Interview: Vic Mensa
Vic Mensa tells of being struck by 15,000 volts, and racial issues in the US ahead of his Laneway appearance.
Vic Mensa had a breakout 2014, kickstarted by his huge single Down On My Luck, along with being apart of/starting the Save Money collective with Chance The Rapper and Joey Purp. He's in Australia this month appearing at the Red Bull Music Academy x Future Classic Stage at St Jerome's Laneway Festival and a couple of sideshows (dates down the bottom), and Liam Apter was fortunate enough to have a candid chat with the young star on the rise:
Hey Vic how's it going, where are you at the moment?
I’m in Chicago, my hometown.
Cool let's start there - I wanted to asked about how when Lollapalooza was on in Chicago a few years you got electrocuted by like 15,000 volts! Is that true?
Yeah man. I got fucking shocked when I was trying to get into Lollapalooza and I fell like 30 foot off a bridge because I was shocked by like 15,000 volts. And I performed at Lollapalooza that next year and then this year on my own. So yeah man that was like a moment where I felt like I had a bigger purpose in life.
Yeah I noticed throughout interviews you’ve done you’ve talked about being on top and getting Grammys. Was that because of that moment?
Ah… Shit I always wanted to do the best I could with anything. And music is what I do so obviously I want to be the best at what I do so that means winning Grammys. And I know I can do that, I’m trying to make music that will help me become successful.
And success in the sense of being the best is important to you? Because not every artist would say that success is the most important thing to them.
Most of the successful ones probably would but not everybody. There is definitely more to it than that. I think my biggest motivation in doing the stuff I do is just the pursuit of dope shit. I really just like to make things, I drew a lot as a kid and I wanted to be an architect. I also wanted to be rich so I guess it came hand in hand. When I was into skateboarding I wanted to be a professional skateboarder, you know? When I was playing soccer I wanted to be a professional soccer player. Now that I’m rapping I want to be rich.
Okay I understand what you mean man. Does that desire to be the best push you along?
Yeah it does but that isn’t really why I dedicate my everything, my every waking moment to the music I make. It’s more just 'cause I love it, you know? It makes me happy.
So it’s combination of things; it’s about feeling happy about what you do and getting to the top?
It’s just what I do with music. It’s not just a habit or a hobby it is my life. It is all encompassing; you know what I’m saying? I wouldn’t be the best person I could be if I wasn’t putting everything into what I do.
Yeah I know what you mean. And to keep on talking about music you’re apart of the #SAVEMONEY collective which has Chance The Rapper and Joey Purp as members. What do you get out of being part of Save Money?
Ummm... Well that is a lot more of a selfish view than I would necessarily have...
No, no I didn’t mean to offend you when I said that...
Like I have Save Money tattooed on my wrist...
Go ahead man!
I know you what mean man, don’t worry. I was just going to say I’ve got Save Money tattooed on my flesh. I was the first person to say those words. The name, Save Money, I coined that name. Basically me and Purp, we were like you know the original leaders of this shit. Save Money is not a rap group with a head leader or something, you know, we all grew up together. So it’s not so much what Save Money does for me cause I am Save Money, you know what I’m saying?
From left to right: Tokyo Shawn, Vic Mensa, Chance The Rapper & Kehlani.
Uh-huh. It’s you.
And what does that mean to you if it is you?
It’s my mentality. It’s like I’ve lasered it into my brain. We don’t come from a 401K or trust funds or family money. We’ve always been where there hasn’t been something trying make something out of nothing. That’s the mentality of Save Money in Chicago motherfucker, we’re going to get it regardless. And that is just how we approach everything we do.
And I remembered you mentioned in an earlier interview that said rappers don’t get the support that other genres do, but does Save Money being apart of you provide support that a label could never provide?
Umm… Honestly yeah. All of this shit began when we started this music shit. It would be like me, you know, with a bunch of CDs and a bunch of Save Money guys with me selling CDs at high schools and putting up posters. We used to be on the street illegally putting up our posters on the wall and you know who was there with me? It wasn’t a street team hired by a record label, it was my niggas, Save Money, my family.
Okay and I wanted to ask also about when you started out rapping. You said in an interview with Complex that you used to take Nas songs and write your own verses based on the amount of syllables there were. Could you explain that?
Yeah I was like 12 years old and shit and I was obsessed rapping and learning the rap. I just came at it like a science so I used to print sheets of Nas lyrics and Jay lyrics. And side by side write raps that were the same depending on cadence or syllable patterns. But you know that was something I did with anything I tried. I used to print out skateboard instructions on like how to olly or how to kickflip, how to do a trayflip. I used to print that shit out of the Internet and read it. You know what I’m saying?
Yeah so it was kind of the way that I always was. Anything I tried to do I tried to be good at it.
And do you still look at things like that now?
Everything is more of a vibe to me now. I learn more just from living and interacting with smart people but I’m still learning everyday.
And I also wanted to mention on the topic of Nas that he is going to be Australia just before Laneway for another Australian festival. So I was wondering if you knew about that and try and meet up with him?
Nah I had no clue but if I’m there at the same time as him I’m definitely going to try link up with him.
Awesome, best of luck man. I also wanted to ask about how you recently posted Twitter about Kendrick Lamar’s comments on how African-Americans need to respect themselves. Can you expand on what you mean by that?
Yeah I can. I didn’t read Kendrick’s whole interview, all that I read was that change had to come from within before it would could be implemented outside. And for anyone’s ignorance America is a completely systemised, racist, prejudiced criminal nation in a lot of ways. But for anyone who wants to make a change it’s important to realise we [African-Americans] have got a long way to go as well. I’m from Chicago, I’m familiar with murder mentality and a lot of niggas I grew up with they lived their lives like that. They don’t give fuck about anyone’s life, they don’t give a fuck about their own. And if we think we’re going to change the way we’re getting shut down in the street like dogs, you know what I’m saying, those of us that live outside of a homicidal mindset need to influence people in that mind state to be better than that. It’s like leaving a gaping hole for anyone to attack our case, to shoot right through because they can say, ‘But you kill each all the time.’ Which doesn’t justify police killings in the least bit but the point in time where they can’t even keep pointing that finger is when we’re changing a lot of shit.
Okay and correct me if I’m wrong but you’re saying that amongst African-Americans it's about exercising their own control and attitudes before changing rules within white society?
No. That’s why people got mad at me because they think I’m saying, ‘Oh black people need to do better,’ I’m not saying that. You know what I’m saying?
Nah it’s okay, I’m not expressing anger towards you I’m just saying I don’t agree with that ‘black people need to do better’ bullshit because white people aren’t doing better, they use drugs, they sell drugs. They’re just not being incarcerated for it in the same way that black people are. I just think that when you point the finger you also need to hold up a mirror.
And something I wanted to ask about before running out of time is documentation, something you discussed with the Huffington Post. You used a phrase ‘Film The Police’ - can you expand on that?
When I was talking about ‘Film The Police,’ I was arguing that we need to keep an eye on the people that keep an eye on us. The police are the physical limb of the judicial system that incarcerate black people and keep us down. Honestly, that film the police shit it didn’t work because Eric Garner was filmed as that cop held him down and his killers weren’t even charged. I’m more like ‘Fuck The Police’ right now.
Indeed, I was going to ask you about that. Not to say that you’re previous stance was wrong but sadly Eric Garner was filmed and it didn’t change anything.
It happened. You know? That doesn’t mean it’s still not important because we live in a digital world and at any moment anything can be global. It’s important to see these crimes being committed so people need to keep filming the police but people need to lose faith in the police, faith. And the people that live under the façade that the police is treating African-American people equally need to realise that isn’t the case. Black people are brutalised and singled out so to the people that think that way, they might need to get punched in the face.
Because it’s not true. A lot of the stuff you’re talking about is also an issue in Australia amongst Aboriginal communities. And you said you weren’t pushing ‘Film The Police’ anymore but rather ‘Fuck The Police’. How do you see this being fixed?
Fixing problems within our own community isn’t going to change how the nation destroys our community. But I think that you know it’s a matter of continuity. Things don’t happen overnight, I may feel that ‘Fuck The Police’ is okay right now but it’s only a personal opinion. We still have to film the police and we as a nation we need to be holding people accountable for their actions. The way that our nation is constructed by the media I feel like more and more people are losing faith in our country’s system. They’re losing the faith in the news, in court systems because when the media reports about black kids being shot every week you forget about the last one and people go about their lives. But if two cops get shot it starts an entire…
It’s breaking news.
Yeah. Their lives are viewed with so much more importance than our lives, so I feel like that we need to be distrusting of all areas of society, honestly. You know what I’m saying?
Yeah I know what you’re saying. You kind of get to the point where you ask what can you trust?
Yeah, it’s frustrating. I’m just trying to be a free man, making music and trying to say something every once in awhile.
That’s the important thing... Ah Vic there was a lot of things I wanted to ask you about but sadly I have to wrap it up. So could you give Australia an idea of what your Laneway shows will be like?
(laughter) I pose shirtless the entire time and there will be nude go-go dancers. It’s going to be tight. We’re going to have fun in Australia.
Awesome man! Is there anything else you want to touch on from what we’ve discussed?
Nah man, I just want to say that people should be looking out because we’re coming. Save Money baby.
Sick man. Well thanks for taking your time to do this I appreciate it. Have an awesome time on tour in Australia and hopefully you meet Nas!
LANEWAY FESTIVAL DATES:
Saturday 24 January - SINGAPORE - THE MEADOW, GARDENS BY THE BAY
Monday 26 January - AUCKLAND - SILO PARK
Saturday 31 January - BRISBANE - BRISBANE SHOWGROUNDS, BOWEN HILLS (16+)
Sunday 1 February - SYDNEY - SYDNEY COLLEGE OF THE ARTS (SCA), ROZELLE**
Friday 6 February - ADELAIDE - HART'S MILL, PORT ADELAIDE (16+)
Saturday 7 February - MELBOURNE - FOOTSCRAY COMMUNITY ARTS CENTRE (FCAC) & THE RIVER’S EDGE
Sunday 8 February - FREMANTLE - ESPLANADE RESERVE & WEST END