Vic Mensa is poised to have an incredible 2016. From the standout feature on Kanye West‘s The Life Of Pablo album (providing guest vocals to “Wolves”) to signing with Scooter Braun for management duties, he’s making big moves to make his ascent to hip-hop royalty that much quicker and that much more effortless. After signing with Roc Nation last year, Vic has unleashed his first project with the label: EP There’s Alot Going On (his first full-length since 2013’s INNANETAPE mixtape.) The no-holds-barred effort finds the Chicago rapper baring his soul to listeners, with no stone left unturned. One moment it could be hilarious; the next might be heartbreaking. Regardless of the tone or the subject matter, it’s an incredibly compelling body of work from front-to-back. We had the chance to sit down with Vic when he came to Toronto to discuss how There’s Alot Going On became its own behemoth in the midst of prepping his debut album, and what it’s like working with heavyweights like Kanye West and Ty Dolla $ign. Congrats on the release of There’s Alot Going On. There are a lot of personal moments on the EP. With the walls broken down, what’s the relationship like with your fans? I’ve said before that from listening to some of my music, fans of mine will get a chance to know me better than some friends of mine have before the music was released. And that’s really just because the way that I come to terms with things that have happened, and my trials and tribulations up until this point, for better or for worse, is to put it into music. Is there ever a moment where you’re not going to include something? There’s no line, really. People will tell you, people that know me. I have no filter and no limits. The song “Shades Of Blue” talks about the Flint water crisis. What’s the response been like from people directly affected by what’s happening in Michigan right now? Since the release from the project, I haven’t spoken to anybody from Flint, but prior to the song being released I was in Flint twice in the last three months, trying to get to understand the personal and familial effects of the poison in the water. So I hope that now that the song is out, I’ll get some feedback from the people of Flint because I was there to lend my support and will continue to lend my support. What was it like being on the frontlines and witnessing that firsthand? It’s heartbreaking, but motivational also because I saw people who lost so much and still wake up in the morning with the intent to grow and help those around them. So that was very inspiring, seeing someone with so many things put in place against them to still find the heart to fight back. Is it difficult to translate that message and deliver that to an audience who might not get to see what’s happening at ground level? No, speaking about those things is actually easier for me than party records or feel-good fun vibes. Those are the things that keep me up at night. I feel most natural talking about real world issues like that. One of the lyrics that stands to me on the project is “Everyone trying to be American Idols / My X-Factor is I’m the only one with the Voice.” Do you think there is a disparity between your message and what others are sending out in hip-hop? I think, at large, I’m one of the only people equipped to break it down for the people. A lot of people came into rap just trying to get a bag, and from day one my mission was different, my mission has always been to speak the truth. I would say that there’s a large distance between me and a lot of people doing it right now. You mentioned the songs on the EP are easier for you to make than the dance tracks, which we don’t really see on the project. Was that something that was intended, or is that how There’s Alot Going On came to be? I was just clear, far more clear than I’ve been in a lot of years, in these past few months, so I was speaking more from my core than I have for a while. These are the things that mattered to me eight years ago, and are still the things that matter to me today.
So with the eight songs, how did you know front-to-back, this was going to be There’s Alot Going On? Me and Papi Beatz were just making a lot of records and we decided to take this groups of records and make them into There’s Alot Going On. Songs like “Shades Of Blue” and “Sixteen Shots” I felt like were very much in the present, and it was important for them to be released imminently. A song like the title track “There’s Alot Going On” I made specifically for this EP because I’m releasing the first body of work that I have in a while, I wanted to explain the past two-and-a-half, three years, there weren’t too many questions left to be asked about where I’ve been or what I’ve been doing. And more than anything I wanted to give people an opportunity to understand me as a real person, so when they listen to the music, or they wonder about what they see, or what they hear, they have some basis and some grounds to comprehend my point-of-view. One of the interesting things you talk about on the title track was Roc Nation and GOOD Music and which one to sign to. How did you come to finalize that decision? Why did you decide on Roc Nation? It wasn’t really like that. It was just a bunch of family. At the end of the day, Roc was family, GOOD Music was family. It was just trying to put things together. What’s been the one most important thing you’ve taken away from working with Kanye West? Most important thing I’ve taken away from Kanye West is the value and the talent of the people around me and utilizing the resources I have at my disposal just from having creative people in the room. Who are those people for you? Papi Beatz produced the majority of the music, produced on every song. Smoko Ono co-produced two of the songs, Knox Fortune worked on it as well. Malik Yusef was instrumental from a lyrical side and the messaging of the music. Micky Shiloh helped with a couple of the records. Carter Lang worked on the production too. What was it like working with Ty Dolla $ign? Ty Dolla Sign is really dope. I was glad we were able to make something fresh for the summer. I’m a big fan of Ty Dolla Sign. He’s just a natural. We made Liquor Locker with the intent of sending it to him, with him in mind, so we did it while I was in the Hills and he was on tour in Europe. But I knew with the scape and sound of the music, he would fit right in. He’s the only feature on There’s Alot Going On. Was that a conscientious decision where you wanted this to be mainly a Vic project? I usually just don’t do a lot of features, because most songs that I write are just about me. With the EP out, what’s next for you? You gotta stay tuned. Keep your ears open and your eyes wide. I’ve got a lot of music and a lot of art to bring to the world.