There’s a very famous rapper, businessman, and husband performing at the Moda Center Thursday night, and considering the number of mega-popstars who pass through our fair burg, that’s something to be excited about. Jay-Z is a legend, plain and simple, and if you’d like to know more about him or his solid new album, 4:44... I don’t know, Google it?
But if you’re going to the show, be sure to get there on time so you’re not one of those folks wandering in during the opener. Vic Mensa is probably the biggest young MC not named Chance to come out of Chicago in recent years. Mensa and Chance the Rapper are old friends and collaborators, and they share some attributes: artistic ambition, social awareness, a knack for melodic hip-hop, and singing voices they aren’t afraid to use. But while Chance pushes his rhymes through a positive, faith-based perspective, Mensa explores darker and harder-edged themes.
He broke through in 2013 with an excellent full-length mixtape called Innanetape that showcased his jazz-hop interests and limber flow, then followed that up with a couple of EPs before dropping his official debut, The Autobiography, in July. It’s not perfect—releasing rap albums in the Kendrick era is tough, man—but it’s a perfectly enjoyable tour of Mensa’s strengths. The guy picks solid beats, some built from old soul music (“Say I Didn’t”), others based on Weezer songs (“Homewrecker”), and still others with a hard funk feel (“Rollin’ Like a Stoner”).
No matter what kind of track he’s rapping against, Mensa’s rhymes touch on insecurity, addiction, despair, sex, violence, street life, and rockin’ “leather like a punk.” In fact, Mensa seems obsessed with the rock-star lifestyle. He makes punk flyers for his concerts, wears studded jackets and Casualties T-shirts, and his shows are apparently wild-eyed, high-energy spectacles. Bottom line: The guy comes at rap music from an interesting, thoughtful, and talented place.