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As an artist in the music industry, the biggest gift you can bestow is giving back to your community. Aside from the accolades and the fame, nothing means more than going to your hometown and making a difference.
Insert Vic Mensa, who recently moved back home to Chicago from Los Angeles. Beyond his contributions to music, the 27-year-old takes pride in his activism, as he speaks out about gun violence, homelessness, police brutality, and racism any chance he can. Injecting these political and societal issues into his music, the artist continues to detail his own personal experiences in a way that empowers listeners to do their part in pushing for change.
In late 2020 with his SAVE MONEY, SAVE LIVES foundation, Vic live-streamed an overnight “Sleep Out” to bring awareness to the plight of homeless youth in Chicago, and raised over $15,000 for Covenant House in the process. Additionally last August, he teamed with Chance and G Herbo for the School Drive and Peace Walk in Chicago.
How have you been holding up with the pandemic?
Been taking it a day at a time. Blessed though, got my health. My family is healthy. Six feet above ground instead of six feet under.
What does a song like “No More Teardrops” mean during these times?
That song’s a statement of defiance, made from a recording I took on my phone from 2016 in Baton Rouge after the death of Alton Sterling at the hands of police. Malik and I were out there for his funeral, we recorded a band on the street at the corner store where he was killed and assassinated. The song never found its way onto any project. When things kicked back off [in 2020], I did some reworking of it, but the message really still applied because it’s the same ass shit.
What does it mean to be a Black man in America today?
It’s heavy out here. It’s always a relationship of love/hate — to yourself and to your own. It’s exhausting, yet it’s beautiful. It’s dehumanizing, but also empowering. That’s the beautiful thing about Black people, through adversity and resilience, brilliance is born. It’s still tiresome to wear this target. I have the unique experience in that I’m directly African. My mom’s African, so I don’t deal with the same experience of disconnection from my origin. But, I do deal with the conundrum and the constant of being both of Black and white ancestry in America.
I recently learned one side of my family was here since 1619, took part in wars and that genocide against Native Americans. Another part of my family is of the blood stolen through slavery and used to build this shit. That’s complex and confusing. In adulthood and this part of my life, I’ve learned to see it as a blessing because it gives me a unique perspective. It’s definitely troubling (laughs).
You raised over $15,000 at your “Sleep Out” to raise awareness for the plight of homeless youth in Chicago. What moved you to do this?
Winter time in Chicago is cold enough to kill you, and it does. It kills people every winter. I live on the South Side, so every day when I go home, a few people are out on the streets trying to get some money. As the season starts to change, you see the same people out there. Damn, this is somebody’s mother, daughter, aunty or uncle.
When I first moved into my residence on the South Side, I noticed the people staying in the alley behind my house. I made assumptions, thinking they’re doing drugs subconsciously. At a point in time, one of them approached me and started telling me about what he had going on. He got out the joint, been locked up for 29 years. His fiancee passed away weeks before he got home. He had a fresh outfit on, I told him, “You look clean” because he’s asking me if I had winter coats. He said, “Man, I’m not a bum ass nigga. Right now, I’m a bum. This is what’s going on.” That shit hit me different. It made me realize the privilege I have. People end up experiencing homelessness for so many different reasons. You might be in an abusive environment with an abusive spouse or an abusive parent. So, many people out of a home right now. When I got the opportunity to do something to lend my support, I was excited.
I saw your post about waking up on 47th street. What was a young Vic Mensa like on the streets of Chicago?
Reckless (laughs). Super reckless. My father would say I was not a person with a high regard for the law. I do so many things for the city and in the city because of the things the city has done for me. When I was that age, 14 or 15, there’s people like Joe Freshgoods, Corey from Leaders, Dave Jeff from PHLI, Mikkey Halsted, my big brother Dare, and so many more that really took care of me. Supported the things I had going on, put me on shows, gave me advice. Shit one of the first times I met Vic Lloyd, I was 14 years old and I thought my girlfriend was pregnant. I couldn’t buy Plan B because I wasn’t old enough, they went and bought it for me. They took care of me.
Talking to Joe yesterday, he told me somebody made a comment: “Oh yeah, having a nonprofit is the new way of clout chasing in Chicago.” I’m not mad at that because there’s so much negative shit we’re bombarded with through music, media, politics, etc. Why not make a trend of trying to help each other out? The fact of the matter is the experience of the American is unique and in disarray, people are struggling. To live in a place where such exorbitant wealth is possible means you have to have the polar opposite, you have to have poverty. I’m not mad at that being a currency of cool or clout. I know me and my guys would be the people that made it that way, we’re really picking up where things were left off to us.
How much are you investing in your SAVE MONEY, SAVE LIVES foundation’s initiatives in addition to your music?
I got people to run the shit for me, my focus is music. I’m talking to you as I’m driving to the studio. I’ve been to the office today, and the studio. I don’t fully separate the two. I’m an artist, that’s what I do. I tell stories through different mediums. Sometimes I tell stories with a verse, by protest, or by sleeping on the street. I honestly saw that as a performance art piece. In my eyes, it’s meant to bring some tangible dollars, but really awareness and visibility to the people you see every day. You see these people on the street every day, but how often do we stop to care? Same shit I do with music: Bring focus to things you may not have been thinking about or recognized, whether it’s things about my life, my people, my home, anything.
How was it protesting against police brutality and systemic racism?
It’s funny because [last] summer, protesting was damn near poppin’ out. It’s COVID, so the only thing motherfuckers could do was “you going to the protest?” (laughs) I liked looting, looting was cool. It was honestly conflicting. On one hand, I liked to see widespread revolt. I liked to see people reclaiming wealth. Not at all like to see small businesses and Black-owned businesses being broken into and burned down. My studio got looted.
In L.A. or Chicago?
One thing you want fans to get from V TAPE?
Get some insight into why I am the way I am, why I do the things I do. I’m Gemini, so crazy. I can appear all over the place. People don’t understand it, but it’s a method to my madness or at least a meaning to it. With the V Tape, I wanted to tie in things going on in my life when I was doing what I was doing, this beef and this drama, this, that and the third. I wanted to give perspective that I’m a human being going through real shit. Being under a microscope while it’s all happening, every mistake you make is known from here to Hong Kong (laughs).
You’re a superstar back home. How is it being in Chicago?
It’s great being home. You get to a punk rock show in my living room, that’s not the type of person I am. I don’t give a fuck about none of that shit. I be outside. I be in the hood, wherever. People show me a lot of fucking love in Chicago. I appreciate it.
Talk about linking with Hit-Boy on the “HIT BOY FREESTYLE.” I know he did the intro track to V Tape, as well.
Hit’s one of the greatest. I’ve been rocking with Hit almost eight years. Hit-Boy did a beat on my first project, the INNANETAPE in 2013. Hit did the outro song, “That Nigga.” I did a verse on the Audio Push album, who at that time were his artists. I met Hit all the way back then. Obviously Hit’s with Kanye and then Hov, I started fucking with Kanye and Hov. Hit-Boy deserves it. He’s one of the humblest, most focused, consistently driven artists. I’ve always been periodically stopping into Hit-Boy studio, he’s been in the same lab for quite some time. He had a transformative year, but it’s years on end where I’ve known him to be in the studio at 10 a.m. every day making beats. You obviously have a gift but when your work ethic’s crazy, there’s only one outcome that can happen.
Talk about linking with Snoh Aalegra.
Snoh’s a friend of mine. I met and got to know Snoh when I was doing my album, The Autobiography with No I.D. Obviously, they’re very close. I had done a joint for her back then, she’s a beautiful person. Very talented, a visionary. An artist of a classic caliber, one that’s not so frequently seen in this era. A cool ass person, as well. Her voice would really lend itself to “Ex Games” that I wrote about my ex and the games (laughs).
How was linking on Sia and Busta Rhymes on “Don’t Give Up”?
Man, I’m a big fan of both of them. My guy Sam, he had that song for a long time. So, I wasn’t there with Sia or Busta Rhymes. I did “SNL” with Sia with Kanye back in the day, so I had connected with her through that. I’ve met Busta Rhymes here and there — always been a big fan.