Body The Beat, Embody the Street: Vic Spencer “The Cost of Victory”

Will Hagle shines a light on the veteran freshman of Chicago, Vic Spencer, whose newest album sounds nothing like Ye or Chance.
By    February 10, 2015

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Will Hagle is stronger than panther piss

Vic Spencer has learned to meditate. That’s what he tells us on The Cost of Victory, over a sample that sings out a simple refrain: “Once you begin to make it, the harder it is to take it.”  It encapsulate the classic conundrum of success: it’s always elusive, and the pursuit of it complicates everything.

Five albums in, and nearly a decade older than the rappers he’s associated with, Vic Spencer is fully aware of his stature. He, like anyone, could always be more popular or respected. He’s also better than he gets credit for now. Vic’s neither drill nor Kanye disciple, and not fitting into either category is as artistically freeing as it is commercially limiting coming from Chicago.

Vic might have learned how to cool out in his personal life, but on The Cost of Victory he uses frustration and anger as a way of dealing with the artistic tension within him. Just because you’re self-aware doesn’t mean you’re comfortable the way you’re perceived, and Vic makes his discomfort known. Shots are fired in the general direction of non-specific targets— Internet thugs, rappers who achieved fame through money rather than talent, non-smoking broads, people from Oak Park who claim to be from out west, the group homes he was forced to navigate as a kid.

If the barrel can be twisted back towards Vic for any reason, it’d be to take aim only at a few minor annoyances that riddle The Cost of Victory. His “yeah” ad-lib sounds too much like Schoolboy’s without the right production.  A shot of Malört every time Vic says “you feel me” and you’d be dead before track 11, “Sleep Heart”. It’s appropriate to use that song as a point of reference after pointing out the album’s possible flaws; it’s the most venomous manifestation of Vic’s hatred towards those that don’t appreciate what he does. Blogs are specifically mentioned.

The best part of Vic airing so many grievances is that it’s hard to disagree with any of them. He raps for an album straight, constantly exploring topics through thoughts, observations and punchlines. He pauses for a hook only on “The Writers,” and even that consists mostly just of the whispered names of authors. Not many inside or outside of Chicago are bar-for-bar better than Vic. There should be enough other evidence of Vic’s worth already, but the album is better because of the desperation and urgency he brings.

In an industry in which artists are hyped then forgotten, categorized and classified, it’s unclear if Vic’s desperate or urgent to reach any specific goal.  He’s mentioned elsewhere on the Internet that he wants to be Chicago’s version of Sean Price, who appears alongside Illa Ghee on “Jungle Gym.” He’s comfortable with commercial obscurity as long as he gets the recognition he deserves.

At this point in his career, Vic is more like a Midwestern Vince Staples: associated with with his city’s most popular young groups and the most reliable purveyor of bars, regardless of crossover potential. The Cost of Victory is Vic’s dismissal of anyone who doesn’t respect him. Vic raps for rap’s sake, but he does it better than those with less admirable intentions. That’s not the quickest path to success, but there’s no point choosing paths if none of them ever really lead anywhere.