After a three year hiatus following the release of his indelible INNANETAPE, Vic Mensa finally returns with his latest, politically-charged EP There’s A Lot Going On.
The seven-song EP serves as a prelude to his long-awaited debut album Traffic, which does not yet have a release date. Vic Mensa has seemed lost at times over the course of the last three years. After dropping INNANETAPE, Mensa dropped “Down On My Luck,” a single from his EP Street Lights in 2014. The song took off in Europe and made a mark in the rap game, placing him on the map and giving him a still-loyal fan base. Since then, Vic Mensa has been biding his time, signing with Roc Nation and writing for the likes of Kanye West. Perhaps influenced by Yeezus and the new wave of trap music, he changed his style, working with Kanye on “U Mad” and Skrillex on “No Chill,” songs that are enjoyable at times but lack the substance we were used to seeing from Mensa. On this project, with just one feature from Ty Dolla $ign, Vic Mensa has reestablished himself as one of the best lyricists in the rap game.
There’s A Lot Going On is comprehensive, covering everything from the shooting of Laquan McDonald in Chicago to the Flint Water Crisis to Mensa’s own personal demons, which makes the title fitting. Our country hasn’t had such a major identity crisis since the 1970s. With two of the most polarizing presidential candidates the country has ever seen, police shootings, the recession, and mass killings by terrorists happening throughout the world, Mensa seems more comfortable here than ever before, rapping about topics he’s incredibly passionate about over great production from Papi Beatz. An avid Bernie Sanders supporter, he even made the album free for anyone who makes the “Pledge to Vote” on Hip Hop Caucus’ ‘Respect My Vote!’ campaign by July 4th. He even makes a statement on the album cover, which is accompanied by a video for the EP’s title track.
In “There’s A Lot Going On,” Mensa’s rhymes are autobiographical, taking us on a journey through his past, touching on every up and down, from signing with Roc Nation to falling into a deep depression. In the video, he stands in front of a white sheet, emotionally spewing these words about himself and the people in his life as their faces – printed on target practice sheets – revolve around him. At the end, 16 shots are fired at Mensa, outlining his figure on the backdrop, which slowly fades into the image we see on the album cover above. The cover also includes a target printed on Mensa’s torso. He ends his final verse with “Wrote my wrongs all in this song, now I’d like to welcome y’all to my season.” Vic Mensa is prepped and ready to take us into his world when he drops Traffic, hopefully sometime this fall.
The rest of the album has notable highlights. For starters, Mensa proves himself to be a talented pop artist, with songs like “New Bae” and “Danger,” reminding oneself of artists like Drake. He dedicated “16 Shots” to 17-year-old Laquan McDonald, who was shot dead by a Chicago police officer an astonishing 16 times on the side of a highway in 2014. You won’t just hear his passion on the track, you can hear anger as well — a reflection of the feelings of many African American people who have lost family and friends to police violence. The song ends with a recording of the McDonald family’s lawyer, Jeffrey Neslund, describing the brutal shooting in court, setting the tone of the EP. “Shades of Blue,” although not necessarily the most memorable song on the album, is a beautiful track with an enduring hook and verses that tackle political and social issues throughout the country over a beat led by a gorgeous piano loop and heavy kicks. There’s A Lot Going On is an incredible achievement by the young artist that is far too rare in the rap world today.
I attended Diplo’s Mad Decent Block Party in Brooklyn last summer. Vic Mensa showed up unannounced, following a subpar performance from OG Maco, and he blew me away. Wearing a bullet-proof police vest that said “F•ck Police,” his emotions shined through in every song. He danced, sang, shouted, and stood out at a show that also saw the likes of Tyler the Creator, Jack Ü, and Knife Party. Most importantly, he hooked me with that performance and made me turn my ear in his direction.
Vic Mensa is still a rising star with his entire career ahead of him. If his subsequent work is anything like this EP, he’s going to be a star, making music that touches rap fans for years to come.