With D’usse cups spilling below him, proudly sober Roc Nation MC Vic Mensa took a seat on Public Art’s stage beside Hot 97’s hard-hitting radio host Ebro Darden. Donning a rock-esque patched leather biker and a “Southside” tattoo across his neck, the rapper brought a promising debut album to the posh New York lounge on Friday (July 14).
In a time where catchy hooks and mumble stanzas are in heavy rotation, the lyricist utilized his unveiling of The Autobiography to emphasize his triumph over addiction, the sensitive climate of his hometown, Chicago, and millennial relationship obstacles.
Following the announcement of his debut album (due July 28) becoming available for pre-order, Mensa’s devotees raved online over his new track list. The LP, executive produced by No I.D., will feature Pusha T, Saul Williams, The-Dream, Ty Dolla $ign, Pharrell, Weezer and more.
See what Billboard learned during Mensa’s candid conversation with Darden below.
On how The Autobiography is different from his previous projects:
“It’s not necessarily a departure from things before, as much as it is an accumulation of everything I’ve done before. The best part and pieces, and really going back to why I started to make music. I came into this inspired by people like ‘Pac and Common. These are the artists that really made me want to sit down and write a rhyme. The album was me being able to look at the past couple years, and from some of the times, I went astray.
There were a lot of things people are going through all over this world — that I was going through very personally. You know? [Everything] from drug addiction, to mental health issues, to violent shit [is featured on the album]. Everybody reads the f—ing news about Chicago, the feds are coming in, and opioid epidemics end up being … a whirlwind of social issues in America. I was just growing up in it, and living in a hot seat of it, too, in Chicago. I had to learn from it, and be able to move past it, to be objective, and make this album about all those things.”
On learning to become vulnerable and releasing “16 Shots”:
“All the music I put out last year was really in the process of making this album. I started this album in February of 2016, and that was when I went sober. I was able to come to a different center of gravity, to be able to say things like the [lyrics on the] record ’16 Shots,’ — or like this entire album. It was way more freeing than it was ever frightening. To me, it’s a lot more frightening to not be true, honest, and vulnerable. It is a lot more frightening to recognize the person in the mirror, or what I am saying. It’s very much so a cathartic experience to be able to lay it all on the record.”
On making meaningful music:
“People are going through real things. Kanye [West] had a line that I really liked on [My Beautiful Dark] Twisted Fantasy, ‘N—-s is going through real shit, man, they out of work/ That’s why another goddamn dance track gotta hurt,’ and that’s how I come to feel sometimes. Everything has its place. You always had a Kid ‘n Play or someone in the game. We’ve gotten to a point where we have people living in real-life motherf—ing situations. They’re trying to navigate it. The music that is being promoted, and the music that is on the radio, Twitter, and Instagram — it doesn’t at all reflect what people are really dealing with in their real lives. I wanted to make some music that would reflect what people are going through, and [music] people can relate to — not just when they’re in the club.”
On his social media hiatus:
“I’ve been in such vacuum making this album that I really keep my mentality completely outside of thinking about the industry. The people that were with me while I was making this album know — I was completely off social media for a year. I’m not in tune, I’m not searching Twitter, I’m not surfing, or seeing what’s going on with this guy on SoundCloud. [I do not see] who is beefing with whom, or who beat up their girlfriend, or who is dating Chyna Blac.” [Laughs]
On the inspiration behind The Autobiography:
“Right before I decided that [album] title, I played some music for my mom and my sister. I was talking real candidly about some situations that were risky. There were names in it and they were telling me, ‘You shouldn’t say all that. You shouldn’t tell these people all that about your life. You should take her name out it. You talked about him, and what happened to them.” And I [said], ‘I have to.’
That’s when I realized that this album was an autobiography. I wasn’t pulling any punches. I wasn’t pulling any names. I was just observing myself, and the world around me. I went to a political place last year, and was in Standing Rock, and Baton Rouge, I went out to where Alton Sterling was killed. [I went to] Flint, Michigan, and this time around, I really wanted to come tell my own story.”
On his relationship with Complex’s “Everyday Struggle” host DJ Akademiks:
“No, [I haven’t spoken to him.] My friend [told] me something that resonated with me. He said, ‘There was another shorty that was involved in a rap gang, that got killed in Chicago two days ago. [It was] probably over some rap beef, and DJ Akademiks didn’t make a f—ing video about it.’ So, I’m glad about that.”
On the troubling youth in Chicago:
“I think there is a lot of rage in the youth, and misguided energy. You have these kids without opportunities, role models, or examples of ways to positively grow up. They’re mirroring what they see. These shorties are not being given a chance to grow up.”
On No I.D. executive producing his album:
“I’ve known No I.D. since I was 17, but we didn’t really start working until last year. It was a really an eye opening, learning experience to be able to work with No I.D. The way No I.D. works and thinks about music is like a scientist. I felt I had to get him on the production because his language in production is more detailed than my language in lyricism. That’s my main forte. As you see with JAY-Z’s album, No I.D. is really influential in concepts and subject matter.”