In the world of hip-hop, bragging is out and emotion is in. Vulnerability is the order of the day. Jay Z, a man who’s spent the last 20 years boasting about his bank balance to anyone who would listen, just released the stunningly vulnerable ‘4:44’, an album on which he lays his inadequacies – as a husband, as a father – totally bare. Elsewhere, rappers such as Vince Staples and Danny Brown are dialling down the machismo to explore what’s going on in their heads and hearts.
Enter Vic Mensa, the Chicago rapper who appeared on the Kanye West track ‘Wolves’ and whose debut album, ‘The Autobiography’, is released through Jay Z’s label Roc Nation. On the scathing Joey Purp and Chief Keef-featuring ‘Down For Some Ignorance (Ghetto Lullaby)’, the 24-year-old seethes, “Listen to the voices in my head / Welcome to my f**ked-up reality”. ‘Wings’ allows those destructive voices to run wild: “Nobody fucking needs you / You should just jump off the bridge… I don’t want you to live”. Pharrell Williams croons the hook, which encourages Mensa to “Spread [his] wings and fly” to overcome the self-loathing that torments him.
Musically, ‘The Autobiography’ draws on a diverse palette. ‘We Could Be Free’ follows Chance The Rapper and West (all three hail from Chicago) into gospel territory, while ‘Rage’ and ‘Homewrecker’ see Mensa’s flow ape Drake’s laconic, matter-of-fact delivery. The album features an all-star cast of guest vocalists, from The-Dream’s fantastically creepy, lilting lullaby on ‘Heaven On Earth’ to Weezer singer Rivers Cuomo’s f**king irritating whine through the aforementioned ‘Homewrecker’. The latter is a grim low on an otherwise excellent debut.
It’s a scattershot album gelled together by Mensa’s emotionally frank lyrics, which reveal a complex persona: he appears at once secure in his talent as a musician, while keenly aware of the personal limitations that dog him (well, he has been called Kanye West’s protégé). On ‘The Fire Next Time’, the rapper claims that “Vic’s story, that’s victory”. The lyric is a rare, uncharacteristic display of old-school rap boasting. On this evidence, though, it’s absolutely on the money.