If the name Vic Mensa sounds familiar, it’s because you may have heard of Kids These Days, a “hip-hop, blues, rock, soul” band, per Wikipedia. The band did what bands do – break up — and Mensa has ventured out West to establish his own brand. The first effort from this endeavor is a free mixtape called INNANETAPE. The rambunctious 14-track project finds the quick-tongued rapper pulling from such diverse influences as members of the Pharcyde and Eminem, while rapping and singing over instrumentals from some of the most respected young hip-hop beatsmiths, from Cam of the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League and Hit-Boy and Boi 1-Da to DJ Dahi and TDE’s Tae Beast.
The tape’s opening track is the hectic, self-produced “Welcome to INNANET.” Although a little bit all-over-the-place, it will resonate after listening to the whole project through. INNANETAPE starts taking shape with the second track,“Orange Soda,” produced by J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League’s Cam, where Mensa channels Slim Kid Tre (aka Tre Hardson) and Fat Lip of the Pharcyde simultaneously. The lyrics are dissonant, but the track is soulful as well as sweet and fuzzy – much like the beverage after which the song is named. When Mensa casually drops a reference to Nas’ seminal opus – “I’m trying to write my Illmatic – in the context of his own process, it shows the 20-year-old’s intent: He wants to make timeless music, not make a quick buck.
Mensa has the tools and the gifts to be a superstar, which is no doubt the reason why he is currently opening for Wale and J. Cole on their co-headlining tour. While “Lovely Day” is dub-step and more trip-hop than hip-hop, Mensa laces the track with various cultural references and seemingly random word associations, but pulls it together with soulful singing accentuated by female backup vocals and an incredible arrangement. Meanwhile, “Tweakin,” produced by Om’mas Keith protégé Michael Uwozuru, is pure nerd rap. Nardwuar the Human Serviette, the comical interviewer of rappers in the Internet age, even gets mentioned in this Chance the Rapper-featuring track.
When it’s time to get serious, Mensa knows to straddle the fine line between being cynical and critical, avoiding having such tracks hash-tagged as “struggle rap.” The haunting beat for “Time Is Money” is courtesy of Grammy-winning Canadian producer Boi-1da and The Maven Boys. Maybach Music Group affiliate and fellow Chicago emcee Rockie Fresh turns in one of those jaw-on-the-floor, scene-stealing verses. Rockie’s best quotable is, “These n***as wanna say turn up /But then they turn up and earn what? Nothing/ They fronting/ When we go with the topic of discussion… fresh n***a but the flow is disgusting/ And the money come fast cuz I rhyme with a n***a that made/ Every day we hustling/ So we came with the master plan/ Not just talk but with cash in hand.” (Yes, he kind of murks Mensa on his own song.)
Mensa dusts himself off just fine from Rozay sidekick’s deadly bars. The second half of INNANETAPE is just as solid as the first. “YNSP” is produced by DJ Dahi and creeps like a Dr. Dre track (or at least Scoop Deville), while “Holy Holy” finds the curious trio of Ab-Soul, BJ The Chicago Kid and Mensa sharing fond and not so fond memories of past relationships. “Hollywood LA” is a mellow Cam of J.U.S.T.I.C.E League production that sounds good but is a little unoriginal, serving as one of those obligatory tracks rappers new to Hollywood like to record to register their impressions of Los Angeles – not knowing it’s less about geography than it is about the entertainment mindset that comes with the concentration of artists there. The irony here is that Chicago, like other East Coast cities, grew around a downtown core, while L.A. is decentralized, with the country’s first “suburb” being the San Fernando Valley.
Vic Mensa has unbelievable talent and is in top form on INNANETAPE. Some of the songs have potential to become either timeless or cult favorites, or, at the very minimum, really good stuff to license for film and TV. Mensa’s project masterfully captures the mind state of a pure 20-year-old emcee out of Chicago who just so happens to be helping carry the torch lit by the early 90s Golden Era emcees into the second decade of the 21st century and into the future.