Vic Mensa is never one to be counted out. “N***as looked in my eyes and said I could never come back / And then they watched me come back,” he raps on ‘Victory’, the first song on new EP ‘I Tape’. He unforgivingly drops punchline after punchline as he flexes his lyrical muscles all over the Just Blaze-produced track.
There’s a lot unpack on this continuation of last August’s ‘V Tape’. Focusing on trauma, anguish and the Black struggle, the Chicago rapper puts the world to rights throughout its seven tracks. ‘Shelter’ cuts deep, taking the US Government to task over mass incarceration, poverty and the impact COVID-19 has had on the Black community. Teaming with Wyclef Jean and Chance The Rapper, the powerful, message-driven track is amplified by an ambivalent guitar riff that conjures sadness and hope.
Elsewhere, ’Millionaires’, a story of personal growth adorned with witty lines (“Don’t let a n***a with no car drive you crazy”), sounds like something that might have appeared on Kanye West’s ‘The Life Of Pablo’, and feels almost tailor-made for a Charlie Wilson hook. On ‘Fr33dom’, which is packed full of powerful messaging, he ditches impassioned delivery in exchange for a trap-like triplet flow, surrendering its vigour to convoluted production.
The deeply retrospective ‘Moosa’ presents Mensa as a storytelling great. It’s one of the most poignant records of his career thus far, depicting an incarcerated friend on whose behalf Mensa successfully petitioned for parole – 12 years early. The plaintive keys and heartbeat bass kicks combine to deliver a spiritually rich soundscape, sewn together with momentary nods to Nas and Wu-Tang Clan, and concluding with a galvanising choir chant: “Keep on dreaming / Keep on loving / Keep on moving.”
The EP also sees Mensa work through some of his own issues, holding his hands up to past transgressions in a moment of self-reflection. “I’m going through my own trials / Caught a gun possession for the .40 cal,” he raps, referring to his 2017 arrest for carrying a concealed firearm. “All this positive shit and I’m really hardly different,” he continues, acknowledging that his standing as a community activist means he must practise what he preaches.
Ultimately, that’s the purpose of ‘I Tape’ – a means of speaking out on behalf of the disenfranchised, the voiceless people whose struggles otherwise wouldn’t be heard. It’s a statement record that fuels action and turns the volume back up on the Black Lives Matter chants that dominated social commentary last year. For some, the fight for equality might have been a hashtag – but not for Mensa; he’s still swinging.
Release date: March 26
Record label: Roc Nation