I first heard Vic Mensa on Disclosure's Radio 1 Essential mix. The chart-bothering house/garage duo is one of the last places I’d expect to be introduced to the young Chicago rapper, and yet the bizarre connection feels somewhat apt. Just like the Surrey-born production powerhouses, the connection between old skool and new school comes correct. Vic’s rapping feels like both a throwback to 90’s backpacker lyricism, full of Das EFX style ad libs and internal rhyme tongue twisters, yet with a contemporary slant; the production is polished, roping in styles and guests with aplomb. In an era where rap’s old guard are repeatedly resting on their laurels, with tired bars that have long been lost to Lambos and Lanvin, Vic feels part of a young cadre of rappers that are bringing real intelligence, and, more than anything, fun, to their music. The Innanetape provides this in abundance.
As a fellow member of Chicago’s Save Money crew, it goes without saying that the comparisons to Chance The Rapper’s Acid Rap are going to be greatly documented, and it’s all there: the live instrumentation, technicolour production, the wordplay that practically trips over its own tongue. Vic seems somehow more celebratory on this record though, in relation to his Chi-town brethren. His sing-song delivery, which flips expertly from breakneck speed syllable spitting to tuneful crooning, and combinations of the two, makes for a listen that is almost difficult to work out if it’s always him behind the mic. With early tracks ‘Orange Soda’ coming across with a real D’Angelo styled neo-soul bent, and the breakbeat of ‘Lovely Day’, his voice skips across notes and beats brilliantly. The triplet flow in his second verse on ‘Orange Soda’ is breathlessly brilliant.
He’s got a decent reason for the good mood, too: there’s several reflections on his near death experience from full-blown electrocution, as he fell a terrifying height onto train tracks. From the wonderful bounce of ‘Magic’ to the more soulful introspection of his life’s impact so far and how he would be remembered on ‘Holy Holy’. The record feels like a real house-party, with real (and sometimes literal) highs and lows. The ode-to-being-wasted ‘Tweakin’, featuring his old pal Chance, is a killer drinking/smoking soundtrack, both of them waxing lyrical about their heads being in a state and having a great time with it. And you try saying ‘Where do babies come from? Porkin’ the stork poorly parked pullin’ into your Porsche with a Ford’ after a few too many.
He knows how to write a damn catchy hook too; the anthems-in-waiting of ‘YNSP’ and ‘Time Is Money’ demand crowd chants. ‘Make money but the money you make don’t make you’ is a twitter bio/tattoo waiting to happen, but sounds great yelled at the top of your lungs. Boi-1da’s production on ‘Time’ is tight on a mournful trap tip, with an underwhelming turn from Maybach’s Rockie Fresh, but smooths it over with lush pads. On ‘YNSP’, the Disclosure reference comes back to bite me on the arse because it features none other than pop-bore Eliza Doolittle, who apparently it’s cool to like now? Anyway, she sounds great (if fairly generic) on it, but why she’s still a ‘thing’ I’ll never know.
The mixtape tails off somewhat towards the end, with ‘Fear and Doubt’ offering little more than Kenna’s best The Weeknd impression, and Vic, after such strong form throughout, just lays back and rolls with the maudlin punches. Fortunately, ‘Run!’, featuring the obscenely talented Thundercat is a welcome return to the hype, an indie-esque belter that is probably closer to the likes of Little Dragon than Big Boi.
It’s an established, coherent whole from such a young talent. An expressive voice, backed up by (mostly) impressive supporting players and slick, Chicago-facing beats that run the whole gamut of rap instrumentals, it’s difficult not to listen to it without a smile on the face. That’s not to say he’s rapping without a point; for every line on smoking a blunt there’s a comment on his city’s failing school system and irredeemable politics. It’s smart, yet not unapproachably so. It’s an ideal mixtape for the Innanet age.