One Listen Album Review: “I Tape” by Vic Mensa

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Vic Mensa has had a roller coaster ride of a career, especially for somebody who is still only 27 years old. At 16, Vic was already the star performer of Chicago hip-hop/rock/blues fusion band “Kids These Days,” showing incredible talent and potential in songs such as “Clear Eyes” and “My Days.” After the band’s eventual split, Vic launched his solo career with 2013’s “Innanetape.” This debut mixtape featured a versatile collection of some fantastic tracks, including “Orange Soda,” “Holy Holy,” “Hollywood LA,” “Magic” and “Time Is Money.”

Fast forward three years later, and Vic dropped “There’s Alot Going On,” an introspective second mixtape. The next year, 2017, was the arrival of Vic’s solid debut studio album, “The Autobiography.” Vic’s career arc then took a surprising turn with a very disappointing EP in “Hooligans” and then the release of punk-rock/rap crossover album “93Punx.” “93Punx” was genuinely horrible and one of the worst projects that I have ever listened to. The chaotic, uncontrolled mess of sounds and lack of direction and focus from Vic unfortunately established the low point of his career.

2020 finally saw Vic return to what he is best at. “No More Teardrops” provided soulful political commentary and showcased admirable music from Vic again. “V Tape” showed Vic’s full commitment to his return to rap, and was a very quality and fitting bounce back EP. 2021 is off to a strong start for Vic as well, with the release of Wyclef Jean and Chance the Rapper-assisted “Shelter,” another passionate track addressing societal issues.

It’s hard to predict where Vic Mensa’s trajectory is going, given just how unpredictable his career has been to this point. He clearly has elite talent, but sometimes he has made bad music and poor decisions in his artistry. Regardless, “I Tape” is an intriguing listen, especially following the positive momentum that he has built over the last year. 

Here are my track-by-track reactions and overall initial impressions of “I Tape”.

Vic Mensa: “I Tape” (March 26, 2021)

1.“INTRODUCTION” ft. Dixson

“I Tape” opens with a voicemail clip and then a few sung lines at the end to set up the album.

2. “VICTORY”

This immediately gets the project off to a triumphant start, with Vic celebrating his return into rap with a flurry of clever and impressive lines. A couple of the bars feel a little childish, but for the most part, the writing is really solid, providing great lines to complement captivating deliveries. A pretty decent beat, combining a soul sample with hard drum kicks and an electric synth, really allows Vic to provide a hard and confident delivery. Not a bad start.

3. “MILLIONAIRES” ft. Tish

Starting with a long and heartfelt intro, Vic comes in with a passionate delivery and some thoughtful verses. There isn’t a ton going on here, but it’s enjoyable to hear Vic provide such a heartfelt song. A quality track – it’s nice to see him getting introspective and reflecting on the improbability of his success.

4. “KWAKU”

The interlude in the project comes in the form of a two and a half minute audio clip from Vic’s father, Edward Mensah, looking at his upbringing in Ghana and then his experiences as an immigrant to America, moving to raise a family in Chicago. It’s really nice to listen to Mensah talking about the pride and joy that Vic’s music has brought him, and how he is sure that his own father would be proud of the family that he raised and the life that his son is living. I think this interlude is particularly meaningful and fitting for this project. 

5. “FR33DOM” ft. Zacari

Following its performance on “The Colbert Show” a few weeks ago, this song immediately got me excited for the project. Opening with an emotional intro from Zacari, this one takes a sharp turn into an electronic trap beat with bars mostly focused around police brutality and systemic racism. The short verses and hard-hitting punchlines over a really energetic beat make the middle part of the song really exciting. Zacari comes back in for the outro of the track, and brings the vibe back to the relaxed sound that the song began with.

6. “MOOSA” ft. Eryn Allen Kane, Jeremih & Wyatt Waddell

Moosa is another song featuring thoughtful verses from Vic over a peculiar but enjoyable looped soul sample and smooth beat. Vic journeys through his own troubles in life as well as the trials and tribulations in the American prison system. The storytelling throughout the song is poignant, and all of the elements really make it one of the more captivating points of the project. 

7. “SHELTER” ft. Chance The Rapper & Wyclef Jean

The lead single for “I Tape,” “Shelter” came out earlier in the year and provided a very solid foundation for the music that was to follow. The moving chorus from Wyclef Jean is met by two fantastic verses from Vic and another great verse from Chance. Vic and Chance passionately and elegantly address many social and racial issues in Chicago and in American society in general. Their chemistry that has been built throughout their whole career of making music together shines yet another time here. This one was already one of the better songs of the year as a single, and it is a perfect fit for the outro.

Overall, I am happy that Vic is back to what he is best at doing. Having been a fan of Vic Mensa for a long time and watching him go through a lot of changes and difficulties, it’s nice to see him back to making music in the genre that fits him the best. Short and sweet with just seven tracks and a 24-minute runtime, Vic doesn’t waste any time in getting everything across that he wants to. There isn’t a bad song on the project and all of the tracks complement each other nicely. The songs carry over meaningful themes of the variety of issues faced by African Americans, with some being centered on the scope of the South Side of Chicago and some focused on American society as a whole. The writing throughout the project, for the most part, was very quality and enjoyable. Vic’s delivery was consistently impressive and the beat selection matched his verses very well. This is not the most amazing music that I have heard from Vic, but it was a genuinely strong effort that gives me continued hope and excitement for future releases from him.

Favorite Songs: “Shelter,” “Moosa,” “Freedom”

Album Score: 77/100

Contact Nick Sligh at nsligh ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.

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Nick Sligh is a Junior from Athens, Georgia, studying Economics and International Relations. Nick is always open to discuss anything relating to music, NBA basketball, and movies/TV. As somebody with a deep interest in hip-hop/rap and r&b music, Nick covers these genres through his articles. Feel free to contact him at nsligh 'at' stanforddaily.com