Vic Mensa Performs Kanye West Collab 'Wolves' at Surprise Show in Chicago

Ramona Rosales
Vic Mensa at Lollapalooza on August 2nd, 2014 in Grant Park, Chicago photographed by Ramona Rosales.

In September 2012, Vic Mensa was shuffling around a northside Chicago McDonalds parking lot, spitting rhymes in a cipher, doing whatever he could to get the gathered high schoolers from nearby Lane Tech onboard with his then-rap-rock band, Kids These Days.

"I feel like I'm on the ground level," Mensa said at the time. "I'm still on the same train, the same buses these people are. These are my people."

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Three years later, the rapper is an internationally known budding superstar -- one who recently paired up with Kanye West on the unreleased "Wolves" and performed with him on Saturday Night Live. Suffice it to say, when Mensa took the stage for a last-minute surprise show at the intimate restaurant-venue Chop Shop in Chicago's Wicker Park neighborhood before a crowd of less than 300, emotions from all parties were running high.

"I just got back from London and Paris," Mensa said at the outset of the gig. "All of that, it's cool. But it's about Chicago. For the first time every time!"

Backed by a two-person crack band, the Save Money leader and poster boy for Chicago's ever-growing mainstream rap scene -- which includes Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins -- Mensa, wearing a cutoff flannel and skull cap, used Friday evening (March 13) as both an opportunity to give thanks to his long-running hometown fanbase as well as exhibit just how far he's come in a seriously short time.

"I wanted to do something small where I could see everybody's faces," he said between a rock-aggressive rendition of "Wimme Nah," during which he spouted lyrics about Chi-Town, and a tender cover of Wyclef Jean's "Gone Till November."

Stylistically, Mensa has evolved significantly since the release of his breakout mixtape, 2013's Innanetape. For one, he's come to embrace various musical worlds, from the EDM-ish "Down On My Luck ("If you've got a molly pop that bitch," he said before launching into it) to emotional poetry (the Drake-style Kaytranada collaboration "Drive Me Crazy"), soulful fare ("Hollywood LA, "Tomorrow (Holy Holy)") and even trap (the brand-new, venue shaking "You Mad Huh").

Unsurprisingly, there was mention of his recent work with West ("I was in Paris with Kanye last weekend," he revealed in an off-the-cuff rap on his career-making "Orange Soda"). There was also a fiery rendition of their unreleased collaboration, "Wolves," which drew the biggest reaction of the evening. (Mensa also revealed the song is "the first track off Kanye West's new album.") Not one to disappoint his idol/new mentor, Mensa and his Save Money crew -- including Tokyo Shawn and Leather Corduroy members Kami de Chukwu and Joey Purp -- finished the evening with a rowdy posse rendition of West's "All Day."

Despite the mayhem, Mensa couldn't help but express own exhilaration at returning to his hometown for an adoring, dedicated crowd.

"I been a lot of places," he said, "and I been packing my suitcase a lot lately." But as he smiled at his adoring hometown fans and soaked up their ever-present verbal love, it was evident his heart remains with the city by the lake.


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