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.