Chicago rapper Vic Mensa has come a long way from his humble beginning from starting out as a relatively unknown figure outside of the local rap scene. Now, with his critically acclaimed record The Autobiography under his belt, a deal with the label Roc Nation, and acting as support for Jay-Z on his tour, he’s taking the music world by storm. Prior to his show at the Toyota Center on Wednesday, November 8, Mensa spoke with FPH about his last stop in Houston, getting to meet his idols, and covering Radiohead.
Free Press Houston: So the last time you were in town was actually at a record store, Cactus Music, doing a signing. I actually work there as well, so it’s nice to speak with you again.
Vic Mensa: Oh, fucking dope, man! Wow! It’s nice to speak with you again, man.
FPH: Likewise. So, actually, when you were leaving you actually purchased a Ho99o9 7”, correct?
VM: Yeah, it was Ho99o9.
FPH: I remember reading an article awhile back about them, and how they are forging a path for a new sound in metal. The comments were pretty much in opposition to that, saying they’re doing the genre a disservice. So are they really as innovative, to you, as that author made them appear to be?
VM: I just think Ho99o9 is fucking dope, without a doubt. I don’t even know what “genre” really is, though. Their energy is alive. The energy is very punk. They’re also rappers, and their content is significant, their songwriting and production is strong, and their swag is fucking off the charts. It’s just one of my favorite groups. Right now, I think their album, United States of Horror, is one of the best albums of the year.
FPH: So let’s take it back to Chicago, your hometown. At Riot Fest, I saw you get to go on stage when M.I.A. did paper planes. That’s insane! How did you manage to get that arranged?
VM: Yeah, I didn’t know that was going to happen! I just went up there, because I’m a huge M.I.A. fan. My boy, Million Dollar Mano, used to be her DJ — he’s a really dope producer from Chicago. Anyway, he was like “come up here and I can introduce you to her.” I just wanted to see her show and holler at her, because I’m a huge supporter of what she stands for. You know, what her footprint has been in the game.
FPH: Yeah, and it seems pretty weird, how long she’s been doing it. I’ve talked to people before and they’ve been like “I haven’t seen her in over a decade.” But how was getting to meet her?
VM: Yeah, she’s fucking dope. I mean, M.I.A. is no joke. Her family is real freedom fighters. I think her brother is banned from America. It’s reality, behind what M.I.A. sings about. She’s not a tabloid revolutionary, she’s just really that person. And she makes it all funky, you know? She swags it out.
FPH: I know you’re not that fond of being compared to other artists, but you really are considered one of Jay-Z’s protégés — and now you’re opening for him! Can you even describe what it was like the moment you found out Jay-Z was aware of you?
VM: I was doing my thing, independently, and Lenny S from Roc Nation came out to see me on the road. We just struck up a relationship. So then I went up to New York City and met with some others from the company. I just have — for a long time — made music with intent. I made rap music with the intent to be a cultural analyst, a stoup observer, a realist, and a dreamer. I want to be representative of struggle and blue collar people. You know, I find that I have a lot of supporters in those — those working in the bottom-level jobs. A lot of times when I come to a place — and I don’t know if this is the same for a lot of rappers — it’s the guy working the metal detector at the door that’s a fan, you know? It’s the kid sweeping at the airport. They’re like “I’m a big fan of yours.” I get a lot of love from the real people, and so I try to speak for them. And I think that growing up, although Jay-Z has always had a level of luxury to what he does, I remember him, and his witty, uncanny ability to tell the truth in these clever, poignant ways, as being a real fucking spokesperson. Like, a real spokesman in very authentic ways. He’s had his shortcomings where the mentality of the hood has had its shortcomings, so being able to go on this tour is a blessing. I take it as an amazing opportunity to broadcast what I put into my music. I’m glad that I did meet those people in New York when I did and things worked out the way they did.
FPH: This morning I saw you do a cover of Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” and I think it showed your diverse taste in music. Was that specific song your idea, or was there a list of songs to choose from like the AV Club does?
VM: I picked that song. I’ve really started practicing piano over the summer, and that was a song that I taught myself. When I got to London I realized that I didn’t have a cover to do, and I was supposed to do a cover. Radiohead is one of my favorite bands. I’ve been very inspired by their chord structures. It’s dark and powerful and emotional, so that’s why I picked that one.