Vic Mensa, the rising Chicago rapper and Kanye West protégé, is among a host of exciting names to be playing at Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, London this weekend, although his arrival in the capital comes on the back of his involvement in a recent media storm regarding, of all people, Justin Timberlake.
JT tweeted last week that “we are the same” after being accused on social media of cultural appropriation, generating a massive online backlash that saw Mensa citing the singer on US television two days later as someone who is “definitely benefiting from using black culture for his sound, his dance moves, his dancers, and blowing up off of it.”
We caught up with Vic to clear things up, as well as get his take on Brexit, the UK grime scene and the progress of his debut album.
So you’re playing Wireless on Friday (July 8): what have you got in store? Any on-stage collaborations planned?
“It’ll actually be the international debut of my new EP [‘There’s Alot Going On’]. I have to think about [collaborations], so we’ll see. It might be a surprise!”
Grime features heavily on the Wireless line-up, with Skepta’s Boy Better Know crew headlining on the Sunday – do you know him?
“Yeah, that’s my guy. I’m super happy to see Skepta killing shit. I remember when Kanye did that KOKO show [in March 2015] he and I were talking about where he was taking grime, and it’s dope to see him actually live it now.”
You’re coming over to the UK at a monumental time for British politics. Do you know anything about Brexit?
“Yeah, it’s crazy: I’ve heard that a lot of the Leave campaign was based on xenophobia and just racism. I think it seems like a difficult time in UK politics, and the world is really dangerous right now: people are feeding off of fear. It doesn’t feel like [Brexit] was necessarily the best move.”
Too right. Elsewhere, your latest single ‘Free Love’ epitomises how your views on the LGBTQ community have evolved over the years – do you feel like more voices in hip-hop should be voicing their support for the community?
“I do. I think that hip-hop is at an intellectual all-time low as far as what’s popular and commercial – not a lot of important rap music is being played on the radio. And I think that in a year faced with situations like with what just happened in Orlando, I think it’s important – especially as black people; people that had to struggle to get to our current position in society – that we support other people in the struggle, even if we’re not directly in it with them.”
You mentioned Orlando: you’ve put out these ‘Free Love’ t-shirts, with a portion of the proceeds going to the families of the victims. Why is it important to you to make this sort of contribution?
“Those people have to live with losing sons and daughters and brothers and sisters for the rest of their lives. The victims were from particularly oppressed groups of people – Latin American, gay, lesbian, trans people. Latin Americans alone are being accused by Donald Trump of being all rapists and criminals. But on top of that, with people not being allowed to love who you wanna love in certain places in America, it was important to me that we do something to raise our support to those people in this time of need.”
You’ve just put out a new EP ahead of your as-yet-untitled debut album. How’s recording going? Are you working with anyone at the moment?
“I was just in the studio with Travis Barker in New York City. He’s the best person drumming, so whatever comes from that is gonna be super dope. I haven’t spoke to Kanye in a month or two, but we’ll probably have something going on.”
Your comments about Justin Timberlake last week have been largely set upon by the media, and you have since clarified on Twitter that you didn’t intend to ‘bash’ him. Is there anything more you’d like to add about how you see his attitude towards African-American culture?
“I think the way that people grasp onto things and the media’s manipulation of words is pretty interesting. What I was really asked about on The Nightly Show was cultural appropriation, and Justin Timberlake just happened to be the example. I’m a big fan of Timberlake’s music, and I thought it was funny, after I spoke, what the internet took away from it, and how all the online headlines were “Vic Mensa calls out Justin Timberlake…” when really Twitter had called out Justin Timberlake. I was just commenting on why they called him out. I wasn’t one of the people that read Timberlake’s comment and then tweeted at him like, “fuck you” – I wasn’t part of it. I was just commenting on why it was that people felt slighted.”
Has Justin got in touch with you?
“No, he hasn’t. But if he sees this, just make sure I got nothing but love for you, Justin Timberlake. What I want people to take away from what I was saying is that empathy is so important as a global community. And so for people going through a struggle, like black people in America going through police and racist legislation that still exists from 40-50 years ago, all that we really want from somebody with a voice is to show us that they recognise what we’re going through. Empathy is so important.”