(AllHipHop Features) “I’m starting with the man in the mirror. I’m asking him to change his ways,” sang the iconic Michael Jackson on his classic “Man In The Mirror.”
The message of that #1 single off the 1987 Bad LP is being personified nearly 30 years later through the music and actions of a 23-year-old Chicago Hip Hop artist.
Upon searching within himself for understanding on various social issues, Vic Mensa chose to step forward and be a public voice for disenfranchised and maligned communities in this country.
Mensa could have accepted his role as a Grammy-nominated songwriter and Roc Nation signee by simply staying apolitical and focusing on Pop friendly tunes. That safe approach would have likely guaranteed him a spot in the upper echelon of mainstream America acceptance.
Instead, the SAVEMONEY representative arrived at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards with an outfit showing support for Assata Shakur, used his “Free Love” song to stand up for LGBT rights, and released the police brutality protest anthem “16 Shots.”
The latter track was included on Mensa’s debut EP There's Alot Going On. As he prepares to support the project by hitting the road on the “Back With A Vengeance" tour, Victor is also currently finalizing his first studio album (formerly titled Traffic).
In an exclusive interview with AllHipHop.com, Vic Mensa discusses his nationwide trek starting in Atlanta on Thursday, his views on police violence, his upcoming full-length body of work, and more.
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Your tour is set to start this week. Are you approaching this particular tour any differently than the “Traffic Tour” you did last year?
The music I’m performing is different than the music I performed last year. It’s a lot more topical. I’m just excited to get out there and really spit that sh-t they need to hear.
You have Joey Purp opening for you. Can we expect you guys to hit the stage together for some of your collaborations?
Yeah, we might throw it back and do some old sh-t. Joey Purp has a phenomenal tape out right now called iiiDrops. I’m excited to watch his shows and see him tear that sh-t up, because he’s got one of the dopest rap projects of the year out right now.
I would say the same about your project. “16 Shots” is a very powerful song, but it’s been seen as controversial by some people. Especially in the wake of what’s been happening the last few weeks with all the different killings. Can you go into more detail about your intent behind the subject of the song?
Being from Chicago, Laquan McDonald being murdered by Chicago police was something that was very close to home. I’ve had a bad relationship with police as long as I can remember because that’s how the system is set up. I’ve been wanting to write a song like “16 Shots” for a long time to express that. The Laquan situation just put it on a world stage, so that was something I felt compelled to address.
What about people who may feel the song is “anti-police”?
I am anti-police. Police are anti-me.
Does anti-police, in your view, mean returning violence against the police?
I don’t think the shooting of those police officers was strategically the way to fix the problems that we have with police in the black community. But I can understand why something like that would happen when we’re being murdered on camera time and time and time again.
I mourn for the families of those officers as well, because they’re human. I don’t think they deserved to die. Nor do I think Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Trayvon Martin, Freddie Gray, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, or Laquan McDonald deserved to die. The list goes on.
People try to make it a two-sided thing when at the end of the day - strictly by the numbers - this is a one-sided attack and onslaught. There’s not a widespread slaughter of police. The stats are up for police killed in the line of duty this year, but those stats don’t even begin to measure up to unarmed innocent black people killed by police.
I find it disingenuous when you hear people say more white people get killed by police than black people. That’s not taking into account [population] percentages. A much greater percentage of black people are being killed as compared to white people.It’s unintelligent for people to even start making those type of arguments. They make those arguments because of those subconscious or conscious biases, prejudices, and internal racism.I think white people get really offended when you talk about things like that because they think you’re calling them a racist. It’s hard for them to empathize and understand the challenges we have to go through just by being born with darker skin. But they’re real by the numbers.You can say more white people are killed by police because white people outnumber black people in America tremendously. But as far as percentages of unarmed black people killed by police, it’s through the roof.You can't watch the video of Alton Sterling or Philando Castile and be a genuine person that cares about their fellow man without realizing there’s something grossly wrong with that. But this requires people to look in the mirror and to question and think.That’s how I grow. When I’m not able to understand where somebody is coming from or what somebody is going through... I made a song recently called “Free Love” about LGBT rights. That’s not something that I was always concerned with. I always thought gay marriage was cool, but I wasn’t concerned with it. I couldn’t empathize with them. It took somebody in my family telling me that’s how they identify for me to start questioning the way I was thinking about that and realize these are just people who didn’t choose to be the way they are. It took somebody in my family telling me that’s how they identify for me to start questioning the way I was thinking about that and realize these are just people who didn’t choose to be the way they are. They just want to live a fair, equal life. That’s what people that doubt us [on police brutality] need to think about.I was going through your Twitter timeline and I saw you posted something about [Milwaukee County] Sheriff [David] Clarke.He’s a hating ass b-tch
He’s been saying some really wild stuff over the last few weeks.He’s brainwashed that’s all. He might be too far gone. We might just need to wait for him to roll over. He’s got an entire slave house n-gger mentality, and we’re out here in the fields.What is the solution? We've recognized the problem - maybe everyone has not recognized the problem - but we’ve recognized the problem.That’s part of the solution is for everyone to recognize the problem. Like you said, there’s still a lot of people that don’t think there’s a problem. I say something on my Twitter about how disproportionate Congress is to white males, and I have people start tearing me down saying white people were slaves too, all kind of stupid sh-t.That’s why I say the things I say in my music, to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. So that people understand - the people from Chicago - I can help them through this sh-t. The people that don’t understand and think they're comfortable where they are, I got to shake their mentality and make them start thinking. A lot of people are just regurgitating the racist beliefs that their grandparents handed down to their parents that handed it down to them.Are you filming a video for “16 Shots”?Yeah, we’re doing a video. It’s in the works.What’s the status of your album?I made an album and then I didn’t feel like it was the right representation. So I started making a new album. That’s where the songs from There’s Alot Going On came out of. I would say it’s about 75% done.Now that you’re on Roc Nation, could we see some collaborations with some of the artists on the label for your studio project?Potentially, but I don’t really do a lot of collaborations. I really just collaborate with my immediate team. The stories that I’m telling are real personal. It’s very unique to me, so it’s not often that the songs I’m writing for the album really lend themselves for somebody else’s voice.Can you talk about where you are conceptually for the music that you’re working on now?The things I’m doing are very autobiographical. There’s a lot of narratives, a lot of stories.
Speaking of which, my favorite song on the EP was the title track. It’s rare to have an artist be that open in their music.
I’m glad you liked that. That’s one of my favorites on the EP.
Was it therapeutic writing and recording that song?
It was very therapeutic writing that song. Writing that song was like writing in the mirror. It helped me come to terms with a lot of the sh-t that I’ve gone through and be able to express it through music.
It seems like you have sort of a love-hate relationship with the media. I was listening to your freestyle you did recently with the BBC, and you talked about how you felt the media spun what you said about Justin Timberlake. You have a message on your website where you say you don’t really pay attention to critics. What led you to have those feelings toward the media?
I don’t have any animosity towards the media. I think people are a lot more concerned with ratings, clicks, and views than they are with the truth. I find a lot of people in the media to be parasitic, and I don’t like people trying to take advantage of me or use me just for visibility. I appreciate the people in the media who use the power that they have to say things that matter and offer real perspective on sh-t.
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Vic Mensa’s “Back With A Vengeance Tour” with Joey Purp opens at The Loft in Atlanta on July 21. To purchase tickets visit here.
Stream There’s Alot Going On via Tidal below.
PHOTO CREDIT: Jake Osmun