Photo credit: Elle Schneider
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Vic Mensa combines a lot. He grew up in Hyde Park, in Chicago, and just through being a person with multiple interests, moved around the city. Doing that, he saw discrepancies.
In our interview, he talks about noticing which of his neighbors were doing good and which were doing bad, and the fact that all involved lived right next door to each other.
This prompted him to read and ask questions, but it didn’t lead him directly to hip-hop — we have Harold Hunter in a skate video to thank for that.
Arriving at hip-hop in a kind of roundabout way maybe has given Vic a different perspective on what goes on in this world. He speaks his own mind, and when we met up it really felt like he has a philosophy that he sticks to — but also that he hears other people. He’s not done.
It makes him a really interesting person to talk to, and — we believe ! — a really interesting person to listen to. Get in there.
ALI SHAHEED MUHAMMAD: Vic Mensa, what up, man?
VIC MENSA: What's up, man? Thank you for having me.
ALI: Thank you for being here.
VIC MENSA: Such a pleasure. Such an honor to meet you, man. For real. Both you guys.
FRANNIE KELLEY: Thank you.
ALI: It's an honor to meet you. Been following you for a while.
VIC MENSA: That's love.
VIC MENSA: I like that Phife drawing. That's hard.
ALI: Yeah, this artist from Vancouver did it and I had a DJ van up there and brought it to me. And he captured a face that is so familiar to me, and so anytime some dumb shit happens that I know Phife would be like – I just look over there, I'm like, "Yup. That's that face." He would make that face, and he would say something. So I'm like –
VIC MENSA: That's the face he would make if some dumb shit would happen.
ALI: Yeah, that's the face he would make. I'm like, "Yo, this artist just doesn't even know."
FRANNIE: So you commiserate.
ALI: I don't know which photograph –
VIC MENSA: That's crazy.
ALI: Out of all the photographs he's seen that he decided to draw, I'm like, "This is the one."
VIC MENSA: The get-the-fuck-outta-here face.
ALI: So I'm really appreciative of that.
VIC MENSA: Man, Phife, I've often – I've had this conversation many times, that – well, Phife Dawg was always one of my favorite rappers hands down growing up, and I have often attributed, at least from my vantage point, Phife Dawg to be one of the first MCs with what I call the golden flow. It was like this perfect, precise lyricism, and it was almost mathematical in its construction. And I know that there's – I mean, yeah, shit. Nas came out after Phife. Kool G Rap probably came out after or around the same time.
ALI: Kool G Rap was way before.
VIC MENSA: Kool G Rap was before?
VIC MENSA: Phife Dawg is different in that way though. Nas and Kool G Rap are very similar. But I think of Phife Dawg when I think about these very just calculated flows that ends up – and I feel like Drake has a style of that flow kind of too. I feel like Phife Dawg – I credit him as being one of the first rappers with that golden flow.
ALI: That's interesting. Who are some of the other MCs that have caught your ear at an early stage?
VIC MENSA: Oh, man. So much Nas. Nas, Hov, Tip, Big L. I really love Big L. Common. Common was really, like, my favorite rapper growing up, and still to this day, just because Common rapped about the same bus I was riding. While I was on the bus, I'm listening to it in the Walkman. He's like, "Took the 6 instead of the 28 to get home faster. I tuned into BMX and tone Farley on the Tonemaster." I don't know, but the 6 bus was the bus I took.
FRANNIE: That's wild.
VIC MENSA: Or the 28. He's rapping about it, rapping about girls from my high school in his different era. So I just connected to him, but a little bit later I got really into Rage Against The Machine. I really consider Zack De La Rocha to be an MC, 100%. I don't think anybody doesn't, but I feel like since he was rapping with a band and over damn near metal music or Led Zeppelin-type riffs that people don't often think of him in that context. But he's a rapper that greatly influenced me. Dilla. Dilla I've often put in my top five on the rap side.
ALI: A lot of people sleep on Dilla as a rapper.
VIC MENSA: Dilla as a rapper is crazy, cause he was just so effortless. And like, the fluidity that his production contains, his rap was the same way except it was gangster though. It was strictly gangster, but his flows and everything, it was just – he was built for the beat, because he built the beat.
ALI: Yup. Mhmm. Maybe with you mentioning Zack, cause I've been trying to get him to come up here.
VIC MENSA: Word.
FRANNIE: So from your lips.
ALI: From your lips, maybe he'll come hang out in the same seat that you're –
VIC MENSA: Zack, man, pull up. Let me know. I bumped into a friend of yours at the airport.
ALI: So on that note, I want to go back a little bit to the beginning. Do you recall your very first, I'm going to say, quote unquote real studio session. Like, you know, "I'm going to the studio to make music." Do you remember that moment?
VIC MENSA: Yeah, man. I think one of the first studio sessions that I remember – there was a couple. There was one that was in a neighborhood community center-type of space. I was like 14, and I was rapping over a flip of "Summertime." Is that a Kool & The Gang record?
VIC MENSA: Yeah. I was rapping over a flip of that. I don't really remember what I was saying.
Another one, my boy Dave Koresh [00:07:39 ?] who's in this group with me, we're releasing an album called 93 Punx that's punk rock inspired, just kind of alternative, something different outside of rap. But Dave Koresh [00:07:53 ?], I came up with him, he was one of the first rappers in my city that I looked up to. So I remember I went to the studio with him, and it was his session, but I was trying to do a song though. And I knew that.
So when his session was ending, I'm like, "Man, just give me five minutes. Let me just record this one joint." And I was rapping over – I was rapping over Young Jeezy "Bury Me A G" or something like that. And I was like, "93 and a child was born on the Southside Chi in the eye of the storm." That's all I remember. But I was trying to get in where I fit in. I had five minutes to record and my rap was five minutes, per usual.
ALI: So in that time period – I mean, that's a little different cause you were definitely in someone else's session and sort of seized the opportunity. I'm trying to think of the headspace of when you know all the dreams and aspirations of, "I want to get to that point of going in and making a record," but to the point where you know like, "Yo, this is what I'm doing. This is actually happening."
VIC MENSA: Yeah yeah yeah. You know what? When I was first – so I did a mixtape not long after that period in time. When I was like 16, I did this mixtape called Straight Up. So that's when I was really really in the studio, my own sessions, with real intent. And I was like, "I'm trying to make this happen." So I was in the studio with this dude named Rob Sizwe in Chicago. I think he's out here now actually. And so he had a dope spot in his crib up on 63rd Street, mad vinyl just, like, in the bookcases-type shit. And he was also a producer for me, and I was in there.
I was fronting my whole thing off my little weed money, and I was riding a bike at that time, a real bike, like a mountain bike. Now I'm a little faster. But I was riding a mountain bike to the studio, you know, to and fro, just like staying in there late, making this tape. And my mom – I have actually a skit on that mixtape where my mom is like – it's called "Mom N' Pop Shop," and she's like, "Victor, I can't believe you're at the studio this late at night, and you're taking your bike over there, to that neighborhood." I put this sentimental piano over it.
It was so dope though. I remember we were mixing the record – and this is in the hood, 63rd and Cottage Grove, King Drive in Chicago. So we mixing the record, it's shootouts in the park outside. I'd be walking up there and just see a car at the gas station with blood all over the fucking windshields. Somebody got their brains blown out. That's dark, but it was a great time. I was having a lot of fun.
ALI: Do you remember what your goals were when you were setting out to make that, to finish that project at that time?
VIC MENSA: Yeah, man. I feel like I was trying to make sense of the world outside me and also the world inside, juxtaposing the things that I just talked about with also being four, five blocks from University of Chicago campus, globally renowned institution, one of the premier collegiate experiences possible on planet Earth, and you – like, right down the street, that's 59th. This is 63rd, and it's shootouts and yellow tape, at the gas station. So I was trying to explain the disparity between the two – also, you know, just trying to get my bars off, trying to be super fresh. I was all about my shoes and everything.
I had a line on there though actually that I do think maybe sums what I was trying to accomplish, and I think what I'm still trying to accomplish. So I used to do graffiti, so I was like, "I was in the streets when you was hitting a black book. The mission is to change more lives than crack took." Something around there. I always wanted to impact people in the way that I was impacted by my favorite artists, by Pac, by Tribe Called Quest, by Common. I wanted to impact people in those ways.
I remember I used to – and I didn't even know what real stress was, but "Stressed Out," that record, you know what I mean? That record used to do it for me, because I'd be going through my adolescent stuff, and that record – it was like, if I was really going through some shit, I can remember it like it was yesterday, being on Lakeshore Drive and I'm like, "Man, I'm stressed out too. These n*****, like, I really know how it feels." So I wanted to do that, and I wanted to do that same thing for people listening to my music.
FRANNIE: What made you think that you could do that, that you would be successful in what you wanted to –
VIC MENSA: Man, soon as I started writing raps they were just good. And I had been such a student of it, and I had listened to such good rap music that I feel like – and I was already a good writer. When I was in eighth grade –
FRANNIE: You mean in school?
VIC MENSA: Yeah. In school. My Young Authors books – that's what they used to make us write. My Young Authors books would be on point. My eighth grade Young Authors book was called A Long Way Home, and it was about this – a Somali refugee that – A Long Way From Home or – I think A Long Way Home. Somali refugee in America. And I went back and I read it the other day, and I'm like, "What was I on? I was 13." I got these flashback scenes where the girl flashes back into the home when they're raided and when her mother is savagely raped on the floor.
FRANNIE: Oh my god.
VIC MENSA: It was just visceral. So I was already on that, cause I think it just comes from reading as a kid and my parents being super educated, and then when I started listening to hip-hop, I wasn't initially into hip-hop. I was into skateboarding. I was into Guns N' Roses at first, and I was into Nirvana and Weezer and just rock music. Cause I didn't really fully identify with hip-hop yet, because all I really saw was 50 Cent, Eminem, and I was like – I was a little kid, and I didn't get it. I was like, "Why are they so mad?" I was like, "Why are they so upset?" And I got into –
FRANNIE: So you were like, "Let me listen to Guns 'N' Roses." I mean, they're kind of mad.
VIC MENSA: They was kind of mad, but they were also like "Sweet Child Of Mine."
VIC MENSA: I mean, it's not that I was on some soft shit. It was just that I was oblivious, and it wasn't until the world started treating me in a certain way, being a young black boy, that I really started to identify. And then I had first found rap through – KRS-One was on this Zoo York mixtape.
FRANNIE: Oh yeah.
VIC MENSA: They used to have this mixtapes, and – not actual mixtapes but skate tapes, and Harold Hunter's part, I believe – god bless the dead, legends never die – he had KRS-One "Step Into A World" on it. So from there I was into graffiti and things. I was getting into those things, and breakdancing. I got into it listening to the right shit. Point blank. I was digging for records and looking for the N.W.A samples and getting the Jimmy Castor Bunch.
I was listening to people that were really really rapping, so when I started rapping, it was good. And people told me, "They're not going to listen to it." But I knew it was hot. I was like, "I'ma make a mixtape." The homie was like, "That shit gon' be weak," and I was like, "Alright. Let's see."
FRANNIE: That's a really interesting sort of cultural history that I don't think people really – how many people got put on because of skate videos, surf videos, ski videos, all that, and how that was a way in for people that occupied multiple identities at the same time. Harold Hunter is a really important figure.
VIC MENSA: Real legend.
FRANNIE: And for him to be so New York and for that to be accessible to you in Chicago –
VIC MENSA: In Chicago.
FRANNIE: – and for him to put you on to New York music, I don't think it's talked – that means of transmission in a context.
VIC MENSA: Cause Kids was my favorite movie.
FRANNIE: There you go.
VIC MENSA: And I grew up skateboarding, so it was like, I just rocked with him. And Kids was my favorite movie from age 11, and I feel like looking from Chicago to New York – and I'm looking at the '90s. I'm wishing I grew up in the '90s. I'm listening to hella Tribe Called Quest. I mean, to this day, when I was like, "I'm doing rap. I'm not going to college. I'm 17 or whatever," and my father had to kind of accept it – cause he's a PhD professor from West Africa, so education is everything to him, but I was like, "I'm doing rap" – the album I gave him to help him understand rap, cause he always liked 2pac, but I gave him the Low End Theory.
FRANNIE: I gave my parents Low End Theory too.
VIC MENSA: I gave my dad the Low End Theory, because I was like, "You will be able to digest and understand how significant of an art form this is from this album. Being that you listen to jazz music and Fela Kuti and those things, this'll make sense to you."
ALI: What on Earth did he say after listening to it? I'm just bugging on the –
VIC MENSA: Yo, he loved it. He loved it. My dad be at the shows. And he – my dad had a surgery last year, so he was completely immobilized. And he's been getting back his motor function, and he can move now, but he still moves kind of choppy. So he was at the homie's show the other day. It's somebody on stage, shirt off, turning up, talking about "Fuck my life!" My dad was like – word up.
ALI: Wow. So he definitely gave you the blessings to pursue.
VIC MENSA: Yeah, man, I've been lucky in that way, that my parents have been very supportive. And just to come from a two-parent household, and have a structured, strong family, it's a blessing. Because the vast majority of my friends didn't grow up with that, and didn't have two parents together. Probably had one parent or one immediate relative, sibling, in prison for over 15 years or somebody on drugs. And I just – I didn't grow up with that, and I've been lucky, just been blessed.
And I think that's part of what I feel like gives me such a social responsibility and makes me feel such a necessity to focus on the community and to be present and to really be a man for my community, because like I said, when I first started writing I was connecting those dots, I was like, "Why do we have this or they have that, and they don't have shit?" So now as a man, I understand the good fortune that has befallen me, and I know that it's my duty, being – that's what you're supposed to do with privilege. That's what we keep trying to tell white people. You know what I mean?
FRANNIE: Yeah. Agreed.
VIC MENSA: That's what we keep trying to tell white people is that you got this privilege so the right thing to do is to use it to help those without it. It's not the only thing to do, but it would be the honorable thing to do. You know what I'm saying?
ALI: I've always felt that – yeah, I do know what you're saying. And I've always felt that from – I'm not sure what year it was, that – actually, Doc McKinney, I mentioned him before, he put me onto you. And I don't remember what year that was. It feels like it was four years ago, five years ago. Time is flying. Maybe even more than that. I was still in Brooklyn. This was a while ago, but – and I don't remember which song was the first song I heard, but I do remember thinking, "Wow. This young guy right here is giving me that Chuck D feeling."
VIC MENSA: Word. That's how I'm coming with my next album. Been listening to that.
ALI: And I was just curious as to – especially back then, because I don't – it may have been longer than that. I don't think you had put an album out at that point in time. And so I was just curious as to the trajectory that your career – or not your career, but the artist in you was going to take, giving me those feelings early on, and sure enough you definitely then put out very socially aware records, as you're speaking about, just from having that responsibility.
VIC MENSA: Word.
ALI: Did you ever feel that in doing that that you weren't going to connect to people in the way would be effective? For an example, you have a song talking about the water in Flint, Michigan. And it's – and I think even you kind of say it on the record. It's almost like it became a headline, it's there, but now –
VIC MENSA: Disappears.
ALI: – we don't hear anything about it.
VIC MENSA: Still going down.
ALI: So how does that make you feel, so many years later and that's still an issue for that part of – I mean, it's our world. It's in America.
VIC MENSA: Honestly, you know the – I mean, water is quickly going to become the most sought after commodity, if it's not already. And I think Flint, Michigan is just a microcosm of showing us what could be, and what probably will be, because it doesn't look like our country is trying to turn things around. You know, I went to Flint a couple times in that period of time, and I knew I had to speak about it. I knew it was compelling for me to write about. The song kind of just gave itself to me, and it's obviously about more than a song, but I felt that was a way that I could do my part.
And oftentimes, I feel like I'll write things about an issue, about a topic that needs to be addressed, and I'll just be coming from an artistic standpoint. But I had an event recently where – and we'll see what happens today, but Laquan McDonald –
ALI: I was going to bring him up.
VIC MENSA: – killed in Chicago by Jason Van Dyke. Jason Van Dyke got convicted of second-degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery with a firearm. That's pretty groundbreaking. That doesn't happen with police officers. And I wrote a song about that and was just out there in the streets and just very very vocal, never because I had hope that he was going to be convicted, but because I felt it was the right thing to do.
When he got convicted, I was like, "Wait. Maybe I've been looking at this all wrong." So I've been acting in a way that I support, but my thought process should be one of victory, should be one of hope. That just changed the whole perspective for me, cause I'm like – I mean, they played my video – his defense, Van Dyke, played my video in court while they were trying to argue that there were too many influential people in the city against him for him to get an unbiased jury, so they wanted to move him to the suburbs, all white jury. Obvious play.
But when I saw him get convicted, and we'll see what happens with the sentencing today, I was like, "Nah, fuck that actually. I don't need to be resigned. We don't need to be resigned to these injustices that just permeate our society, that shake the frame that we live in. We don't need to be resigned to those and act like it can never get better, like there's no hope. Because we can impact shit." And word up, that's what I want to do.
FRANNIE: And is part of what you were asking like, were you ever afraid that you would lose audience by making songs like that or taking statements like that?
VIC MENSA: Right. OK.
FRANNIE: Especially cause you've opened for some pop acts, right?
VIC MENSA: Right. Yeah yeah yeah.
FRANNIE: Justin Bieber tour, other stuff.
VIC MENSA: It actually didn't really occur to me until maybe the end of 2018 that being super outspoken could affect my pocketbook. It never occurred to me, honestly, just because I was just being myself, just being me. And either way, it's like, I feel that – my mission, although I want to be the most successful, long-lasting artist ever, but my mission is more so to be a truth teller, to be honest to myself, to be genuine, and whether that means being reckless, violent, wild, or I'm being thoughtful and I'm educating people, as long as I'm being genuine, being real to myself, then I feel I'm on the right path.
And I like to make music that gives people game, especially game that they're not getting. I think about Tribe Called Quest, "A Classic Example Of A Date Rape." How pertinent is that to society right now? And it's like, y'all was spitting that then, and n***** just wasn't hearing. The people that heard you heard you. I heard you, so I knew what a date rape was, but they don't even teach you that shit in school still.
ALI: That's crazy.
VIC MENSA: And we got this whole Me Too thing going on, and there's no education. So I feel like – there's no real education. I feel like America is full of miseducation, so I feel like something we can do as artists, those of us that want to and have that mission, is to give the people the truth.
ALI: You do it very well, especially because I think you're self-effacing. You talk about challenges and things that you go through in life that people might want to keep under covers. Like, "Let's not discuss that." You put it out there, and it's admirable, in connection with other more pressing I think social issues that from a community level that you would think artists would get behind or some other headlines are the ones that people jump to but it doesn't always seem authentic. One of the things that I know speaking with Tribe, we were in a community of other artists who kind of thought like us and communicated like us.
VIC MENSA: Word, word.
ALI: So you in your world, it almost sometimes seems like you're in a class by yourself, and that's just me as an observer. Are there other of your contemporaries that you feel are there where you are, that it empowers you as an artist to know like, "If I look over there, I know such-and-such is putting out music" that kind of is in the same harmony of what you're talking about?
VIC MENSA: I feel like the obvious ones are J. Cole and Kendrick. They're always talking about something in their music. Chance be talking about some stuff in his music. Just a lot of rappers from Chicago. But in the grand scheme of things, when you look at the bigger picture, a lot of times it will feel I'm the last real n**** on Earth or something to me. Not in an arrogant way, but it just feels like people don't want to say anything that might stir the pot, unless – if it's to beef with another n****, then for sure. I'm not innocent of that. But when it comes to really saying something challenging that might be very unpopular, it does feel like people don't – people just kind of stay away from that.
And I think about the period in time at which y'all were making music, just from the outside looking in, and think about how many different artists were teaching me shit, how I really learned a lot, how hip-hop – cause that's before I even started reading Malcolm X and all that. Hip-hop was giving me the truth about the world around me. "Elvis was a hero to most," you know what I mean? Hip-hop was giving me the real education that was kind of breaking down my miseducation in school. And music, it's not like that right now. But you know, I think –
ALI: So does hip-hop still do it for you?
VIC MENSA: Man, honestly, I don't listen to that much rap these days. I won't even lie to you. I been listening to a lot of punk music. I've been listening to Joni Mitchell a lot. A lot of old records, man, like James Taylor and just old records. I've recently brought the record player upstairs and just be spinning my shit. I'm listening to Marvin Gaye. I'm listening to Stevie. I'm listening to The Doors. I'm listening to Nancy Wilson, Erroll Garner. I'm not listening to too much rap.
ALI: Me either.
VIC MENSA: You know?
ALI: Surprise. Nah. You mention Marvin Gaye. It was just a random question. There's a title "There's Alot Going On." Is that a throw to Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?"
VIC MENSA: You know, it wasn't actually, but –
FRANNIE: Oh, I thought it was a Sly Stone – I thought it was a "There's A Riot Goin’ On" call out. That's crazy.
VIC MENSA: Do you know where I got it from? I was watching Guns N' Roses "November Rain" video, and at the end of the "November Rain" video there's – it looks like they're writing on the screen and they write, "There's a lot going on."
VIC MENSA: And I was like, "That's hard. Let me lift that."
But What's Going On is – that's probably top five albums for me. I listen to that shit on a weekly basis. He was just – whew! I was using it to describe something to my homie the other day. Oh yeah, cause I'm producing an album for somebody else, and kind of working on the writing stuff and just really really building an artist project, and so the guy's – my other homie who's producing it with me, he was like, "Yeah, you making – every beat sounds the same."
And I was like, man, I think about What's Going On and how when you're transitioning between those songs, you're going from "What's Going On" to "What's Happening Brother," which is my favorite song on there. You don't really know when one starts and the other one ends, because it's all one sound. And it doesn't – it's got its unique nuances and its repeating ideas like the choral things, but it's like, it all sounds very similar. You know what I mean?
ALI: Yeah. It's a world.
VIC MENSA: It's just different songs. It's a world though.
ALI: It's a world. Yeah. And the topics and I guess his subject matter is what really is the difference between those songs, but –
VIC MENSA: The subject matter's so crazy on there.
VIC MENSA: I mean, he's talking about the ecology, and he's talking about plants and animals that live nearby are dying, and it's like – sometimes it's like – I think about this stuff and I listen to this music, and I'm like, "How has nobody motherfucking listened?" You know? N***** still ain't listen. I mean, they listened, but they ain't really hear it though. One person speaking about those things is not enough to change shit, but I think about that and how he was talking about the environment then, how y'all was talking about date rape then, and just generations later, those things have become the big topics, and not much progress has been made.
ALI: It's the history of mankind though.
VIC MENSA: Right. That's how it goes. Right.
ALI: You go back a couple thousand years.
FRANNIE: Right. Well, it also shows the strength of the opposing forces, right? Because – to me that's what it really illustrates. It's because this is peak achievement, and it still didn't change everything. This is what we're really up against. It's no criticism or there's no failing in the work.
FRANNIE: Or even the people listening.
VIC MENSA: No, not failure in the work at all.
FRANNIE: It's like: this is what we're dealing with.
VIC MENSA: Just – I mean, like you said, that's mankind. I think that for me, at least from a creative standpoint what it does do is it lets me know that it's important to say those things in the music, regardless of if society as a whole is going to change, because it probably won't, but somebody will be impacted. And somebody will hear "A Classic Example Of A Date Rape" and know what that means and know that they shouldn't do that. And somebody'll be touched by Marvin Gaye, the ecology, and fucking pick up their trash or drive an electric car. You know what I mean? You could impact people.
FRANNIE: Or also it's going to affect the next generation who are going to make music, because when you make a song like "Empathy," you're talking about things in a totally different way than Tribe would, than Phife or Tip would. And what you do in that song is you introduce a level of vulnerability into the equation. Rather than saying, "This is a thing that happened," you bring in – you complicate it in this way that makes it more accessible for our current time.
VIC MENSA: Word. That's interesting that you heard that, because – so that was like – I was going through the whole controversy thing, and I said the thing in a BET cypher, and I was talking to No I.D. and Dion was like – I'm trying to think what was my other plan of attack. It was probably, like, double down, or do something that would be seen as doubling down. And Dion was like, "Man, you know what the perspective that you missing is, is you not having empathy for someone else until you need god to show you empathy." And he was like, "You should put it in music. You shouldn't go make a statement, start a fight." Cause I was probably thinking about beating somebody ass, was probably – and he was like, "Nah."
So I had already started – a while ago did a song with the idea of empathy, and so then I just wrote a rap or whatever. And it's so true, and that's something I really learned from that situation, was that – I've been reading the Bible recently, and I'm not Christian so it's different for me. But it's definitely – there's a passage that says, "Before you point out the speck in your brother's eye, you should first address the log in yours." And it's real, and I've been far from perfect. And I think that being someone that just cares about people and feels deeply, sometimes you could get in a position where you want to pass judgment, even if the judgment is correct, but without first addressing and thinking about how you can address your own wrongs.
And I think about just the way that society is structured pertaining to power and gender and sex, and I recognize that I got so much room to go and so much room to grow before even trying to make a crusade of taking down or pointing out somebody else's shit, as fucked up as it may be. Cause we all just learned wrong, you know? We just learned wrong, and we was – our parents was learning wrong. Like I was saying earlier, you got sex ed in school, but all they do is show you a video of a baby being born and gross you out. They don't even – they never mentioned consent. That was not a word in sex ed in school. That's not something we learned. I mean, that's something kids need to be learning. Kids need to be learning the right and wrong ways to interact with each other.
Cause we got the music that's whole time telling us, "If your girl steps up, I'm slapping a ho." You know what I mean? "Smack the b**** in the face. Told this b**** to participate. She do it everyday." It's like, we got the music doing this, and men and women is loving the music. We all vibing to the music. It's still talking about the same shit to this day. Everything is b****** and hoes. That's why I love Tribe, because they was like, "Can we do this a little different?" But to this day, everything is b***** and hoes, and that's what's in the club. That's what the men and women are loving. That's what's, I mean, not being taught, but definitely not being broken down, those thought processes, in school. And then when it happens, motherfuckers is like, "How could this happen?" And I'm like, "This shit has been waiting to happen."
We all been reveling in just this fucked up idea about men having this power over women, and that they should, and acting like it's cool, and then when it goes down and it becomes public, motherfuckers' whole lives is gone. And I just think we need to be focusing on the education around it, and addressing ourselves before we really try to take other people out.
FRANNIE: That idea of reveling in it is really crazy, and visual.
VIC MENSA: We live in it, breathe in it. It's the fucking movies. It's everything. It's "Baby, It's Cold Outside." Now they're taking that shit off the radio.
FRANNIE: Yeah, totally.
VIC MENSA: A friend of mine named Kendrick Sampson, he said something interesting in a video clip I saw the other day on the Internet. He was like, "The whole idea of – what we don't realize is the whole idea of game, what we consider to be game, is coercion. It's like, what can I say to get this woman to do something that she's saying no to." But game, that's what we're taught is – that's the mark of a man on certain nights, is game. Do you – the most basic thing for a human to do is procreate. Do you have the wit to make it happen?
ALI: To make a connection. To make it go your way.
VIC MENSA: But the way that we think about it is like, "If she not with it, how do I finesse this?" And that's in all the movies we watch, and it's just a lot of shit we gotta fucking undo and be like, "Maybe certain things that we've looked at as being admirable and markings of a strong man are harmful to other people, are toxic."
FRANNIE: Yeah, I totally agree that it's the undoing that is going to be our near future. And that because we've been reveling in it, on every level of society, every genre, all of that –
VIC MENSA: Real talk.
FRANNIE: – that that's why it feels there's so much resistance to it, because it's –
ALI: Shaking up the way people live their lives for so long.
VIC MENSA: And that's – it's hard for men, because it's the same way that white America, certain parts of white America –
FRANNIE: They don't want to hear it.
VIC MENSA: – push back so hard about losing their perceived superior status. Men really really oftentimes hold that mentality and don't even realize it.
A friend of mine the other day – it'd be funny if he sees this. I'm not gon' say his name. He's a good guy though. He's just probably kind of trailer park origins-type n**** and got the coolest wife of all time. She's a musician. And he was saying something – he was saying something, which he meant as a compliment to his wife. He was like, "You know, she's so smart. It's like – cause she's one of the only woman I ever felt like was smarter than me."
And I'm like, "N****, you're not even that smart." I'm like, "Do you hear yourself? How did that even come out of your mouth? You went to the military, not that that makes you dumb, but you didn't go to college, not that that even makes you smart. But n****, you not, like, a prodigal talent of some shit. One of the only women that you ever thought was smarter than you? You gotta think about that a lot harder and longer."
FRANNIE: Let me tell you as a woman –
VIC MENSA: But men really think that though!
FRANNIE: Compliments are treacherous. We can almost always see what's really going on in a compliment.
VIC MENSA: Motherfuckers be dumb. It's like how Steve Bannon – it's like memes. It's like how Steve Bannon can look like that, how he can look like a soggy potato and think his genes are superior to somebody else. Oftentimes I feel like men, we have the same fucking complex. It's this superiority complex that is not rooted in reality. It's just the way we were raised.
ALI: You know, it's interesting that you even say that, cause I was thinking about all the – not all, but a lot of rap records that promote that in the most simplistic way, just even from the perspective of how you getting with someone else's girl, just that alone.
VIC MENSA: It's always that.
ALI: Or that – every MC that will state how golden their penis is, as if – maybe in one's individual mind that's the case, but I mean, just on a bigger scale of life, what are you bringing to the table of emotions and to the level of connection? And why is your ego so big that you really think that there's not another person out here who's going to have a connection with someone else? And I'll listen to those records, and I'll just think how disappointing it is for people to communicate, or not even communicate, to deduce themselves to that level and that they're broadcasting it as art and not realizing the greater the possibility of showing real growth and a real human inside.
VIC MENSA: Word up.
ALI: And so it's one of the reasons why I don't listen to hip-hop as often as I used to. It's not just a matter of age. It's just a matter of my life experiences has taught me that I want my environment to remind me how to be a better person. Cause I know I'm doing things that may be I'm not self-aware, and so sometimes it just takes a little tap on the shoulder. A little tap on the shoulder could be a little melody in a song or a couple of words or a couple of phrases that make you snap out of the trance of life that we're in. So –
VIC MENSA: Real talk. Music does that for me for real.
ALI: I mean, it's clear.
VIC MENSA: Or it could do the exact opposite. That's why I'm the same way. I still listen to some street music sometime, and I listen to Lil Durk from Chicago a lot, just cause he'll be saying so much that resonates with the part of me in Chicago. But in general, I do feel like rap right now, it's got that this preordained list of topics. It's like, definitely something about your b****, and she gotta be yours. Some Percocet, some Xans. Definitely something about some weed, something about a 40, probably an extended clip, a whip. Just real basic shit. And then it's like, oftentimes I just feel like people are just regurgitating what they think they're supposed to talk about.
That's why I love when I hear – when I do hear a street artist start to show some substance and shit. That's why I listen to that Lil Durk album so much, cause he really did start to get into it and talk about the pain of all of those experiences and how it impacted him as a human being. And I love to hear that. But more often, I'll want to hear Gil Scott-Heron tell me how you could be so very beautiful when you are who you are. That's probably what I need for my mind right now.
ALI: You have been in the music industry – I don't know how many years. It's been eight years now?
VIC MENSA: Yeah, I was in a band in high school, so yeah, that was about eight years ago, something like that.
ALI: Where you are now, and from the eyes of, I guess, pursuing your dreams and living them to an extent, is there something that you've learned from the music industry that's a lesson that's apart from outside of the industry?
VIC MENSA: The industry. "Record company people are shady. Industry rules 4080." That's what I learned. No, no. You know what I learned, man? Definitely that. I have learned that it could be difficult, and you'll run into opposition speaking your mind, but that's also outside the industry, but I learned it inside the industry. But something I have learned that I think is fucking valuable, that I think people don't know oftentimes, is that it is possible to be the most successful, prolific, admired artist in the world and be a good person.
And I've seen that, and that is something that if you look at history, sometimes I'll have these ideas and just conversations with myself where I'm looking at history and I'm like, "It would seem to be that doing wrong will put you on top." I'm like, "Africa has been raped. I mean, the whole world has been raped for the benefit of palaces in Europe." And you go see them and you're like, "It would seem that doing the wrong thing will really put you out on top."
But within the industry, from just certain people that I've the pleasure – just idols of mine I've had the pleasure of really breaking bread with, I have seen that you can be the top – you can be the number one spot – and be a good person. That doesn't mean everything you ever did was good, but you can get there and be a good person. You don't have to be sheisty. You can do right by those around you. You don't have to be greedy. You don't have to be jealous. You could just really radiate that energy, and want to succeed and do it without having to do it on the backs of everybody else.
ALI: That's dope.
FRANNIE: Yeah, man. I asked for all killer no filler, and I feel like I got it, so thank you to both of you.
VIC MENSA: Word.
ALI: Thank you. Well, looking forward to the next project.
FRANNIE: Yeah, big time.
VIC MENSA: Word up.
ALI: I love that you're keeping this torch of being just a human advocate, in the form of an artist, in a great space.
VIC MENSA: Word.
ALI: And I say that as – I'm not down and out. I'm still making music, but I know what I aspired to do with my music when I was younger. And realizing – sometimes you look at the world, and you hope when you're young it's going to be more beautiful than when you stepped in, and then you live a long time you're like, "Did it get worse or is it" – you know, these things. Or is it just life? You thought it was rosy, or not rosy, and then you grew up and it's – you have perspective. But it feels good when you know that there's a younger generation that's just as passionate.
VIC MENSA: For sure.
ALI: And so you represent that in a great way, and so I appreciate you.
VIC MENSA: Big love, man. I appreciate you, man. Word up. Thank you guys.
ALI: Thank you.