Album Review: Vic Mensa’s “The Autobiography”

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On his much anticipated debut album The Autobiography Vic Mensa’s lyricism shines through the darkness.

The Autobiography

Ostensibly every song on the album is autobiographical, but not every song exposes Mensa in the same way. “Didn’t I” and “Memories on 47th St.” are the first two tracks on the album. Both songs are highly personal. On the second verse of the first track Mensa addresses his father with the album’s first great spurt of lucidity. Mensa does his best work when the beat is scaled back, the production is simple and his flow is let loose. “Memories on 47th St” deals with equally personal material, but at times the production gets in the way and detracts from Mensa’s rhymes.

“Heaven on Earth” has traces of Nas’s “One Love” and Slick Rick’s “Children’s Story”, mixing elegy with a cautionary tale. It’s not just the subject matter; Mensa channels 90’s storytelling greats to deliver one of the album’s most potent tunes.

“We Could be Free” is a beautiful, soulful song that addresses social issues.

For sheer unbridled force of emotion, however, nothing rivals “Wings.” To date the album’s only single is a rage-filled, virtuosic performance. Mensa scats on the track, free-wheeling as he enumerates the many ways he dislikes himself. It’s impossible to listen without being alarmed at Mensa’s self-hatred. One must feel sympathy, but during Mensa’s inward-directed tirade one also feels awkward. That look into Mensa’s soul might be too crystal-clear.

The Autobiography II

Other songs on the album also discuss Mensa’s personal life, but not with the exacting focus of the songs mentioned above. In a way that’s a good thing. Mensa’s honesty can be refreshing but it can also be taxing.

On “Homewrecker” and “Gorgeous” Mensa raps about his love life. It’s personal but not tragic and he has a story to tell. Once again, the storytelling Mensa is best. He’s a rapper who is able to carry a song with his voice, words and narration.

Unfortunately some songs veer away from that simple formula. “Rollin’ Like a Stoner”, “Down for Ignorance” and “Coffee & Cigarettes” have too much going on. They’re not horrible tunes, but they don’t reach their potential in Mensa’s hands. Some other rapper, one of Mensa’s peers, would surely make those songs work. But Mensa doesn’t need the overwrought intros and autotune flourishes that buoy those tracks. His voice alone would suffice.

Debut

“The Autobiography” is an album several years in the making. Way back in 2014 Mensa was selected as a XXL Freshman. Since then he has collaborated with several high-level artists (Kanye for instance), signed with Roc Nation and released an acclaimed EP.

The album has thirteen tracks, but Mensa added two bonus tracks, one of which features Pusha T. Other guests on the album include Pharell Williams, Saul Williams, Ty Dolla $ign, The Dream, Syd and Weezer.

Vic Mensa’s debut shows promise. It’s a weird thing to say about an artist that has been famous for several years already, but it’s true. Mensa has the skills and the sensibility to make impactful music. “The Autobiography” has some of that impactful music. The album plums the depths of Mensa’s psyche, at times going deeper than need be. Sometimes the album feels like Mensa’s state of mind as it is described by Mensa himself: jumbled.

Clearing through the tangles it’s easy to see the talent and marvel at the ability. Mensa’s honesty and openness are unquestionable. They just need to be showcased without frills, Mensa straight with no chaser.

For now, “The Autobiography” is a solid debut that Mensa can build on.

Grade: 3/5.

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