tumultuous relationship with ex girlfriend Natalie Wright, whom he was referencing in the song “U Mad” featuring Kanye West. The song is used as Vic’s final release to cleanse his soul in an honest effort to start over and begin anew. The lyrical content of this project vastly surpasses the majority of current rap music and for content alone (not including exceptional production by Papi Beatz), this release made it to my top 10. Vic is fulfilling the responsibility of activism and using his voice for what it was intended on this project, a challenge to others to step up and do the same.
Best Tracks: “16 Shots”/“Shades of Blue”
Best Production: “New Bae”/”Dynasty”