Name: Vic Mensa
How We Know Him: Signed to JAY-Z’s Roc Nation, the 26-year-old proudly reps his hometown musically and culturally.
Why We Chose Him: Never one to mince his words, Vic is never afraid to bring attention to the socio-economic issues plaguing Chicago, and the nation, while also doing something about it.
What’s Next: Via his Save Money Save Life organization he plans to train 11,000 kids as street medics, he’s giving out shoes in the community and still pumping out music.
In mid-September, Public Enemy’s frontman and activist for the culture, Chuck D, sent a tweet out into the world. He didn’t use many characters but his message was firm and direct: “Support @VicMensa.”
Vic Mensa, 26, has fans from all walks of life. In 2013, he dropped his first solo mixtape Innanetape. Since then, he’s worked with everyone from Pusha T to Chance the Rapper and of course, Kanye West. Perhaps one of the characteristics that Mensa’s most famous for is his ability to evolve without much explanation. Most recently, he dropped a rock album with Travis Barker on the drums, titled Punx93. The LP shares its name with Mensa’s clothing line which recently hosted a show at New York Fashion Week this fall. When he speaks about his pieces, his voice rises and falls passionately.
“The gritty reality of Chicago is something that I express through 93PUNX, although you may not automatically associate that with rock & roll fashion, at the end of the day it’s street culture,” Vic Mensa tells Hip-Hop Wired.
He adds, “93PUNX is the brainchild of myself and Conrad Muscarella. We both grew up skateboarding and attribute a lot of our sensibilities and style to that culture. We tried to incorporate people of all shades and backgrounds in our look book to show that this clothing and movement is really for everybody, black, white, Latinx, straight, trans & everything else! We wanted to recreate the energy of the legendary New York club CBGB. It was so amazing seeing everything come together in the way that it did.“
Mensa has remained open to growth, both musically and on a personal level, especially as it relates to community efforts. His SavemoneySavelife foundation is dedicated to fighting racism and injustice in the States and Vic Mensa is no one’s figurehead. Two weeks before Chuck tweeted his 16 characters of public praise, the rapper made good on his word and popped up in Los Angeles to perform an Anti-ICE concert from the flatbed of a truck.
Currently, his non-profit, alongside NFL player Nick Kwiatkoski, is collecting shoes for a drive later this fall, meant to benefit Chicago youth who’ve been affected by the city’s gun violence and homelessness. “I do the things I do in Chicago because the city gave me so much,” he tells Hip Hop Wired. “I understand that it’s only right to return the support. Chicago means everything to me, it is the soil that grows my creative expression, the foundation of my being.”
The sneaker event, in its second year, is aptly titled The Anti-Bait Truck—not to antagonize but to make a lucid point regarding the Chicago Police Department and their alleged willingness to entrap the disenfranchised.
“One of my primary goals with my non-profit organization moving forward is providing free mental health services for people in the community,” Mensa shares. “We’ve been working with a school in the city called Camelot that takes all the long term suspension and expulsion students, so I am aiming to hire med students to provide therapy in school for these kids.”
If nothing else, Vic Mensa is a musician who rides for his city, against small-minded comments from internet DJs and politicians alike. He’s vocal about holding Chicago close to his heart and is planning innovative movements promoting change while talking heads on TV make the city’s woes, their bullet points. His day one fans have had to accept that Mensa won’t fit into anyone’s set limitations, and why should he? There isn’t much growth to be had from inside a box.