Vic Mensa has had a tricky time defining himself as an artist since his early mixtapes at the turn of the decade. During this period, he was often compared to friend and fellow Chicago native Chance the Rapper, whose meteoric rise has somewhat overshadowed Mensa. If the constant comparisons to Chance weren’t enough, the double co-sign from Kanye West and JAY-Z have only increased the expectations of his debut album.
The 2015 collaboration with Yeezy, ‘U Mad’, doesn’t make the cut on ‘The Autobiography’, an indication that perhaps Victor Mensah is keen to tread his own path — and, as the title of the project would imply, tell his own story. Soulful opening track ‘Didn’t I (Say I Didn’t)’ is the first snapshot of Vic’s life, with the celebratory chorus juxtaposed with confessional and revealing verses. This duality perfectly sets the tone for the rest of the project, with a reoccurring theme throughout being Mensa’s attempts to balance his ambition and his relationships.
Despite the strong opener, the album falters early on with a string of underwhelming tracks, culminating in the obnoxious ‘Homewrecker’, featuring an ill-advised appearance from Weezer. The track paints a clichéd and overwrought picture of Vic being caught cheating by his girlfriend, a situation that is made light of just one song later on the much better ‘Gorgeous’.
However from this point, the album hits its stride with ‘The Autobiography’s artistic high point, ‘Heaven on Earth’, in which Vic tells the story of his murdered friend. In each verse Vic switches perspective, from his own in the first, to his fallen friend in the second and finally the unnamed killer in the third. The haunting beat and The-Dream’s ghostly vocals perfectly accompany Vic’s enthralling verses, resulting in a genuinely chilling and captivating story.
The album's sense of self-reflection reaches its peak on ‘Wings’, in which the Chicago rapper questions his friendships and addresses his addiction. Pharrell’s ethereal hook perfectly contrasts the growing ferocity in Vic’s delivery, as by the end of his second verse Mensa viciously berates himself, almost screaming that ‘I don't want you to live / I wish you were fucking dead / I wish you were never born / We would all be better for it.’
Closing track ‘We Could Be Free’ is a touching and heartfelt lament, reflecting Mensa’s very public activism regarding police brutality and Black Lives Matter. The gospel-inspired chorus is perhaps the best vocal performance from the Chi City artist on the entire record, with his voice sounding authentically affected by the emotion of the song.
Although the succession of lukewarm tracks early on prevents this from being a flawless debut, Vic Mensa does enough to keep the album an engaging listen even in its misguided moments. If nothing else, ‘The Autobiography’ illustrates the enormous potential of an artist who is finally stepping out of the shadows.
Words: Will Rosebury
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