|Review| Vic Mensa: “Innanetape”

The thing that has always attracted me to Vic Mensa and his music has been his penchant for being different, his eagerness to push forward and his unwavering ability to make a stand for what he believes in. Those qualities and more manifested themselves fully on his latest project, INNANETAPE, released September 30.Talking to co-Executive Producer Peter CottonTale about the project, he calls it a “transformative” album that has rap at it’s base, infusing it with a multitude of different genre-bending sounds that make the album hard to pin to one genre. Vic has interest in a wide musical landscape and it was the job of CottonTale and Cam Osteen of J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League to craft a sound that embodied all of them while sounding like none of them.

Since it’s on most Chicagoans minds, yes Vic is somewhat like fellow SaveMoney artist Chance The Rapper, but only the way one might have a similar taste in clothing as an old friend. The comparison musically isn’t fair. While Vic may have a similar aesthetic to his lyrical content and message, he has managed to create a wholly different, almost more mature sound for himself. The interesting thing is that many of the parts that came together for Acid Rap are present here, without sounding overly familiar or at all played out. It is a testament to the steady production process that Vic, Cam and Peter went through over most of 2013.

Innanetape is creative, it’s interesting, it doesn’t allow listeners to passively tune in. Bottom line; it’s powerful, and you need to pay attention.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Innanetape is the development of Mensa since his days with Kids These Days. Always a lyrical artist, the Hyde Park native shows tremendous growth in his delivery, mixing in and playing with a variety of cadences and rhyme schemes that come together to create a collage of styles that is all his own.

On “Tweakin” Vic goes in like never before, vehemently rhyming: “I don’t want to fight/I just want a quiet life and a nice little suburban place to cry at night/And an eye dropper filled to the top with cyanide/So my psychiatrist dies soon as she tries the Sprite.” It’s a rhyme scheme and content matter right out of Eminem’s lexicon but with Vic’s own playfulness layered to it. On top of that, “Tweakin” also has Vic’s voice chopped and screwed, adding yet another element to a song bursting with them.

On “Orange Soda” and “Lovely Day” Vic gives listeners a chance to “breath, breath, it’s all in your head,” relax, before diving back into the mayhem and hairpin turns that is the rest of the project. Both were recorded in Los Angeles and bear the easy going West Coast stereotype which makes sense for a kid born in Chicago who takes regular excursions to the left side of the country for an escape. If anything, it’s obvious that Vic is able to absorb what’s around him and present it in a succinctly thoughtful manner.

Continuing to spread his wings with the project, Mensa also sings and dabbles in production. Drake, he is not, but his careful eye for crafty melodies adds another layer to the overall aesthetic that he has created. “Diditb4″ was the first track Mensa produced on his own, put together while on the road in the back of the large white van with Kids These Days. Vic proves with Innanetape that he’s not just a rapper, he’s a artist.

When CottonTale talks about transformations on this album, he mentions Vic’s openness to try different things. “Run” was one of the first tracks they put together and has the feeling of an 80s dance track rather than a hip-hop song out of Chicago. More than any other track on the album, it may be the most polarizing for listeners. The shrieking school bell sound, the muted hook and the sudden whirlwind into what CottonTale calls “pop juke” is a certain breath of fresh air, if not at first hard to decipher.

“I was looking at hip-hop and beats as becoming monotonous when I was out west. When I came out here I met rappers who had such an unorthodox style and delivery and Vic is a perfect example of that,” said Las Vegas native Cam Osteen. “It’s something that is very different and honestly something that rap needs right now. In Chicago you see a lot of these guys for the unconventional to steal the show, and that’s what sets this project apart.”

Innanetape is a long time coming. Work started at Soundscape studios soon after the announcement of KTD as the first draft of the tracks began to take shape. To have been able to sit in on some of the sessions throughout the process, it has been fun to watch the paths many of the songs took to get on the final project. About a year or so ago, the country took notice of Chicago for the antics of Chief Keef and the often cluttered thought of drill music which became the city’s calling card. Heading into 2014, Chicago has  regained it’s stature as a soulful, creative, open place from which music emanates and that is owed much to Vic and the generation he represents in the Second City. Never one to satisfy himself with anything, it will be exciting to see where Mensa takes things from here.

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