Vic Mensa (with Towkio, Ryan Caraveo & Romaro Franceswa) | Neptune Theatre | August 25, 2015
As far as I’m concerned Vic Mensa is the next big thing. The Chicago native has that special blend of youth and potential, placing him in favor with both the music gods and those earthly beings who would wish to capitalize on his good looks and elevated style of backpack rap. Mensa’s Traffic Tour rolled through Seattle’s Neptune Theatre on Tuesday night and brought with it a well-executed show with too many bright lights.
Nothing makes you feel older at a hip-hop show than realizing you needed to bring your sunglasses just to keep your eyes trained on the stage. Thankfully I had mine, and was happy to be among the youthful crowd, nodding my head as if I were one of them, thinking about how impressed I was by Mensa. He seems to have found a marketable balance between being cool, having enough street cred — whatever that means these days — and embracing the new era of rap, which often feels a lot like rock and roll.
Like his godfather Kanye once ranted: “Rap stars are the new rock stars!” In that vein, Vic Mensa sauntered onto the Neptune’s stage in a metal band-style shirt and white pants, mirroring his stage screen background which broadcast lyrics, interesting graphics and disturbing videos. He rapped about his hometown and the seemingly constant violence there. Although the image on the screen of a man being repeatedly shot was disturbing, I found myself impressed that he was bringing it up at all. Black people are dying far too often in real time on all types of screens across America. It’s important for artists who perform for young fans to shed light on real issues without being preachy. Mensa succeeded through his visual stage presentation and well-tempered rhymes.
I don’t think Mensa is on the Drake Career Path, but for those of you looking for someone to take his spot, I could see Mensa eventually filling Drizzy’s shoes. Born to a Ghanaian father and white mother, Mensa did the prep school thing and avoided rap music for a period of his life. This interesting pedigree has resulted in a versatile wordsmith who has much to offer. So much, that it seems like he hasn’t quite found his sound yet.
Since Mensa is signed to Roc Nation it’s a safe assumption he’ll eventually find his artistic footing and then have a major coming out party. He paid homage to Seattle by stopping to share an anecdote about how much he loves Kurt Cobain and then proceeded to sing a Nirvana song to the crowd. Then, thanks to an accidental DJ flub, we were treated to a new song from his official debut album. I’m looking forward to seeing how things turn out for Mensa. He’s serious enough to have longevity (with the right amount of focus) but fun enough to not seem uncool.
It’s clear Mensa is a multifaceted talent. He had some introspective movements which seemed to go over well with the college aged crowd. He pulled off one of the best stage dives I’ve ever seen, somehow looking natural while rolling around in circles atop the audience. And he ended the show with the crowd-pleaser “U-Mad.” The blazing klieg lights went off, his crew sprayed water on the crowd, and everyone was in a blissful, rage-rock-rap state when the beat dropped, screaming lyrics back at the man of the evening the whole time.