I’m embarrassed as I write this. I just listened to Vic Mensa’s new album V TAPE, and an artist who I completely wrote off years ago has just proved me wrong.
I, like most, don’t like to be wrong, but that’s not why I’m ashamed. I feel this way because I gave up on Vic — who at one point in my life was one of my favorite music artists — to the point of where I never thought he’d make anything worthy of my ears again.
I first came across Vic Mensa through Kids These Days. His versatile voice, mercurial flows, and interminable charisma instantly wowed me, as did the homage heavy, genre-bending music the band released.
His tongue-twisting rapping on tracks like “Summerscent” and soulful crooning on “Talk 2 You” was something I hadn’t really heard before, and it was clear the then-teenager had tons of talent.
The band regrettably broke up, but Vic’s ensuing solo venture INNANETTAPE was enough to get me to buy heavy on his stock. As a vested shareholder, I tried selling as many of my friends as possible on him, and it really wasn’t a difficult pitch. A simple playing of “Orange Soda” or “Lovely Day” on the AUX cord or dorm room speaker was enough to get head-bobbing and toe-tapping approval.
He went on tour with Disclosure in 2014, which seemed to influence the EDM-infused “Down On My Luck” that showcased his adaptable sound even further. His potential was off the charts, and it wasn’t long before major labels came calling. Soon after collaborating with Kanye West on “U Mad,” Vic signed to Roc Nation in 2015. If there was a time to sell my stock, it was here.
But I was rightfully ecstatic at the news, and thrilled at what was to come. INNANETTAPE was among my most listened to albums at that point, and I could only imagine what he’d be able to create alongside some of the best producers and most talented artists in all of hip-hop.
There’s Alot Going On, his first EP as a member of the Roc, was pretty underwhelming though, and the typo in the title pissed me off more than it should’ve. Right around now is where things started to take a dive. He had a couple of bizarre talk show appearances, and aside from a few short upticks (like when he threatened to slap the shit out of Akademiks on Everyday Struggle), Vic seemed like he was in a downward spiral.
He talks about this tumultuous time candidly throughout V TAPE, particularly on the final track “REBIRTH.” He discusses his father getting paralyzed during neck surgery, his little sister’s mental breakdown, and binge drinking bouts as triggering events that may have sparked his outlandish behavior. But to me (and most other rap fans), it was “Vic fell off.”
He was getting flamed by countless pundits and even other rappers — and perhaps it was clout god Tekashi 69 that consummated Vic’s fall. The two were entangled in a beef that was capped by the rainbow warrior’s appearance on The Angie Martinez Show, in which he challenged everyone in the room to “name a Vic Mensa song.” They couldn’t.
Instead of holding onto my stock like a good investor does after a drop, I locked in my losses and completely gave up on Vic. His weird appearance — he cut his trademark braids and sported a completely shaved head — paired with his ethering by two of the most despicable names in hip-hop in 69 and Akademiks was simply too much for me.
I couldn’t stand by an artist who I knew was talented because it would lead to me getting clowned on. That’s why I’m so embarrassed.
Coming back from a flop, fall from grace, or rap beef loss is incredibly hard to do in today’s age of seemingly endless artists and minuscule attention spans. And what’s even more troubling is that once an artist does “fall off,” no one looks to the reasons why they did. Instead, lines like “‘fore I go broke like Joc” become punchlines that draw the ridicule of youths who equate billboard and commercial success with rapping ability and worth.
In the rare cases of artists bouncing back from embarrassment or personal/legal troubles (i.e. Meek Mill, Drake, and Chris Brown — who for the record should’ve been banished into irrelevance the second he laid hands on Rihanna), they already had a fervent fan base and a relatively high amount of commercial success.
I don’t know if Vic has had enough of either to do so, but he certainly has the talent. I really hope we get a Mensaissance after his return to form on V TAPE.
The project is Vic at his rawest in years, spitting over booming production by rap heavyweights including Hit Boy and King Thelonius. I haven’t had enough time to truly dig through the 7-track album in depth yet, but the first listens have certainly been as favorable as anything else I’ve listened to this year.
More than anything, it’s made me realize just how easily we give up on music artists today — and how one flop can be as devastating to them financially as it can be mentally. It’s not quite cancel culture — it’s more “cool culture.”
You don’t want to be a fan of an artist who isn’t deemed “cool” by your friends, the media, or rap Twitter, and instead of supporting people who you vibe with, you conform to what everyone else likes. It’s cool to have good taste in music, and you want to be able to brag to people that you’re up on the latest bands and artists who are in with the cool kids.
But what happens when those artists begin to falter? Creatives of all kinds are prone to make mistakes in their art, and while it’s important to hold them accountable to those mistakes, we can’t just negligently write them off as “finished” or “washed” when they occur.
It’s so easy to say, “Damn whatever happened to Vic Mensa? Dude just fell off.” When in reality we have no idea what kind of pressure he was under or what personal and familial issues were going on outside of the spotlight.
It’s fun to clown on rappers, particularly whack ones. And being critical of all kinds of art is important. But we also need to be understanding of artists — especially talented ones — because they’re so few and far between.
I shouldn’t have been so quick to write Vic off. But from this I will try to be more empathetic towards artists. What they do is hard. It takes seconds to bring down something that took years to create. Instead of honing in on the bad, let's make an effort to support and amplify the good.