Vic Mensa Saves His Flow for the Stage

Chicago rapper Vic Mensa — real name Victor Kwei Mensah — is one of the most respected new names on the circuit. From his beginnings with the group Kids These Days to his collaborations with Chance the Rapper in the collective Savemoney to his recent team-up with Damon Albarn’s virtual band Gorillaz, Mensa has made a real name for himself in a few short years, thanks to his intelligent and incisive rhyming.

So you'd think that he'd be a chatty interview, right? That desire to say something and put a message out there should surely result in a flowing conversation, right? Not so much with Mensa the day that we spoke. Despite our years of experience and professional charm, we couldn't get a whole lot more than a few mumbled answers, but here's what we learned about his style, latest EP and other projects.

Is Mensa happy with the way his new EP, There’s a Lot Going On, has turned out? “Yeah, definitely.” Does he feel it’s representative of who he is and what he has to say in 2016? “Yes.”

He’s playing coy. The man is fascinating on paper: He grew up in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago (the longtime home of President Obama), listening to AC/DC, Guns N’ Roses and Nirvana alongside Eminem, A Tribe Called Quest and Jay-Z. He might not know how to describe his own style, but he certainly has an impressively eclectic variety of influences.

“I think my style right now is far closer to my heart than the sound of the band I was in,” Mensa says during his one lengthy burst. “That was an experiment. The types of things I’m talking about in my own music are more representative of me as a person.”

By which he means messages about struggles with addiction, police brutality — basically the shit that he saw going on in Chicago, daily-life incidents that he details on songs like “Sixteen Shots” and the title track on There’s a Lot Going On. Police brutality, Mensa says, is going on every day all over America, and he feels some responsibility to draw attention to the injustice.

Still, he feels that Chicago has a lot going on musically, and he’s proud to have emerged from the Chi-Town rap scene. He’s also proud to have worked with Damon Albarn and Gorillaz, though he can’t (or won’t) elaborate on the specifics of that collaboration, which should see the light of the day with the release of the next Gorillaz album.

For now, we can enjoy Mensa when he performs in Denver this week. When we ask if he likes performing here, he giggles like a kid and says, “It’ll be fresh in an intimate room and shit. I’m gonna smoke dope and eat Cheba Hut.”

Hey, you’ve got to aim high, right?

Vic Mensa plays with Joey Purp and Talent Among Us at 9 p.m. Monday, August 1, at the Bluebird Theater;  3317 East Colfax Avenue, $25-$30.
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