Vic Mensa: Rowdy for a Reason
It's not just that he started the SaveMoneySaveLife foundation, which combats racism in America and funds three Chicago programs focused on health and the arts, but Vic's importance lays even more so in that he prioritizes being on the frontlines of these movements and has been since he was a teenager less than a decade ago, before all the fame. In 2019, it feels modern to turn concern into action, and having used his influence to actualize life-saving initiatives throughout the country, Vic Mensa seems like a pretty appealing ambassador for modernity.
office sat down with the rapper to see what he's been up to recently. From releasing an EP late last year to honing in on his growing presence in the fashion world, it seems that he's been up to a lot.
Jacket by 93 Punks, pants by Ann Demeulemeester.
You’re very involved in the fashion world. Where does your relationship with fashion stem from? Have you always been into it?
I mean, I’ve been into fashion since I was about 11 or 12 years old, collecting a lot of Nike SP’s and Jordans. I started to customize my clothes and acid wash my Levi’s and shit like that, cut up my denim jackets and do that to sweaters I bought off Ebay and shit. Right around that era is when I started to be into fashion.
Do you think your perspective of the world, or even how people look at you, changed when you cut off your famous locks?
My perspective on the world didn’t change, not in an overall micro sense. I think my perspective on the world changes as the world changes. But the way people started to see me, potentially. All that superficial shit is not what matters to me, though. Girls like it, so that’s cool to me.
You’re relatively young and early on in your career, but it seems like you’ve got your hands in so many different areas—from being heavily involved in the fashion world to your foundation SavemoneySavelife. It feels very modern. Do you think this all happened naturally?
I’ve always been revolutionary-minded and politically inclined. So, as I’ve been able to gain more of a broad sphere of influence, and also get more resources, some of the community outreach initiatives that I stand behind and that I spent time actualizing naturally fell into place. I was already involved in things, at all the marches, and being in Standing Rock and being in Flint, Michigan when the water crisis first began. It was a national story that I was aware of. From spending time in Palestine to being in Baton Rouge when Alton Sterling was killed out there, you know, it was just a natural evolution because these were already things that were important to me. I was reading Malcolm X and shit when I was 16 years old, so now I’m just a bit older and more capable of implementing the revolutionary politics and mindframe that I was inundated with from a very young age.
Vintage top & pants by Jean Paul Gaultier (left); Top by AMIRI, vintage pants by Maison Margiela.
Has your ability to enact change grown as you’ve gotten more popular?
100%. As an example, at the event that we did last summer there was an action that we put together called the Anti-Bait truck. Chicago police send bait trucks and bait cars in general into low-income, ghetto neighborhoods to catch people stealing. There was the highly-publicized case of that type of bait-and-switch community that happened on the most violent weekend of last year. We were able to put together the Anti-Bait truck event where all my friends and collaborators and everyone who works with the foundation were able to come together, and we received tremendous support from the global community. Sean King helped us to put together an Amazon link where people from across the globe could buy shoes and donated them for us to give away in Inglewood where these bait trucks had taken place. That’s something that completely wasn’t possible for me years ago when I didn’t have some type of platform.
Are you addicted to being busy?
Yeah, for sure. I’m working on a lot of different projects all the time. I’m inspired by them and I’m interested in them. So, if I’m not working on something, then I feel like I’m wasting time and that I’m not fulfilling when I feel to be my purpose or just doing the things that bring me satisfaction and happiness. Everyone has things that they enjoy to do, and what I enjoy to do is not to be “working,” but I enjoy accomplishing and creating things. When I create something that I like, it’s an unparalleled feeling—to bring something into manifestation that didn’t exist before. I’ve been able to express myself and create, and in a way that impresses me. When I impress myself with what I’ve done, I feel good about that, you know? I don’t feel that good when I’m not doing anything.
Have you seen the Michael Jackson documentary?
I watched about an hour of the first installment. I doubt I’ll continue to watch. I’m okay.
Top by We Are Confederacy, vintage pants by Maison Margiela (left); vintage jacket by Tom Ford for Gucci (right).
I mean, it’s such a big topic of discussion in the music industry right now—this question of how you separate the art from the artist, or if you even can What do you think?
The way I feel about the Mike shit, man, is like, I have no doubt in my mind that Michael Jackson committed heinous crimes, and he point blank raped little boys. That’s a hard pill to swallow, no pun intended. He is also the greatest performer, 100%. He has one of the greatest music catalogues of all time, on a short list at that. I personally have always been way more of a Prince fan than a Michael Jackson fan, and I know they had a rivalry.
But I do love Michael Jackson’s music. At this point in time, I feel that I still would listen to it. I still wanna listen to it. Who knows if that will change in the future? I don’t listen to R. Kelly anymore. I just don’t feel comfortable or even feel like listening to R. Kelly. I do think the things that Michael Jackson did were even worse. I don’t listen to R. Kelly anymore, but when I was a kid, I used to vehemently defend R. Kelly. I don’t even know what my arguments must’ve been. It’s like, I’m from Chicago, I idolize this nigga. At this point in time, I’ve never had such a specifically deep connection to Michael Jackson’s music although I do love it. I’m obviously a huge fan of his music, so I don’t know if it makes sense that that’s why I don’t necessarily feel compelled to cancel it, because I was never that emotionally invested.
Separating the artist from the art goes on a case by case basis, I think. The way I see it, I highly doubt it’s possible to mute Michael Jackson. I don’t think that the biggest musician of all time--and I’m pretty sure that shit is a fact--can be cancelled because the music is so interwoven into the fabric of global society.
He is pop culture, in a way.
This is the king of pop. It’s engraved into so many different areas of culture, from film to fashion. This nigga can dance. There’s nothing that this nigga didn’t heavily influence as far as pop culture goes. How do you just get rid of him? Can we still posthumously hold him accountable and consider him to be the child rapist that he is? 100%. I guess only time can tell if it’s even possible to try and silence him. Even in that, he’s omnipresent.
You released your EP, Hooligans, in December. What are you working on now?
I’m doing a side project called 93PUNX. I’ve been working on that day in and day out, night in and night out. That has an accompanying clothing line, which I wore some of in the shoot for office. It has a lot of heavily customized leathers, that’s our specialty. We’ve been working for two years now just making the clothes because we started off just making them for me, and then people would ask, where did you get this and blah blah blah. So, we decided to make it into a line. We’re working on the 93PUNX album and clothing line simultaneously. I’m also writing and producing and cultivating an artist project that is really, really dope. It’s far different from the shit that I do. It’s straight fucking’ face-tatted, gang banger, hard ass, murderous bank robbing music. So, I’m working on that as I do the 93PUNX album and clothing line, all to be released quite imminently. All of these things will begin to be released in the spring going into the summertime.
Listen to ‘Hooligans’ here.