From Kids to Kanye: “U Mad” & The Evolution of Vic Mensa

Yeezy's latest protege gets himself a Benz with the Backpack.
By    April 14, 2015


Tosten Burks just talked to 2 Chains and he said, “Faaaaalse.”

I’d like to think the “All Day” reference track Vic Mensa (probably) recorded to get on stage at the Brit Awards goes harder than the Street Lights single it ultimately set up. Nothing against Stefan Ponce and Smoko Ono’s trumpet bombs, or the hook’s writhing guitar riff, or ‘Ye’s tongue-in-cheek regret that he didn’t attend law school, or the mischievous pride required to chant, “Like I don’t know nobody,” on a song featuring the biggest rock star in the world, but stiff Ray Rice and Ramadan punch lines don’t quite fit on a spoken word nerd, however hard Vic tries to distance himself from those younger days.

Here the kid tries to rap like Yeezy, slow-drawling the type of groaners for which we barely forgive the latter (“All my women in doubles, I’m at the DoubleTree,” doesn’t cut it), while Kanye pops Lexapro and has a serious discussion with 2 Chainz about fake True Religions. The song slaps, but Vic seems more content than ever to hide that he was always backpack.

Not that “U Mad” isn’t still a moment. Before remixing Young Chop and Frankenstein’ing Chief Keef’s warbles alongside Bon Iver, West long eschewed the local father-figure role. No doubt he’ll gainfully employ Malik Yusef and Rhymefest until Lake Michigan evaporates, and dude is still determined to make GLC happen, but it took ‘Ye over a decade to realize Chicago’s kids were doing more than rapping and making soul beats just like him.

Now, after wringing all the street cred he could out of Cozart (you didn’t think Keef needed Kanye’s validation in Englewood, did you?), West turns to Hyde Park’s skinniest phenom, perhaps seeing in Mensa a bit of himself—the non-gang-affiliated son of a college professor, clawing into studios before he could drive, overconfident, begrudged, skinny jean’d. This isn’t a passing of the baton, but it’s still the king’s blessing, however true the GOOD Music rumors.

It remains unclear whether there’s a master plan threading all of Vic’s post-Innanetape stylistic diversions—the melodic hip-house, the booty shorts boogie, the splintered stained-glass jazz sketches with Sa-Ra understudy Michael Uzowuru, whatever we call this most recent pseudo-grime creature.

But the depth of his departure from the sentimental blues rap that raised him (and that put Chance on the cover of the FADER, cheesing next to the trumpeter who convinced Vic to join Kids These Days back in high school) at least proves Mensa can bob and weave. Frosted tips aside, doubt he turns out worse than Really Doe.

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