Vic Mensa’s EP, There’s Alot Going On, is an appropriate title. Since Mensa’s last project, the critically acclaimed mixtape INNANETAPE, a lot has happened in his world. From his signing to Jay Z’s vastly successful Roc Nation imprint to police brutality in his native Chicago, the 23-year-old rapper has loads to say. And he certainly says it all on this 7 track extended play, which has him focusing on black injustice, his place in the rap game and his life up until now.
The first track “Dynasty” has Mensa going in over some minimalistic echoes, where he muses over his budding stardom and the separation from his fellow rap peers. “No I.D. said it’s time to take these goofy n*ggas out rap/Drop bombs over Baghdad on these SoundCloud outcasts.” The Outkast reference is fitting, since both Mensa and the legendary duo are known for pushing the boundary and adding different styles and genres of music to their version of hip hop; just peep the former’s debut single, the deep house-heavy “Down On My Luck.” The end of the song features a pro-black speech, where Mensa and a crowd decree that they will not let the police kill them.
The police brutality theme, as well as social injustice in general, plays a big part on this project. Mensa’s a man of the people; he’s fed up with blacks and the poor getting the shorter end of the stick. Mensa directly addresses an example on “16 Shots,” where he expresses his anger over fellow Chicagoan Laquan McDonald’s death by police and the subsequent way it was handled. “Got her first born son stole from her, he never had a chance/And we all know its cause he black/Shot ’em 16 times, how f*cked up is that?” He makes more references on “Shades of Blue,” where in addition to more police abuse, he refers to the Flint water crisis. “Color of morning pee coming out the sink/It’s 2016 who would think/Kids in America don’t have clean water to drink.”
Social issues aside, there are some more fun tracks on this record. “Liquor Locker” is a smooth summertime jam with a soothing acosutic guitar melody which showcases Vic’s affinity for different styles of music. Accompanied by Ty Dolla Sign, Mensa expresses his love for alcohol and wishes his girl would get on the same page with him. He continues his lady talk on “New Bae,” where on the hook he trades rap for R&B, crooning to his girl to be good to him.
Though Mensa’s talent is clear, there some misses on this record. There’s no doubt he can rap, and he’s also not afraid to experiment with his voice and production. However, sometimes it just doesn’t work, especially on the aforementioned “New Bae.” Mensa’s an average singer, but when he tries to do his best Jeremih impression and push the envelope a little too far is when it goes from smooth to cringeworthy, especially at the end of the first verse and the outro.
The project ends with the title track, an autobiographical song where Mensa lets it all out. He holds nothing back, detailing his signing to Roc Nation on his 21st birthday, the pain he felt when he left his teenage band Kids These Days to pursue a solo career and even a time when he almost let his mental health get the best of him. “The violence and the lies slipped suicide into my mental health/I did acid in the studio one day and almost killed myself,” he admits. The vulnerability Mensa displays, along with the storytelling, exhibits his immense talent as a rapper.
The cover of the project has Mensa standing, hands behind his back, with bullet holes surrounding his body with a target on his chest. It’s a bold statement, because given the consequences of his upbringing in the dangerous southside of Chicago, he could very well be dead. Nonetheless, he’s happy to be still alive (he’s even got it tatted Tupac-style on his stomach), and he’s going to use life to his advantage. Shortly after the EP dropped, Mensa released a letter, where he asked the readers to wake up to the injustices surrounding the world. “What I’m asking of you is to give a f*ck about US. Us as a people. Us as ONE,” he says. Whether voicing his dissastisfaction of police brutality and social issues or gunning for rap’s top crown by any means necessary (he went so far as throwing a jab at hip hop’s current king Drake on “Danger”), Mensa has arrived and isn’t going anywhere. Even though we’re still waiting for Mensa’s long awaited debut album Traffic, There’s Alot Going On should be enough to hold us over.