Over the past few years, the Chicago music scene has seen a wave of young hip-hop artists transcend from local stardom to the national stage. One of the brightest up-and-coming artists is 21-year-old Vic Mensa, who played a sold-out homecoming show at the Metro (3730 N. Clark St.) on Friday, Nov. 28.
Mensa’s soul and acid jazz-influenced sound, similar to that of Chance the Rapper and Mick Jenkins, has created a lot of buzz in Chicago. Another genre that has taken hip-hop by storm is the drill wave. Drill music, created by South Side rappers such as Lil Herb, SD and Fredo Santana, rap gangster-inspired lyrics over trap and electronic style beats.
While the two styles of hip-hop differ from each other, they both have produced some of the biggest rising artists in hip-hop.
Mensa’s headlining performance was one of the most hyped shows scheduled in Chicago this fall. The South Side native was originally the lead singer of the jazz and blues group Kids These Days, which formed when the members attended Whitney Young High School in 2009.
The group broke up in 2013 and Mensa embarked on his solo career as a rapper. His debut mixtape Innanetape landed him a spot on the 2014 freshmen list from hip-hop magazine XXL. Fellow Chicago rappers Chance the Rapper, Lil Bibby and Lil Durk joined Mensa on the list of some of the best newcomers in the genre.
Mensa’s diverse musical background has made him into the well-rounded artist he is today.
His style is hard to categorize because he constantly crosses genres. He combines singing and rapping over soul, jazz, blues and house beats.
In his song “Orange Soda,” Mensa shows one of his many talents by confidently rapping over a soothing blues beat. He shows another side of his musical ability when he harmonically sings over deep-house, electronic beats, such as with the Disclosure-sounding instrumental on “Down On My Luck.”
Fans packed both floors of the Metro in anticipation for the concert. Mensa and the crowd energetically vibed off each other throughout the show. His performance was both spirited and passionate as he danced onstage.
The crowd bounced along to the upbeat sound of “YNSP,” a song that samples “Bout It Bout It” from Gary, Indiana’s favorite gangster rapper Freddie Gibbs. During the song Mensa jumped on top of the railing in front of the crowd to rap his verse, the crowd cheered with approval and sang along to the chorus “Young net save peso.”
Mensa also performed a lot of unreleased songs from his upcoming album Street Lights, which he said is almost complete. “Scottie” is a trap sounding track in which Mensa raps about things like dealing weed in high school and Chicago Bulls basketball legend Scottie Pippen. The crowd quickly caught on to the catchy hook, singing “I’m goin’ Scottie” along with Mensa. A screen behind the stage played highlights of Pippen’s basketball-playing days throughout the song.
Mensa projected video on to a screen behind the stage to add a visual element to many of his songs. During “Hollywood LA” the screen showed images of palm trees and famous landmarks in Los Angeles. A cool, distorted, trippy video of driving around Chicago’s South Side played during “Wimme Nah.” The visuals enhanced Mensa’s well rounded performance.
The lights then dimmed and Mensa surprised the crowd by bringing out his close friend Chance the Rapper to perform their soothing electronic song “Suitcase,” which Mensa released earlier this year on Soundclou d. It would have been cool for Mensa and Chance to perform some of their better songs such as “Tweakin’” from Innanetape or “Coco Butter Kisses” off of Chance’s critically acclaimed Acid Rap, but it was Mensa’s show and his time for the spotlight. It was still a nice treat to see the duo perform.
Mensa closed with an unexpected electronic cover of rock band The White Stripes’ song “Seven Nation Army.” While it’s impossible to emulate or outdo the style of White Stripes frontman Jack White, Mensa put an energetic spin on the popular song. He aggressively bounced around stage, which queued the crowd to jump too.
After briefly leaving the stage, the audience persuaded Mensa to come back out for an encore. Mensa brought out about 50 of his friends to perform his popular single “Feel That.”
The crowd intently watched Mensa rap the lyrics, “B*tch I think I’m McNabb with the Eagles, I’m the quarterback, run it back,” which referenced to fellow Chicago South Side native and former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb. The high-energy show peaked as Mensa and his boys jumped around stage throughout the song.
The highly-anticipated homecoming show did not disappoint. Mensa seemed happy to perform with his friends in front of a hometown audience and the crowd enjoyed the show. Mensa was also pleased with the crowd’s energy, thanking them for their involvement throughout the evening appearance. At one point, Mensa told the crowd “We put Chicago back on the map.” His lively performance confirmed the statement.