Vic Mensa, And Why He Deserves A Second Chance
By Rahul Gowthaman
26-year-old artist Vic Mensa, outside his Los Angeles home
These days, Chicago native Vic Mensa resides in the hidden hills of Hollywood, tucked away from the busy Los Angeles streets and peering eyes of the media. When I got there on a blisteringly sunny Los Angeles afternoon, I walked up his driveway to find him on the porch, shirtless, and playing punk rock off the speaker on his phone. Moments after arriving it’s apparent how Mensa tends to stand out, where the usual neighbor on his street keeps a luxury SUV or sports car, Mensa houses a red and black 1985 CB750 motorcycle. After a quick greeting, he brought me inside and excused himself to grab an espresso from downstairs and walked out the front door. As quickly as I had met him, he was gone.
“Loss of growth is stagnation, and that is death.”
His absence gave me a moment to linger in his open space living room, leaving me to admire his walls riddled with art of all sorts. Tons of nude Playboy magazine covers, a bright pink Sex Pistols poster, a huge hand painted poster of something that looked like a red squid, and much more. To be completely honest, Mensa has an extremely unique and captivating style in room decor, it entices you to look through each art piece, a window to view the inner thoughts and inspirations of Mensa himself. Although the current state of his living room was in between viewings and shipments of 93PUNX merchandise, a punk rock band he formed with close friends, the amount of effort he put in order to express himself seeped through the walls of his own house. While I was fascinated by his decor style, Mensa’s expressive nature has been no secret since his verse on ‘Wolves,’ by Kanye West in 2016, where he delivered one of the most respected and haunting verses on the entire album.
“I had the realization that courage is not the same as bravado, courage is a belief in your heart that you are whole, you are enough.”
Fast forward a few years to 2019, his energy and mental process has changed quite dramatically. Mensa now carries himself with a weight of a man who has seen and done it all. Creeping up on a year of sobriety, his ethos has changed drastically. Like most people, Mensa sought out validation from others as his main source of acceptance early in his career, but with age came his wisdom. Vic Mensa is no longer looking for validation. Instead, he has been spending the last few years finding himself, healing, and even went as far as having a psychedelic experience in the desert that assisted in his self-realignment. From an outsider’s perspective, it may seem as though he has dropped under the radar, forgotten. But after a day with him, I can confidently say that Vic is back, and he is stronger than ever.
This is Vic Mensa, and why he deserves a second chance.
These days, you’ve been a lot more low-key, what would you say has caused the change in your music in the past few years, and what direction do you want to go in with your new band?
I think people grow, evolve, change. Loss of growth is stagnation, and that is death. For me, I’ve always been inspired by rock music, that was the first music I fell in love with. Bands like Nirvana, Guns and Roses, Green Day, The Clash and so many different eras and iterations. So for a long time I been talking about doing a rock album, I just started making some music that lent itself to what is now 93PUNX. I been having fun with it man, shows are like parties, it’s just a different energy. It’s something I’m really enjoying. It’s creatively very free for me, you know to me punk is just radical individuality. People may say ‘oh that’s white music’ or ‘you’re a rapper, why don’t you just rap?’ but I’m just being myself, you know?
Would you say the bands and music you grew up listening to, are now the blueprint and backbone of 93PUNX?
Yes, 100 percent. And as far as being low-key goes, I got over fame. Fame is celebrity, and the trappings of those things. It gets old fast, the things I’ve been thinking about and focusing on have been personal revolution and evolution, and to deconstruct a lot of the mental processes that have hurt me in the past, that have led me to addiction, that have led me to violence. So in the past years, I was like more in the public eye for a bunch of bullshit, you know? And I learned from that, I learned that this is ‘The Matrix,’ I learned that “beef” and “violence” and all that shit is counterproductive to who I am and who I want to be. I’m thinking about family, I’m thinking about love, I’m thinking about pushing the needle forward, breaking boundaries, and not being focused on what’s going on in the rap game or with the celebrities today, who’s fucking who? I don’t even care.
Tell me about your personal creative process, and what energy do you bring when you go into the booth?
Ah man, you know my creative process can take a lot of different forms. For the 93PUNX music, I was really sitting down and writing songs with no music, sometimes as a stream of consciousness. Sometimes it’ll be like rhyming songs or poems, and then taking that to the band and finding the chords, melodies, and flows. I just try to bring honesty into the booth, vulnerability.
What’s a significant instance in your life that caused a sudden personal growth, that assisted in making you the man you are today?
There have been many things, but I did a trip to the desert earlier and drank ayahuasca. (an extremely strong psychoactive concoction) I ain’t gonna lie, that shit really changed my life, it really really realigned my spirits. Especially because I was already headed in that direction you know? I was already trying to change the negative aura, because I feel like I’ve always been a person of light, of love, of loyalty. And those aren’t always the things I may have been projecting to the world. Whether that it was out of fear or a search for validation, there have been many different situations that have led me to having a lot of darkness around me. Just a lot of negative shit that doesn’t match up with who I am, people who know me know that I’m a nice fucking person, sometimes to a fault. But to the public, there have been times where it would appear that I’m the opposite and I know that I was creating those situations. I’ve found myself spending countless hours, energy, and dollars doing charity work and all this foundation stuff (Vic created the SaveMoneySaveLife Foundation in 2018. Where he focuses on programs to train first responders in Chicago’s most dangerous areas, as well as an education program for Chicago youth) but on the other side I’m involved in all this drama and bullshit, how does this even make sense?
About your ayahuasca trip, what about it helped in your realignment? And are you a person that dwells into the realm of psychedelics frequently?
Yeah definitely, I’ve been involved in psychedelics at different times of my life, many times. Ayahuasca particularly, this trip was the realest time. I put the most preparation and discipline and went with the most clear intentions. It was the first time in my life where I felt like I was enough, I learned a lot about surrender, about courage. I think in the past I felt like to be brave, it was all about war stories and being tough or being more prone to violence. I had the realization that courage is not the same as bravado, courage is a belief in your heart that you are whole, you are enough. That just sat with me, thinking about learning how to love better, myself primarily, but love other people selflessly too. Thinking a lot about surrender, about letting go. I could never let shit go in the past, it’s like, one incident I had with somebody two years ago I would just sit with it and revel in that madness. That shit will eat you from the inside out, in my life now I’ve just been incorporating the tools of surrender.
Would you say you’ve found inner peace?
I’ve definitely found a lot more inner peace. Everything is a process, everyday is a new day and I just try to stay focused, meditate, I been outside away from the drugs. Since I did ayahuasca I haven’t done drugs at all, I was doing a lot of drugs at the bottom of last year. I was paranoid, so much turmoil, internal and external. I got everybody on the internet hating on me and all of that, and I was working through that in certain ways. The ways I was dealing with that weren’t conducive to actual healing, so at this point in time I’ve been thinking a lot about healing and doing things that bring me towards where I wanna be. It may seem at times like I been out the way, under the water, but I really been incubating and building these things that are going to be the new iteration of myself.
Would you be able to describe your sound? And if so, what would you describe it as?
It’s just real music man. Just me as a sound, humanistic music, empathetic music. Something people can relate with, emotional and aggressive, but also vulnerable.
When you first met Kanye, how was it to work with him?
I love Kanye. I haven’t talked to him in a while, but I was at one of those Sunday Services a month or two ago. I’ll always love Kanye man, you don’t need to agree with everything that someone says or does to appreciate them as a person. That’s something I’ve come to really learn and understand man, this isn’t about Kanye in particular, but you can’t judge people purely on their mistakes. If you judged me on just my mistakes, I’d be a piece of shit, but I know I’m not. As far as Kanye goes, Kanye taught me so many things without a single conversation, he’s Ye, love that man.
How did you feel when you first worked together? How did you guys meet?
That shit was crazy. I was mind blown, we met through Om’Mas Keith, who at that time was a primary producer on both ‘Channel Orange’ and ‘Blonde’ by Frank Ocean. Mike, a close friend of mine, showed Om’Mas some of the music we made together, and he showed Kanye. Kanye brought me out to a studio here (Los Angeles) and the first day I met him was when we did ‘Wolves.’ I played him all my music, I played him ‘U Mad’ in all of its earlier forms. Later, I had a writing room with an engineer and did the verse that day.
What is the difference between 2016 Vic Mensa, and 2019 Vic Mensa?
I’m just a man now you know, and it’s important to retain a child-like approach and imagination, and I’ll never lose that. But in certain other regards, I just feel like I’ve grown and matured and come closer to who I am in essence. In 2016 I was more tied up in the allure of being a celebrity, I think I was less equipped to deal with the valleys and peaks of life.
Finally, what do you enjoy about being a musician? What do dislike?
Being a musician, I love that I am able to make a living off of art. To do the same thing I was doing for free in the mom’s basement, and do it and be able to support myself and family. I don’t think I hate anything about being a musician, other than the constant comparison and scrutiny. Especially when you’re a sensitive person, just to be a sensitive person that is always judged, sometimes you just want to be accepted, appreciated, and understood.