Last May, when Vic Mensa's band Kids These Days broke up only months after releasing their major-label, Jeff Tweedy-produced debut LP, Traphouse Rock, he breathed a sigh of relief. "It's hard to live up to your potential when you all have different ideas of what that is," he tells Rolling Stone of the band's split. "I wasn't mad at it, though. When that happened, the decision that I made was to just go hard as fuck on my own shit."
The Chicago MC and founding member of Chicago's socially conscious Save Money crew (which includes longtime friend and frequent collaborator Chance the Rapper) had begun writing for his debut mixtape, INNANETAPE, while still part of Kids These Days. Once freed of his commitment to the band, Mensa doubled down on his solo career. The 20-year-old rapper spent much of this year in West Hollywood's Truth Studios, writing and recording the majority of INNANETAPE with an A-list team of producers including J.U.S.T.I.C.E. LEAGUE's Cam Osteen and Peter Cottontale.
Even more impressive, he utilized friendships with key music-industry players, including Drake's tour manager, Jamil Davis, and Interscope A&R Tunji Balogun, to land big-time beats from of-the-moment producers including Hit-Boy, Boi-1da and Channel Orange producer Om'mas Keith.
The 14-track set, which features guest spots from young hip-hop talent including Chance, Ab-Soul and Rockie Fresh, showcases Mensa's airtight flow and inherent knack for melody. It's an expansive amalgamation of a mixtape: a hip-hop rooted affair that takes a path paved with jazz, soul and dance music influences.
Mensa isn't slowing down anytime soon: he's currently in the midst of a tour with Roc Nation's J. Cole and hits the road this January for a string of North American dates with buzzing U.K. DJ duo Disclosure, with whom Mensa says he's cut a few unreleased tracks. "I feel it completely reflects myself as an artist – the INNANETAPE tape as a project and just the music that I'm making," he says.
Despite taking meetings with several major labels, including Atlantic Records, Mensa, like his buddy Chance, is in no rush to sign with a label. "That's not really my focus," he says. "It's not a true necessity right now. I have no doubt in my mind that what I'm doing is just something that is gonna catch. People are gonna get it, and they're going to understand it."