The Autobiography by Vic Mensa: Album Review

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Noah Elmore

Chicago rapper Vic Mensa’s long awaited debut album is an intriguing blend of rock sounds, hip-hop lyrics, and pop punk inspired vocals. Mensa’s well-received 2013 mixtape Innanetape and 2016 EP There’s Alot Going On set expectations high, and Vic meets most of them.

Fans of Vic’s spastic rapping that he flexed early in his career will probably be disappointed. Outside of a few songs, (“OMG” and “The Fire Next Time”) Vic mostly trades in his incredibly complex and technical rhyme structures for more personal and introspective bars. However, there are still plenty of moments on this album that are worth listening for.

The Autobiography features production from hip-hop legend NoI.D. and features from fellow Chicagoans Chief Keef and Joey Purp, as well as Ty Dolla $ign, Pharrell Williams, Saul Williams, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, and others. Sonically, there’s a lot to like. The integration of the guitar is a very nice touch at parts, and Vic’s vocals are pleasant enough for a rapper.

Songwriting is more of a mixed bag. The track “Heaven on Earth” features some of the best storytelling on a hip-hop track all year, but there’s also some clunky integration on lines like “I screamed like ‘Please stay in the bathroom / Whatever you do, do not leave the bathroom’ ”. There is definitely room for improvement, and Vic could do to leave out some of the simile lines that are plastered all over this album rather heavy-handedly.

Thematically, the concept behind The Autobiography is Vic’s story, and while all the tracks do focus on Vic, the idea for this album feels like something a rapper would do approaching the twilight of his career. Vic is only 24, and although he’s led an interesting life, it does mean some of the concepts can be repeated.

There’s a lot of touching honesty and vulnerability here though. Vic has always been a candid rapper discussing his life on his past releases; he’s particularly open on this album. He casts himself as somewhat of an anti-hero on this album: a redeemed soul who has struggled with cheating, drug abuse, suicidal thoughts, and depression. This is endearing, particularly from someone whose political views always portray someone who is attempting to do right, even if he makes mistakes in doing so.

Fans of There’s Alot Going On should definitely like this album, and it’s definitely something all hip-hop fans should check out, particularly fans of the “new wave Chicago” sound. The albums driving production is standout, and the lyrics are well intentioned, if a bit blatant. All in all, The Autobiography is a lot like Vic Mensa himself: ambitious, talented, but there are still some minor flaws present.

RMU Serves Through Experience-Based Learning

Matt Dylewski

High school graduates in recent years are no strangers to service work. Oftentimes it is mandated that teens perform some type of community service as part of their high school graduation requirement. They may even use this service in their application essay to colleges of choice. Community service is not new to U.S. youth or the American tradition, but it has certainly received increased interest as volunteerism has become a new exhilarating trend. And why not? It provides work experience, networking opportunities, and it makes a person feel good to do it.

As Robert Morris University just celebrated another academic year of achievements in its 2017 graduating class on April 22nd, one can only hope that this group of degreed Americans will be the kind of people who will heed the words of President Kennedy and place service to others above their own interests. As the United States celebrates the milestones of President Kennedy with the mark of his 100th birthday in May, it is a good time to recall his poignant words:

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”

It is with absolute certainty that recent RMU graduates will honor JFK’s request. While most Americans would like to claim adherence to this commendable direction, our very own RMU Eagles have been proving their ability to place service before self during their college careers.

While in school, they didn’t ask what fellow students could do for them; rather, they sought to assist their peers in pursuance of their degree. They worked as teams, helped students in need, cultivated an inclusive culture, and forged relationships that will last a lifetime.

They didn’t seek to exploit the resources of the respective nine campuses or the university as a whole. Instead they volunteered to lead or participate in programs that improved the RMU brand.

They completed ICenter projects focused on marketing the university to the community positively and represented the institution with a degree of professionalism. Students are committed to practicing the philosophy of learning by doing and learning by giving.

They reached out to local communities to ask not what their community could do for them, but what their community needed them to do.

RMU students proved their commitment to service and passion for volunteerism by collecting and allocating resources for the Peoria Crittenton Center for Women and Children, by mentoring K-12 students with the Junior Achievement Organization, by serving community food banks through the Robert Morris initiative “Making Room,” by coaching young hockey players involved in the Peoria Minor Hawks Association, by offering free tax service to anyone who walked in to the Chicago campus during tax season, and by collecting and distributing toiletries and warm clothing to the homeless at the DuPage campus.

Jessica Leonhard, a student at the DuPage campus believes that volunteering “showed me that what I learn inside the classroom means nothing if I don’t try to give to those outside of the classroom.  Education is a wonderful thing, but we need to do what we can to ensure others have the chance to receive an education as well.  One of the first steps towards receiving an education is having a home.” Thus, it was important for this RMU student to help someone who did not have a home in her community.

The list of community service examples are endless because RMU students embody this service driven sentiment outlined by President Kennedy on the personal level, campus and university wide, and are now ready to go on to do so on a national scale. It is all thanks to the education and experience provided through carefully designed curriculum delivered at Robert Morris.

RMU Eagles will be taking this experienced-based education with them as they leave the university, this nest if you will, to join and become leaders in respective industries, all the while focusing on the betterment of the community that the campuses inhabit as students have practiced and learned in and out of the classroom.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that only 42.5% of those with a bachelor degree or higher volunteer annually. So, where does RMU match up to the national average?

  • Athletic teams participated in a variety of community service events.
  • Hundreds of students completed ICenter projects or internships geared towards giving back and direct application of classroom knowledge.
  • The College of Nursing and Health Sciences participated in community nursing events.
  • Accounting students volunteered to do individual tax assistance with any person who walked onto the Chicago campus.
  • Springfield students assisted in collecting sweaters for the Lawrence EDU Center.
  • DuPage campus had students collect donations for homeless in their area and delivered them in person: coats, hats, gloves, toiletries.
  • Peoria volunteered with food banks and the local Crisis Nursery for women and children.

That’s 100% participation in some form of volunteerism, 100% commitment to the betterment of the community, 100% of RMU graduates proving that when they leave their campus they will continue to ask not what their country can do for them, but ask what they can do for their country.

As students come and go through the many campuses of Robert Morris University, they can find opportunities for personal growth and professional development with service to community. The newly renamed ICenter, The Center for Professional Development, is just one way students can take their education to the next level into real world experience, networking, and doing great work with others as the focus.

Tameka Mason, a recent RMU graduate from the Peoria campus, noted that volunteering offers personal and professional benefits: “Volunteering is a way to go outside of yourself. It’s too easy for one to get lost in her own problems and situations. Personally, I feel helping others not only soothes the soul but gives someone else a chance at a better life.  Professionally, being a volunteer shows employees that you are willing to go the extra mile even if you are not getting paid for it. I can’t imagine a business that would not see that as an asset.”

 

Reading Social Media: Fake News Event

Orland Park, IL – More people than ever are getting their news online. But how do you spot a fake story? Orland Park Public Library is hosting a special panel on Monday, July 31 at 6:30 p.m. to discuss how people can be more responsible news consumers and recognize whether a link leads to a credible news story or just click-bait.

Most people have seen a blatantly incorrect news story advertising a celebrity death that has not occurred, a scandal that does not exist, or a new cure to a disease that has not been scientifically proven. Consuming and sharing unreliable news can be dangerous when it is widely shared and acted upon, but libraries are here to help sort the facts from the fiction.

“Librarians, educators and newspapers are positioned to respond to this growing trend through unbiased collections, actual statistics, and fact checking,” said Diane Srebro, Assistant Head of Adult Services at Orland Park Public Library. “Experts will share practical tactics to instruct students of all ages in sorting through an overload of information.”

Panelists will be encouraging those attending the event to consider the source of their information, to read beyond the headlines, to check the author of the material they are reading, and to find supporting sources for information. Some fact checking websites that will be mentioned during the panel discussion include Politifact.com, Factcheck.org, and Snopes.com. Additionally, panelists will be encouraging those attending to always ask an expert when they are in doubt about a story’s authenticity.

Panelists include Editor Joe Biesk, of the Daily Southtown; School Media Librarian Amy Hamernick, of Orland Park District 135; Head Librarian Deirdre Rawls, of Robert Morris University; and Laura Lauzen-Collins PhD, of the psychology faculty at Moraine Valley Community College.

An interesting scientific study that complements this event is a Stanford University study released in November 2016 that discussed students’ inability to recognize inaccurate information sources. An executive summary of this study can be found here: https://sheg.stanford.edu/upload/V3LessonPlans/Executive%20Summary%2011.21.16.pdf

This study analyzed 7,804 student responses across 12 states and found that middle school students, high school students, and college students are unable to differentiate between opinion articles and credible news. Additionally, they have trouble recognizing that a source may be biased. Students even saw ads for articles as credible news when the words “Sponsored Content” were added to the ad.

For more information about the library, visit www.orlandparklibrary.org or call 708-428-5100. The Orland Park Public Library is located at 14921 Ravinia Avenue in Orland Park, Illinois. Hours are Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.

ACTIVATE is Back!

ACTIVATE transforms iconic Loop alleys into pop-up urban experiences. Combining the talents of Chicago’s most creative minds, the events feature art, music, and more in unique urban settings.

Art. Music. People. Alleys.

ACTIVATE is not a festival. It’s an interactive exhibition of art and culture that takes place over the course of five nights from June through September.

The best things in life are free, and so is ACTIVATE. You don’t have to pay to get in, and we’ve kept beer and wine prices affordable.

The 2017 ACTIVATE theme, Off Street, invites the public to explore the pulse of daily life that the alley embodies. Art and programming will focus on a different aspect of alley life for each event. The first event in the summer series, Playground – The Rec Room of the Block, explores the alley as a play space. Far more than a piece of infrastructure that serves practical functions, the alley is a gathering place—the “rec room of the block,” as architect Dan Weese says. Curators Missy Perkins and John Ibarra with Que4 Radio have created a lineup of activities and installations that evoke summertime alley fun:

  • A breakdancing battle presented by Power Style Radio with mixmaster DJs Moz Definite and Illanoiz, emceed by Power Style Radio founder and host Kid Jungle
  • Interactive black light mural and projection mapping art installation by Jane Georges
  • Professional ping-pong players (body painted by Hatek) ready to challenge the audience, courtesy of SPIN Chicago
  • A pop-up barber shop with Rico Sepeda from Joe’s Hair Studio
  • A skate jam hosted by skater and youth mentor Junebug and Bucktown’s Uprise Skateshop

The event will also feature music by Ifficial Reggae Movement and the Four Star Brass Band; DJ and muralist Roho Garcia; Bare Strokes body painting with Dwight White, Marcus Sumrall, and Barrett Keithley; and murals painted by Chris Orta, Jose Quezada, and Raul Ra. 

The event will take place on June 15, 2017 and is free for admission. For more information, visit: loopchicago.com/activate

 

Steinmetz College Prep Spring Art Exhibition

Students from Steinmetz High School showed off their artwork in a gallery showing following a partnership between their school and Robert Morris University. Using the RMU-approved curriculum, students were able to gain college credit and received an opportunity to show off their work at the State Street Gallery. The pieces were on display from May 25 to June 1. Check out the slideshow below!

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More Life: An Album Review

Noah Elmore

Death, taxes, and another boring Drake release. These are the only certainties in life. Drake’s work, officially released on March 18th as a playlist, was played via OVO Sound Radio. A week after the release, I have had ample time to listen to, digest, and attempt to understand the 22 track, 1 hour and 21 minute long, More Life.

The highlights on this album are scattered for me. The production shines in some places, on songs like “Free Smoke”, “Passionfruit” “Glow”, and “Portland”. Additionally, the production is admirably varied, reaching into Jamaican dancehall and old soul samples. Some of the feature verses, notably Young Thug’s, are incredible. Sampha (whose debut album I wrote about here) and Skepta make two great appearances here as well.

However, that’s about all I have to say positively about this album. I haven’t been a fan of a Drake work since his 2013 release, Nothing was the Same, and this playlist pushes me further away. Drake continues to attempt to replicate the success of his smash hit “One Dance” from Views by venturing further and further into dancehall. While I can appreciate the attempt, it’s simply not good. It feels incredibly inauthentic; even though Jamaican influences have filtered into Toronto music since the 2000s, because Drake has notably claimed rep Houston and Atlanta.

Drake’s flow is astonishingly lackluster. It’s lazy and laid back, and while that style can fit other rappers, it comes off as blasé and monotone. Since I brought it up, Drake’s flow on the song “KMT” (which features the worst lines I’ve heard on a major album release since some of Kanye’s embarrassing bars from The Life of Pablo from Gibbs) is a complete rip off of Floridian rapper XXXtentacion’s flow on “Look at Me!”. It’s such a blatant bite, that it even features the same rhyme scheme, where Drake rhymes cans with advance, and XXXtentacion rhymes mans with pants.

The lyrics are so generically relatable, they sound like a bad horoscope website. They inspire no emotional connection at all because they’re so bland. The awful faux accent entirely removes any authenticity from Drake and his persona, particularly in a genre where authenticity, or at least the perception of it, reigns king. The best songs on this album have features, meaning Drake’s appearances are minimized. The uninspiring dancehall production sounds like a lazy attempt to create “One Dance, Part 2”. The many negatives outweigh the very few positives this playlist brings.

Overall, I’d score it 3 of 10. I won’t return to this album, save the few songs that feature other artists. My favorites off this album are: “Passionfruit”, “Portland”, and “4422”. While I wasn’t a fan, maybe you may enjoy this album more. It is available to stream on all major platforms.

Hysterical Fiction: A Book Review

John Hynes

Hysterical Fiction: A Review of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

This was a book that, at first glance, I really wanted to like. The cover was beautifully designed, with praise from some well-known authors. However, judging this book by the cover would be far too generous. As soon as you begin reading, you’re welcomed into a predictable, played out plot stolen from countless young adult novels, with characters much the same. Connie, our heroine, brings little to offer, only doing what is precisely expected of her by the reader: stumbling blindly forward, acting without any depth or substance, and shockingly little common sense, for an allegedly educated main character.

The writing, however, separates it from the painfully generic young adult novel it so desperately craves to be. Katherine Howe uses unnecessarily long, drawn out phrases with atrociously florid language, to describe minute and unnecessary details that add little to the quality of the story.

“At least,” you might be thinking, “she’s historically accurate, right?” You would be sorely wrong, my friend. The historic segments vary from ‘decently researched’ to ‘complete nonsense’ fairly regularly, only serving to push plot points home that had already been made obvious by the events in the present.

Ultimately, this first novel fails to live up to its literary praise, and utterly disappoints those in search of a strong or interesting female lead. Additionally, the plot and writing form up what is essentially an overdressed one-off teen novel, pretending to be a serious work of literature. Overall, I’d have to give it two stars, for effort.