Vic Mensa is a floater. His dazzling, freewheeling rhyme ability, his strained, aching singing voice, his exaggerated yet dead-serious quirks and his impressive wide-ranging production skills might lead you to think that he’s starved for attention, that he’s got an over-achiever’s attitude. Talking to the sleepy voiced, casually mumbling, straightforward Chicago MC on the phone though, it’s easy to see that Vic‘s focus doesn’t lie in impressing anyone or appearing one wayor another. He’s zoned in on the music and very little else. Vic seemingly slides through life with the improvisational candor that peppers each of his verses and performances, forgetting pieces as he goes, but enjoying himself nonetheless. Over the phone, he was frank and honest; so comfortable in his own skin that he never tried to force out any “interview content”. He was worlds apart from the manufactured urgency of most up-and-coming artists. He just did as he felt and followed his strange internal paths. Luckily, all of Vic‘s paths are a little odd, his choices (Gwen Stefani?) both funny and meaningful, and his perspectives unique.
At the moment, Vic is best known for his guest verse on close friend and SAVEMONEY partner, Chance The Rapper‘s “Cocoa Butter Kisses“, but that could all be changing very soon. Though Chance‘s star is shining bright at the moment, Vic is poised for comparable ascension with the upcoming release of INNANETAPE, his newest mixtape. Donnie Trumpet, another SAVEMONEY member, told us exclusively that INNANETAPE is going to be the best project of the year, and judging by the three vastly different singles, he’s going to have fans casual and hardcore, hip-hop and otherwise, agreeing with Donnie. Here’s RESPECT.’s talk with Vic Mensa.
RESPECT.: Let’s start out talking about one of your lesser-known talents. You’re producing a lot on INNANETAPE, right? The beat for “Did It B4” is wild, abrasive even.
Vic Mensa: That was kind of what I tried to do, yea. Especially ‘cuz I was coming off of doing something so different from that…I was thinking like, “The first thing I put out is just gonna be some crazy shit that people wouldn’t expect and shit.”
So yeah, I’m producing a good handful of joints on the tape. What I’ve done with a lot of stuff too is like, produce shit, and take it to some of my go-to producers, which are pretty much like Cam–who made the beats for “Orange Soda” and “Hollywood LA”–and then also my nigga Peter Cottentail, who’s just an ill ass producer out of Chicago. He’s doing a lot of shit on my tape, and he also did a lot of work on both of Chance’s projects. I think he played more on Acid Rap than he did make beats. Crazy keyboard player, like…super ill.
The first three singles are all so different, with “Did It B4” being so harsh, “Orange Soda” being the more fun, mellow joint, and “Hollywood LA” being a more downbeat, almost sad song. Is INNANETAPE all over the place like that or are these three tied together in context?
They all make sense together, you know what I’m sayin’…’cause all the music was made in a specific period of time. It was all made, more or less, from like January to around the beginning of the summer.
I just wanted to give a different range of the shit that I’m working off but also they were the songs that I felt were goin’ forward with it. “Did It B4” is one of the first songs that I made for the tape. And I just knew once I made that, that I’m gonna put this out first. It just struck me that way.
“Orange Soda”, actually, I was gonna do something different with that video. This dude named Alan Stone does, like, these ill videos—or used to, I think—in his mom’s living room. I was like inspired by that shit, and I was gonna do a live video for “Orange Soda”, but shit was too difficult. Doing the live video, honestly, wouldn’t have been as beneficial for me in the least bit.
And with “Hollywood LA”, I was just in LA at the time, and uh, you know I just had the spirit of it, and I was like “we’ll put this out”. That was another of the first tracks I made for the album. And I knew it was something that people could vibe too. And the video for that is coming out soon.
So you were the one who chose the 3 singles that came out so far?
Actually, my girlfriend was the one who chose “Orange Soda”.
On a larger scale, was there a sequencing plan for SAVEMONEY, with first Chance, then Donnie Trumpet, and now you?
Actually I didn’t know when, uh, I was planning to put out this tape when I first started working on it, ‘cause Kids These Days was still together…And we had just signed a record deal actually. We were trying to put out our first project under a record label. But then all that shit just transpired the way it did, just spiraled downwards…And that was around the time that Chance was preparing to put his tape out. That went super well and now I’m preparing to drop mine. And my homies Leather Chords been working on their shit. So everyone’s just focusing on what they’re doing but we’re staying in tune with eachother.
Yea you guys have your individuality for sure but there’s an undeniable SAVEMONEY sound—organic, melodic…
We’ve been makin music together for a long time you know. Through highschool, and through our journey as musicians, Kids These Days exists in also molding and influencing the musical sounds of all our close friends. Chance is somebody who was always around Kids These Days shit and performing with us. Even before fuckin’ he put out #10Day, he had Nico (Segal) playing trumpet on songs. Nico was playing on my first shit too! And that wouldn’t have been if not for [Kids These Days]—well, actually it would have been cause that’s been my homie since like 6th grade. Not everybody’s got like, a fucking beatboxin’, rappin’, producin’, trumpet player best friend, yo. It’s just the way the shit played out, you know?
So all of SAVEMONEY is real close?
Gotta know everybody. Those are my niggas. [Starts singing the hook to “No New Friends”] “Fuck all y’all niggas…Except my niggas”.
Do you have formal training as a singer? A lot of people don’t realize at first that it’s you on the “Orange Soda” hook.
That’s love man. I took some, I mean I don’t know if they were singing classes. Like, when I was on the road with Kids These Days, I would lose my voice alot. And you really just gotta learn how to use your shit so I took a couple classes out in LA. It didn’t really do shit for me. But…I was lowkey in the school choir in high school, in like freshman year. I’m gona be honest with you though. I don’t know if it’s the–the…marijuana…or other drugs, but my memory has seemed to…has seemed to—kinda just stay as the years passed. Which is strange, ’cause people don’t understand how I can remember so many verses. I never really write shit down. ‘Cause that’s not my process. I just have a lot of words and shit in my head. But a lot of my memory’s lost.
Who are you listening to most right now—what’s the album that you can’t put down?
Uh, I think right now it’s between Jimi Hendrix‘ Electric Ladyland and The Beatles‘ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. And Outkast‘s Stankonia.
Great list man.
Straight up, just three hot ass albums that I happen to be listening to right now. The last couple of days, I’ve been fleshing out the intro to the tape, which is something that I produced while I was on the road from a La Tigra sample. It’s on some internet-Hendrix shit. I’m just trying to build it up in a psychadelic way and get some of those psychadelic rock ’70s drum sounds and shit.
Man, I’ve been waiting for someone to sample Electric Ladyland.
Yo, I sampled that shit the other day. I haven’t finished it yet though…
Are you self taught with Ableton?
Yea man, I think everyone is. But I run into crazy people. The most random of all was when we were in New York playing this Hot97 Who’s Next showcase. And um, fuckin’..I think it was like Smoke DZA performing. Down in the greenroom, there was this dude using the machine—and that’s what I used to make beats on and that’s what I still use to make drums with sometimes. But he had the ill machine, the Silver…Godly..Crown joint. I didn’t even know who it was, but I was like, “Let me see what youre doin over here.” He started processing it all through Ableton and he showed me how to put these warp markers in and chop samples up. When he told me his name I didn’t really hear him, but I guess he said Ski. And it turns out it was Ski Beatz. It was me and Ski Beatz just talking some ill shit on Ableton. I was like, “Damn bro I didn’t even know!” He taught me how to use Ableton, and I didn’t even know it was Ski Beatz until after the fact.
Who do you look up to production wise? Is there anyone’s style who you’ve ever tried to replicate?
Yea definitely. Drum patterns, specifically, a lot of my first beats were attempts to make J Dilla sounding beats. I definitely sat around and, like, imitated Young Chop drum patterns, and those are completely different styles of music…I wouldn’t say that I’m like crazy influenced by anyone in particular—definitely Outkast music though.
Would that be your dream collab? Who else?
Yea man, definitely that would be crazy. A dream collab that I was thinking about the other day would be Gwen Stefani.
Cause Gwen Stefani’s so ill yo. Definitely as far as pop music—which I think is a misunderstood genre—and as far as female artists, I think shes one of the best that’s done it in the last 10, 20 years.
There must be a lot of people hitting you up for collabs since the “Cocoa Butter Kisses” feature.
Yea, some people have been hittin’ me up for that shit. That song has actually been around for a long time. There’s a different version of that song called “Babies & Gunshots (Fuck Hawaii) 2”. And, uh, it was on a different beat. For some reason it was “Part 2” I don’t even know why. I didn’t even think about that ’til just now.
That’s some goofy shit. Are you a big fan of comedy? That “rap Bill Bellamy” shoutout is pretty ill.
Haah I mean, I’m not like a huge comedy dude, I don’t watch mad standup. But it’s crazy, I was just thinking about it today: there’s just so many words that we know, that we don’t think we know–and it’s not just words, but in the case of rap music, that’s just how it manifests itself–that we do know and can pull on but we don’t consciously know. And that’s just one of those things that just like came to my head. Niggas is always trying to think of more things to say…not everybody, but I’m always tryin’ to think of more things to say. And a lot of the time, you say shit that wouldn’t come out in conversation..just shit you might’ve seen one time in your life.
After watching “Naked Pictures” I wanted to see if you plan to make a project with a larger, overarching story.
Definitely. I think some of the albums that have most influenced me have been conceptual albums. Like uh, Sgt. Peppers. Things like that.
Wait, what’s the story of Sgt. Peppers?
Well it’s not a story, but a concept. I was reading about it the other day and the concept was something that came from like, they were on a plane and one of their managers asked Paul McCartney what the S and the P stood for on some cantine they had–some weird sounding British shit. So he got to explaining it and he came up with the concept of an album where each member of the band plays a character. So yeah I definitely want to do a concept at some point. INNANETAPE is kinda a concept tape.
Yeah, I was reading your explanation of how the internet is so important to music these days, and that’s why you wanted to make a tape about it, right?
Well I guess that’s what I said then. The “internet” shit really came about when I was in a friend’s apartment with Nico and Kelly and Joey Purp, and a couple other people. It wasn’t the first time I did mushrooms, but it was the first time for a couple other people. I was asking my homegirl, “do you have the internet?” And…she said, “I am the internet”. At that point in time, that shit fucked my head up. I was like “Hell nah, I’m the internet.” And I thought I made the whole INNANETAPE that night. I freestyled over a bunch of joints recorded on her laptop and I was gonna put them out the next day…until I realized that was a tweak. And then I started making the INNANETAPE. I had thought I did the tape but I did like, 6 freestyles. But I was saying some wild shit.
Alright I’m damn near out of questions, anything else you wanna say to RESPECT?
I fuck with RESPECT. magazine, I think its dope. I used to steal RESPECT. mags out of the virgin store. I wont steal again, I’ll purchase that shit.
With that, Vic thanked RESPECT. for showing love, and hung up. The next night, he put on a phenomenal mini-show in Chicago with the Phony PPL. In that footage of “Orange Soda” being performed live, it’s hard not to notice the unabashed, wild weirdness with which Vic moves about the stage. 100 percent confident in his craft and devoted to his music, entirely unconcerned with the rest of life’s silly particulars, Vic Mensa is a strange, magnetic, impressive creature. The crowd, of course, reciprocates his passion with passion, love with love, and chants each of his lyrics back to him.
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