Socially critical Chicago rapper Vic Mensa released his newest project There’s A Lot Going On this week, and the highly political project highlights a variety of themes and styles, giving listeners a strong sense of Mensa’s versatility. From police shootings and poverty to door-delivered alcohol, the largely underground rapper finds a way to fit a great deal of content in only seven tracks.
Mensa opens with an aggressive flow and clever bars on top of a bass-heavy beat on Dynasty, announcing his artistic anger.
16 Shots, the project’s most violent and emotionally influential track puts the scope on the brutal killing of Laquan McDonald by Chicago Police in 2014. The song is Mensa’s militant response to the ruthless violence, its title reflecting the number of bullets the 17-year-old was hit with, many long after he had fallen to the pavement. A haunting intermission breaks down the shooting, leaving an unmistakable sense of guilt and shame.
In Danger, Mensa proves he is as hard as the south side of the city he was raised in, illuminating the prevalence of violence and physical danger during his youth. He also introduces his perspective on the strange tug-and-pull relationships he shares with Roc Nation, Jay Z’s label and Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music.
Mensa steps away from the politics and takes a much lighter approach on New Bae, a more typical male-dominated relationship track. Heavy use of autotune borders on excessive but somehow works in much the same way fellow up-and-coming rapper Travis Scott capitalizes on the technology. A drastic flow change almost feels like a feature until Mensa reveals himself by returning to his typical style.
In reality, the only feature on the project comes from chart-star Ty Dolla $ign on Liquor Locker. The summer party song explores a relationship centered around intoxication and seems the most likely track to receive radio airplay and mainstream success.
Discussing the water crisis in Flint, Mich., misplaced attention on fleeting trends in US pop culture, and the impact of the media on social issues, Mensa returns to conscious-centered themes in Shades of Blue.
Saving arguably the best for last, There’s A Lot Going On concludes with a track by the same name, in which Mensa takes a hyper-descriptive exploration through his own life and career. Going far deeper than most artists are willing to go. Divulging his previous addiction to Adderall, involvement in a violent domestic dispute, and a depression brought on during career lulls, Mensa climbs all the way back from his darkest days to his current peak. After moving back with his Mom, he started fresh. He met Kanye West and recorded Wolves on 2016’s The Life of Pablo, along with his own single U Mad before releasing his first official EP.
There’s A Lot Going On is one of the most aptly named projects I have heard in awhile. Vic Mensa’s honesty is refreshing. His take on some of the darkest issues in our country today gave him a platform to display his incredible artistic ability and range. The final bar may say it best, “I’d like to welcome ya’ll to my season.” After numerous features already this year with some of music’s biggest names, this strong project may be Mensa’s true breakout.
Written by: Aaron Nelson