Vic Spencer Versus the Changing Tide

Douglas Martin goes in on the Chicago MC's newest direct-to-fans album.
By    June 10, 2019

They throw hissy fits while we blow propane. Please support Passion of the Weiss by subscribing to our Patreon.

Big blunts make Douglas Martin forget y’all ever lived.

Vic Spencer dropped four albums in 2018 and they didn’t make a fucking list.

A friend of mine who has been reading this site for pretty much all of its 14 years of existence referenced a familiar touchstone when discussing this run. “It’s like going from Monkey Barz to Mic Tyson in the span of a year.” I can’t say whether or not he meant those words favorably.

Still though, the truth needs to be said: We take Vic Spencer for granted. His facility with words and the range of emotions he can take them through (not to mention dude is hilarious and kind of a master of imagery) is seen as common, like any other rapper can do it. When Steph Curry drops 40 points in a game, people yawn and complain about Kevin Durant. Some astoundingly good rappers can barely manage to release one good full-length every year — or even occasionally brick completely. Vic dropped more songs last year than Jay Electronica has in his entire career. As a fellow Libra, one thing I can say about people who share my astrological sun sign is that we don’t take very kindly to feeling unappreciated.

So where does that leave Things Change, I Don’t, which might just be — save those unbelievable albums with Sonnyjim and an excellent collaborative joint with the triumphantly returning Tree — the best thing Spencer has released in at least a couple years?

One of those four albums released in 2018, A Smile Killed My Demons, served as a project both artistic and financial. Spencer sent an album download (complete with cover art) via Dropbox to whoever sent him $20 for it on PayPal. Communicating directly with fans was a savvy move for an artist who has built his fanbase organically, free of industry co-signs, paying someone to boost up his props, and the full-court press from the press. (Por ejemplo: Only one of his near-dozen solo albums have been reviewed by Pitchfork.) A Smile Killed My Demons was cloudy and loopy, even by Vic Spencer standards, augmented by crystalline jazz and beats that sound like Lou Rawls in the elevator. He searches for Benzino’s missing neck and has a hearty lunch with your girl. He promises to spit a hundred bars about your mother’s bra.

It’s not even that Vic sounds more motivated on Things Change, I Don’t than he did in 2018; he always pushes up against the beat like he’s trying to bowl it over. He services a number of his usual specialties: brief introspection, funny and stoned observation, showing and proving how much better he is than other rappers, palming on some plush thighs, documentary of his vast inventory of reefer strains. He doesn’t seem haunted by the trauma he has experienced, but it clearly affects him, if only in a barely conscious way.

“E-Cle Part 3” is one of the most heartfelt songs Vic has recorded up to this point, a tribute to a locked up brother rife with snapshots of life from outside prison walls. These two men aren’t bonded by genealogy but by the ups and downs of life, and Spencer articulates dealing with the weight on his mind; recruiting one of Cle’s son’s friends into the youth program he works for and sends the young man’s baby’s mother to the store with milk money (“I know he too young to provide”). Vic has a good cry over it, plays a few Ransom tracks and hits the streets again.

The song is indicative of the feelings a lot of us who have people close to us doing prison sentences cycle through. It’s painful to think of someone you love having to deal with the dehumanization, the stress, the trauma of being packed in and herded like cattle led to slaughter. There’s a grieving involved not entirely dissimilar to the grief felt by losing someone to the cold hand of death; in some ways, losing them to jail is worse.

Spencer deals with sorrow all over Things Change, I Don’t, alluding to the death of friend and spiritual predecessor Sean Price while commenting on still being undervalued (“We was supposed to do a song with Mac Miller/Now that my nigga dead, Mac Miller ignores me”) and the jealousy and avarice of former friends after having hit his stride as an artist. He laments sleeping on buses and reminisces over living in group homes and Section 8-issued housing.

As he says on “Thinking in Your Sleep,” “The heart ain’t shit without hurt.”

But, as with the whole of Spencer’s rapidly growing discography, Vic doesn’t spend too much time dwelling in melancholy. Most of the negativity he releases here is hysterical. He hangs with shooters wearing off-brand Gucci belts in disrepair after grumbling about arguing with his wife. He smashes “potato head niggas” and doesn’t bother to melt butter, he ridicules so-called tough guys bumping “Teach Me How to Jerk” on the low.

Elsewhere, he threatens to slap you in the face with a book of memes, to “run in your crib, take everything except guns and the kids/So they can grow up and hunt for revenge,” notes dudes getting set up by honey pots, conjures Willy James chomping on grapes, takes solo trips and leaving behind mountains of bones sitting atop dinner plates. When Spencer again expresses his adulation of Redman, he ponders living out the dream of many of us who first heard Muddy Waters in foster homes and project hallways with puddles of piss in the corners.

As he describes doing an interview with Pigeons and Planes while toting around a newborn daughter, Vic flexes his music writing muscles: “Hail Mary on Speed Dial” “don’t sound like the church music that that nigga Chance makes,” “Don’t Talk to Me” “sounds like a duffel bag with about ten keys,” “The Bigger They Are, the Harder They Die” “sounds like if 9th Wonder smoked all the weed.” Honestly, such vivid evaluation of the beats he rhymes over puts a bunch of critics to shame and makes my job of putting critics to shame much, much easier.

So here we are, yet another year where Vic Spencer has released more than one album’s worth of high quality rap music, yet another year where he offers one of such projects to fans while cutting out the middle man entirely (as middle-management is entirely unnecessary to people smart enough to govern themselves). Vic’s greatness is regular, and this might be yet another year where lesser rappers receive higher praise. Some things never change.

We rely on your support to keep POW alive. Please take a second to donate on Patreon!