Will Hagle has never been much of a carpaccio guy.
Vic Spencer vs. Mick Jenkins was the underreported beef of 2015. The feud started on Twitter, but it didn’t play out over memes and Grammy-nominated singles. Instead, both rappers quickly brought social media vilification into the recording booth, replacing the pettiness with well-worded attacks. There were some funny moments, and the nature of the dispute had fans questioning which artist emerged victorious. But the answer was, as it always is, neither. The point, then, isn’t just that the beef itself was underreported. It’s that every Vic Spencer verse is treated that way.
Decades of solid rapping and loose associations with Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper haven’t brought Vic Spencer out from the Chicago underground, but they have cemented his position atop that hierarchy. He’s respected enough locally to have taken protégés like Chris Crack under his wing, and Who The Fuck Is Chris $pencer is all the evidence anyone needs to realize Chicago’s best lyrical rappers are better off working with Vic rather than against him. (“Black Republican” and “Success” are the exception to the rule, but collaboration always trumps hostility.)
Chris Crack, too, can rap at a level unreachable by many of the more famous people in his city. He, along with the New Deal Crew he helms, releases music with a prolific apathy parallel to Young Thug’s approach. His albums don’t need a release date, and they’re usually not even albums. But his sputtering voice pops out of whatever song it’s on, whether it’s another one-off Soundcloud single or a freestyle over your favorite rapper’s best beat.
Who The Fuck Is Chris $pencer is put together in a similarly loose way, which is both its most entertaining aspect and its most disappointing. We don’t get a sense of who Chris $pencer is by the end of the album, emerging only with the knowledge that he has two distinct voices and wants to do things with your mother that you’d rather him not. Perhaps the album’s title is rhetorical; we’re not supposed to dig for an answer.
This approach might be confounding to those accustomed to the recent trend of honest self-reflection in music and other art forms. Vic and Chris have the fuck-it-all attitude of Odd Future, but even Earl Sweatshirt got better when he got more personal. Chris $pencer is a collaborative alter-ego created by two artists whose own styles aren’t conducive to that type of introspection. His lyrics blur reality with imaginative boasts told only for the sake of pure rap expression. Both Vic and Chris hint at the ongoings of their daily lives, but punchlines and perversion are never a bar or two away. They slow down only for the two-song smoke break that is “Cement” and “No Flavors.”
“No Biggie” is the album’s first single, and it’s also the best representation of the antagonistic energy that permeates the thirteen tracks. It really isn’t a big deal for either artist to go in one after the other and shred beats like this. Chris $pencer doesn’t toil away on a detailed narrative, he tells you who he is by just showing what he’s capable of doing.
Chicago, like (Italian) beef, always needs a narrative. Backpackers elevated the consciousness while fast melodic rappers reported from the streets. Kids These Days and Savemoney innovate positively while King Louie and Chief Keef innovate nihilistically. Vic Spencer can’t be categorized in either direction, and his exposure suffers because of it. If Chris Crack is the young talent under the veteran’s tutelage, there’s still hope. If Vic and Tree keep making stuff like this with Chris, if Ugly Boy Modeling, Big Shep, and Drunken Monkee keep collaborating with them, then the world owes a whole new group of Chicago artists their own categorization.