This morning, Chicago motormouth Vic Mensa released his second small collection of major label songs – he calls it a "capsule," not an EP – The Manuscript. The four songs – produced by Pharrell Williams and No I.D. among others – cover ground from furious rapping sprees ("OMG") to anthemic power ballads ("Rage") to teasers for his long awaited full-length debut ("Rolling Like a Stoner"), all served up like a present to fans.
For a rapper of undeniable technical skill and an unquenchable thirst to be the best at what he does, Vic Mensa's breakthrough has been a long time coming. He took label meetings as a teenager and was one of Chicago's most beloved artists before A&Rs heard the name Chance the Rapper. He emerged as a strong solo artist on the relaxed, freewheeling Innanetape in 2013, dropped dancefloor-killer "Down on My Luck" the following year, earning him a deal with Roc Nation, and took a heel turn for 2015 Kanye West collab "U Mad" in 2015. Last year's There's a Lot Going On was all we've heard from him since — an EP that mostly captured Vic in raw, rap-first-songs-second mode, baring personal vulnerabilities that gave added weight to his politically-charged bars. Many of the songs on The Manuscript continue with pure rhyme frenzy: "This shit for lil Vic," he raps on the opening track, "that 12-year-old kid that only wanna hear that real shit."
Rolling Stone spoke with Mensa about The Manuscript, working with Pharrell and his social media hiatus.
What is this project?
I'm calling it a "capsule." It's called The Manuscript. It's an introduction to my album which is coming this summer, release date pending. Very soon. Four records.
Why did you choose these four songs for The Manuscript – and what can you say about making them?
I've really been in the process of writing [the] album for some time. It's a journey it takes you on as a listener, it's a story. A very detailed story that's all very interconnected. One of these records is called "Rolling Like a Stoner," it's a part of that story. Another one, ["OMG"], Pharrell and Pusha T, it's just a dope-ass rap song. It's not necessarily a part of that narrative. I did that … for an introduction into my process. I didn't want to be in your traditional label format game – single, single, album. … Not one song fully encapsulates [the album]. So I wanted to present my album as a full album and thank my fans for being there and let 'em know it's coming in my own way.
How did the song with Pharrell come together?
I met P through Kenna for the first time. Kenna is a good friend of mine and he introduced me to Pharrell at Puffy's birthday party a while back. I met him in the studio and played him some music. One of the songs I played him is on this capsule, it's called "Rage." Pharrell fucking loved the song, he flipped out over that song. ... I bumped into him at a fashion show. We got back in the studio and made some magic. I'm a super fucking Pharrell fan. I grew up as a skate kid on the South Side of Chicago, before there was precedent for that. When N.E.R.D. came out and Pharrell came out in the early 2000s with skateboards doing rap music and being black, I was like, "What the fuck"? I told him that, as a shorty, you inspired me to stay interested and feel like I was a part of something because I was the only nigga skateboarding in my neighborhood. We did ["OMG"] for the capsule and we did a record which is on the album, which I think is one of the strongest records that I've made.
On your last project, There's a Lot Going On, it seemed like you had a lot to get off your chest. Is that emotional aspect of your work still in play here?
I would say There's a Lot Going On is cut from the cloth of the album. I was making this album last year when I made that. I've been making this album for about a year. … That storytelling came so naturally to me, and that vulnerability was just so no-holds-barred, because that was my entire process for this album.
You've been working on this a long time. Do you think differently about how you write songs than you used to?
I think right now I have more understanding of my process. I'm major laser-focused. I've always been focused, since I was a shorty. Right now it's just an added element of maturity to me making music at this point in time. I really know what I'm doing, I really know what it is I want to say. And what I think needs to be said right now.
What do you think needs to be said? Have you been following what's going on the world while you work on this?
I've been completely off social media for a year. There were a couple times I would come on and talk about something I thought was important briefly. As far as being present and scrolling, I've been off social media 100%. I don't even have Twitter and Instagram on my phone. I do stay in tune with current events and what's happening in the world, because all of that influences me and what I think needs to be said right now. I feel like we're in a point in time on this earth when honesty is paramount. Honesty is key. And there's so little honesty and so little to believe in, so making this album my criterion was that I say things that are honest and that I believe in wholeheartedly. ... Does this song speak specifically to a key pillar of my life or my experiences? If the answer was "yes" then it's on the album. … There's reality in everything. But the capsule has a couple more energies – some more brolic energy, and it has more introspective and it has more lyrical. There's a lot of different things on there even though it's a compact project. I'm excited for people to be able to live with it.
Is there any music that you've been listening to that inspires you?
I've been listening to my boy Kami. He has an album out right now called Just Like the Movies. I've been listening to Ho99o9. Their energy is fucking ridiculous, rap, hardcore satanic shit. I went to their show, it was fucking amazing. Their show was with this group that I fuck with too called Injury Reserve. But honestly, the shit I've been listening to, to get inspired? I've been over here making mad beats. So if you're reading this, holler at me, I might be slanging beats shortly. I've been listening to so much – mad samples and shit, going back. I'm a fan of music before anything so I've been going back into my archive and back to the record shop and going back to the people who did this really well already.