Vic Spencer worships Sean Price and then namedrops Yukmouth and Da Boogiemonsters in the same breath. He’s the one Chicago MC that could convincingly do a song with all of them. His tastes in rap are nerdy but his presence is Goonie. His voice gets him recognized in McDonald’s drive-thrus. His fearless approach to selecting beats can appease and repel traditionalists within three songs on his latest LP, St. Gregory. Vic Spencer is surrounded by rappers turnt singers turnt mumbling rappers stumbling into major shine and has decided to rap MORE. He’s too weird to be on Duck Down but too straightforward to be on GOOD Music, too old to squander a major label deal but too young to tour Europe off indie hits from the early 2000s. Who else can work with Illa Ghee and THEMPeople?
The problem with having great taste in rap music for over twenty years as an artist is that your audience might not. No matter—Vic doesn’t begrudge younger cats or flip off legends in their 40s. He can text Chance the Rapper and PF Cuttin, Westside Gunn and Vic Mensa. If you edited out a few references to his age (35) on St. Gregory, you’d think he was the most well-rounded 26 year old rapper from the ‘Go. Vic is like Danny Brown if he never crossed over to the EDM Festival circuit—a lifelong rap fiend with no interest in pursuing any other profession, befriending thugs, art geeks, and clubhoppers without any effort, defending U-God in arguments about Wu-Tang. — Zilla Rocca
On St. Gregory, I feel like the biggest difference from The Cost of Victory is, “this is who I am this is what I do,” and I think St. Gregory is more wild. It feels like an MF Doom album where you just heard beats you really liked and then reacted right away and then just kind of laid them down.
Vic Spencer:It’s half of what you’re saying and more so half of re-living how I thought music was back when I was in high school, which was St. Gregory. You know, I just try to embody what I used to listen to. I listened to a lot of Doom, a lot of Redman, a lot of Sean Price at that time. A lot of Boogiemonsters.
Vic Spencer:Yeah that first album you know changed my life in like ‘94, so you know I was like “aww man!” I was kind of blown away about that kind of stuff and I was still listening to that stuff in high school. It was all East Coast rap and West Coast hip-hop that influenced me, more so East Coast rap. Redman and all of the abbreviated rappers like MC Eiht. I was an all ’round sport when I was in high school so I just wanted to try to relive that moment for myself. It’s a personal endeavor but St. Gregory was made for others to interpret. That’s why I strategically made St. Gregory under an hour. It was designed for people to have their own interpretation.
Yeah cause “Going Fishing” freaks me out. It starts on a linear path and then it becomes this psychedelic nightmare, but then it’s funny, but then it’s like brutally violent, and then it’s Animal Planet, but then it’s like a street song. It feels like it’s a Redman Dare Iz a Darkside type of song. It gives me that feeling.
Vic Spencer:I am the youngest of four and I only have one brother so my oldest brother, he was more like the guy that listened to gangster rap and stuff like that, but then he also liked lizards and reptiles and bullshit like that. I was trying to incorporate that in the story. “Going Fishing” is deep, it’s just like two superheroes taking on the world and more of a complex way as oppose to the Pinky and the Brain way, you know? The way we can survive in Chicago and you know the fact that you have to kill rappers to eat the quality food. Then, when there really wasn’t no more rappers to kill, it’s like, “Oh where do we go now?” My brother, who was the king of reptiles, everything around him is green. The guns are green, the green antidote, you know what I’m saying?
In real life he loves reptiles so he got reptiles tattoos, he had an albino python snake in my crib when I was 19. I tried to incorporate all of those feelings and then you know, the best friend that I had was really an enemy of my brother’s in real life and he tried to kill him. I still held onto that for a real long time, so it was my way to incorporate some of the real things that was going on, and try to make some fiction out of it instead of posing. If somebody tried to kill my brother I’m forever an enemy to that person, so I was trying to find a way to feel out a tone of what I really wanted to do to that person that tried to kill my brother.
And what did your brother think of the song in all three parts?
Vic Spencer:He laughed! He thought it was very relevant and he thought it was very clever how I incorporated the reptiles and all of that different stuff, and he identified who the best friend was immediately. I was shocked to see that reaction. In relation to all three straight back and forth, I asked him what he thought and he was like, “man that shit is super clever!” He is more street so just to see him sit down and listen to stuff like that, man, you know that made me feel good. I’m glad I’m able to come up with a story that my brother can relate to and see himself in.
That’s dope man. And to think that we are around the same age, I was getting Nocturnal and I was getting Busta and all those records when they first dropped. I think what I’m realizing about what you’re saying and listening to your records so far, is those dudes were like superheroes. We didn’t know anything about them beyond the videos and a couple of features in The Source. Their names were very different from anyone else—they all were larger than life and I think especially on St. Gregory, you’re embodying this superhero persona. So when you talk about Sean P, to me Heltah Skeltah were gods but Rockness Monstas was like the ultimate superhero dude. He was the star of the whole Boot Camp and Sean as Ruck was like the sidekick. When did you start honing in on Sean specifically?
Vic Spencer:On track 7 on Nocturnal, the song “Sean Price.” When he did “I’m not sure anymore” like that there in ’96 it resonated. I was always the underdog, root for the underdog type of guy.
So who is you’re favorite Wu-Tang member then?
Vic Spencer:U-God is my favorite guy. I mean, if you want to go with Ghost and Raekwon, Raekwon is more the underdog than Ghostface, and that’s the kind of role that I play. I like Method Man, but I like GZA over Method Man. Wu did something different to me, and when I got the double cassette tape, man [Wu-Tang Forever], that was definitely like me trying to identify what I like as far as listening to music. Wu-Tang helped me discover that.
Right, and then so it would make sense for you listening to Nocturnal while everyone is worshiping Rockness, you related better to the underdog in Sean P.
Vic Spencer:Man, that “Sean Price” song on there is crazy. I love that joint still to this day. And you know when Sean Price took a liking to my music I was just so shocked because here is a guy that got his reputation from not liking rappers. He did not like people, so when he likes people it’s like, “oh shit.” It forces you to either go check it out or forces you to be like, “oh yeah I’ve heard of him.”
If Sean Price say he nice, then he nice. People really believed in what Sean Price thought was nice and if it was whack they would laugh at what he thought was whack whether they agree or disagree. Sean Price had a strong voice and always voiced his opinion and I think that’s where I get those same traits from: being around artists like that and that legendary feel you feel like you’re untouchable lyrically. Sean Price embodied that—nobody is touching me. And he lives up to that.
When did you guys actually meet?
Vic Spencer: I followed him on Twitter and I seen him tweet like, “Yo you better not spam me and nobody spam me with none of your music.” I’m like fuck that, I’m like, “Sean Price you have to listen to this shit right here, fuck what you talking about, listen to this shit right here!” So he actually listened and he replied back like, “Yo I can’t front this song is nice”. I’m like “Woah!”
What song was it?
Vic Spencer:The song was called “Kiss My Ass in Spain” back in 2011, 11/11/11 that’s when I dropped it and he heard that song and went crazy, followed me and told me to DM him. He called me maybe like five hours later, soon he got on the phone I just started to tell him how big of a fan I am and how he’s impacted my life, he cuts me off and says, “Yo I just sat and listened to damn near your whole catalog, son you just inspired me. I’m in front of the studio right now I’m about to record with Lil Fame and you inspired me right now.” So he said that and not only does he say that he later tweets me a picture of him and Lil Fame and then emails me the song that he did like, “Man, you inspired me today” and the song is still not even out. That tweet is still out there. I was blown away to see that I inspired a legend you know, I was speechless.
Ever since then we talked to each other almost everyday like 4 or 5 days a week, we spent at least 2 hours on the phone in the morning. He’s a morning guy. It’s his 9 to 5 hours, after 5 he’s out somewhere doing some shit but during the day he was available and he called me every time like, “Yo son what are you doing man?” He always called me and spit some crazy shit. It was crazy how he accepted me in, he often he was like, “Yo I was talking to my homies about you.” I went up there and recorded, we did maybe two songs, we sent each other sessions of songs and we did like a total of like six songs before he passed and we did majority of those songs in person together. I went out there and I sat in Sean Price’s kitchen for five hours listening to my music and watching him replay it. It was one of the most profound moments of my career and it all started on Twitter. Everything starts on Twitter man.
Have you noticed your approach on Twitter has changed? You have more people becoming fans or voicing their opinions to you. I’ve watched you have days where you’re super hot or days where you’re just having fun.
Vic Spencer:I tried to balance it out but now I’m just trying to delete all the vibes I might of sent in a negative, because I might have burnt a lot of bridges along the line like a lot of rappers that I don’t like, they know people that might put me in a bigger position, so I just have to be aware of that. I understand that being on Twitter is more serious than it was back in 2010. It’s like what Redman said on the Breakfast Club, he said like, “Man you can’t talk about fat people on records no more.” He glorified that and you know you can’t be doing that on TV no more. People are so sensitive so now you have to take that into consideration, so now I look at my tweets before I even send it.
I find myself drafting a lot of these tweets because sometimes I feel like I’m a little bit too real for Twitter, you know what I mean? People don’t like to be exposed and I’ve been exposing people all my career. Overall I’m just having fun because I don’t really care about what happens on Twitter, it’s not like real life, it really doesn’t effect me that much, but it’s just crazy to see my tweets effect people, but it just lets me know that I’m speaking facts because if it was all mumbo jumbo nobody would really care. But if it was coming from somebody else that don’t know, nobody would really care. Since I’ve been in the Chicago scene for a long time, I’ve seen it shift. I’ve seen friends turn to enemies so when I speak on that it’s like, “Aww man Vic is bitter” or “Vic is hating.”
I just try to get that off my conscious because sometimes I feel like, well, maybe I am bitter, you know what I’m saying? I feel like I’m the best rapper alive and they say I’m bitter about that, well maybe I am bitter. I’ve seen people that I used to take to the studio turn on me. When people don’t know the story it just kind of makes it look bad on me, and you’re not going to get everybody to peep the story, that’s why I be highly speaking in interviews because you know people will get the story that way.
How do you think Chicago effects you?
Vic Spencer:I’m born and raised here and just trying to implement what I do, and for people to say, “Yeah, when you listen to Vic Spencer music you hear Chicago.” That’s awesome for me because I’ve been influenced by East Coast rap for a very long time and just to see that people still see my music as Chicago music is just a good thing and I just want to try to keep that. Chicago is big, man, and Chicago has a lot of politics too. In Chicago you got to display your Chicago-ness some way somehow and my first time I went to New York was in ’02 and that time I met Jim Jones. He was in Harlem in the beauty supply store and that’s how I like to be. I like to have the success of the Sean Price or an earlier version of Jim Jones because it just shows me that I just want to be able to walk outside by myself and go to the mall by myself and chill. Of course I want to talk to fans and talk to people that might identify. Somebody identified who I was in a McDonalds drive thru! I’m not even this big star like that but for people to recognize and understand what I’m doing is Chicago music…it’s a plus.
Did you ever have like a corny rap voice?
Vic Spencer:Yeah. Back in the day like, back in the day I could say my voice was a little bit high pitched and you know when I was trying to sharpen my blade at that time, it was just a practicing moment. I still got the stuff that I recorded on karaoke and it was so terrible, but the fact that the ambition was there, that’s what I go back and listen to. Like I used to record all my voicemails of different chicks and different guys roasting me on voicemail, so I got all of this stuff on tape. I keep going back and listening to it, just to get the memory and be familiar with where I came from because I never forget where I came form as an artist and how I started and how I wanted to convert that into doing it professionally. The interest that I put into it, I used to get up after school and go to my boy’s house and we would record crazy! We thought that we were a label!
What was the go to instrumental back then?
Vic Spencer:It was between Davina “Come Over to My Place” and JT Money “Who Dat.”
I think the best dudes are from the midwest because they’ve always been able to listen to all rap. But if you’re from Philly like where I’m at, most of the Philly cats would never in their life listen to Lil Boosie or Slum Village or DJ Quik. They would listen to Meek Mill or whatever top ten is out. So how do you go about picking music for projects? Do you have a goal in mind or do you go off vibe? How do you approach your actual solo record?
Vic Spencer:The thing I mainly do is, I ask myself how do I top my last effort? One of the things I do is not listen to shit else. I listen to a lot of my old shit and I don’t listen to nothing else. If I listen to something, it will be the legends. I never listen to Chicago music, I never keep up with what’s going on in Chicago. I just lock in on my music even after I’m done recording. I sit with it for hours stressing over of a word like, “Should I replace it? Or should I just keep it?” I can do it on a lyrical level, but on a technical level, how does this beat The Cost of Victory?
I go listen to legends and listen to albums that I thought were in my brain and nobody else’s. You know a lot of these guys weren’t listening to Yukmouth. I got all of Yukmouth’s solo albums and I felt like you know he’s one of those guys no one really cared about, but I did. The dude got that one retrospective joint where he’s talking about how he sacrificed his life for the game and I relate to stuff like that, so I go in and try to do stuff like that. I got 2017 wrapped up already, all the music is done and I’m 85% done with my next solo album, with my album for 2018, I’m almost done with that. I’ve been working on that for almost a year now so I just challenge myself in a different way just like how sneakers are being released—they know what they’re about to drop in 2020 so I want to have that same mindset when I do music.
Where does you work ethic come from?
Vic Spencer:Times change and people don’t have the ear like they used to. The ear our generation has, they want to hear more. I have a huge body of work but I’ve been in the game for 10 years so I should have a body of work but I just also have to work behind the scenes like that too. I don’t think I have ever experienced writer’s block because of that, so I try to keep that momentum going. If I hear a beat and I’m driving I’m going to pull over and jot a few things down. I’m still that kind of guy. I’m still hungry, I’m still eager, I’m still excited about my work. I just have to keep going like that in order to not be discouraged or witness writer’s block. I fear those things, so I kind of numb myself in the music to where writer’s block don’t exist. Discouragement do come about because I’m older, my music is not highly promoted, and sometimes it might take a toll on me, but it never controls how I feel about creating music. It’s never for the money, it’s for me, and when you’re making music you’re supposed to be able to put yourself out there for other people to claim.
As long as I’m living I just have to be able to live up to that expectation of myself and that’s probably easy for me but a lot more difficult for other artists. They spend time on a lot of forced records. I don’t go in like that. Sometimes I go in with nothing written and come out with three songs in three hours—that’s just because I’m so accustomed to going into the studio twice a week for the past seven years. You’re going to have hella albums. A lot of that just takes place on me being dedicated to recording and stand on task with myself. I know I’m an older cat but hopefully my time will come where I’ll be the forefront guy. I want to be ready for that if it comes in 2019, so I’m working towards that right now, and that’s the realest it gets. I can’t fake that at all, like I just want to be able to have the opportunity when it’s given to me.
I was wondering because all the production that I’ve heard so far from you, from Tree to your own stuff…You seem to choose beats that either fit with your voice perfectly or contrast it perfectly. Like you sound great on grimy East Coast shit, but then you’ll do some uptempo joints or sparse pretty beats and it works somehow.
Vic Spencer:Yeah the beats have to touch me or I won’t use it. Somebody else might think it’s cold but I’ll skip it like, “nah man it didn’t touch me man, it didn’t hit me like it’s hitting you.” I try to stay out of the loop of people telling me to do things like, “you should rap over these beats.” They used to say that to me for the past three or four years, they’ve been like, “nah man keep doing your shit.” I sit on some beasts for a long time until I know that I’m ready to kill it. Beats are what bring life to my voice. I could have the dopest voice but if I can’t rap to this beat it’s kind of crazy. I be trying to challenge myself through the beats.
The beat for “Know You” off VicTree is so good that I hated you for having that beat.
Vic Spencer:Let me tell you about Victree man. Victree was 70% done after I was finished with Cost of Victory and “Know You” was the first song I recorded. The first song is never the introspective song. We kind of battled with each other as far as the beats, and I think he respected me a lot more for that because I wasn’t going from like, “here’s three years of beats from the king of Soul Rap, just rap over whatever he sends me.” Nah, I got a handful of beats from him and went to the studio and all of those beats was whack! I went back and told Tree I can’t do these beats and he took that and respected it and gave me some more beats and I started recording them frequently. He was impressed by how fast I did those records. It’s kind of crazy.
I always tell a producer to send me their wackest beat because it’s probably hot.
Vic Spencer:That’s how it is for me, I be like man I like this shit and they’ll be like man I made this shit seven years ago. and I’m like, well you probably need to send me more of those. With my next album I’ve been working with Twista a lot, me and Twista have become like brothers over the past month. You know his work ethic is crazy. He’ll do a record and send it back fast as hell. When he called he was like, “Yo man I want the world to hear you,” so I’m going to be on Twista’s next album and I’m very excited about that. He’s going to be on my next album and it’s crazy. I’m recording new stuff next week so with all these different guys. The reason why I didn’t have Sean Price feature on this album is because he’s on my next album. One of my friends, he listened to the album before I put it out; I started asking my friends for their interpretation of the album. One of my good friends said, “Vic, this is your best project. It’s hard for me to choose between The Cost Of Victory and this, but I got to give it to this because you not only stepped lyrically, but you identified with something which is death.” I’m like, “What do you mean?,” and he’s like, “Man, you talk about death on every record, like you’ve shown the people that Sean Price’s death affected you, but not only did it affect you, it made you a stronger individual.” And if Sean Price was looking down on me right now he would definitely be trying to smack the shit out of me for crying about his death, you know what I mean!
He wants me to go in the studio and body some shit like, “Don’t cry for me man, just go and fucking destroy some shit!” That’s why it’s hard for me to make a “Rest in Peace Sean Price” song because he wouldn’t want that. He would want me to go body some shit and say his name in it. The death definitely affected me because he was the only guy that had the position of power that he had and was rooting for my music. Any legend wouldn’t root for my music. I have good relations with Westside Gunn and a good relationship with Roc Marci. I talk to these guys frequently on the phone, but nothing is like that edge that Sean price is pushing me to be the greater emcee or telling people that I’m the greatest emcee. Man it’s on Twitter everywhere—he said, “Vic Spencer is the greatest rapper in Illinois and I don’t want to hear anything about it, period.” To get that from Sean Price and for him to you know, he has the biggest ego but he has the biggest heart too. Real genuine dude in person, like he’s not approachable, but once you know him, you wouldn’t get a rapper in front of you, you would get a hardcore comedian that would knock somebody out.