‘There’s Alot Going On’ in Vic Mensa’s latest, powerful EP

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Vic Mensa There's Alot Going On | Roc Nation
Grade: A-

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Vic Mensa’s There’s Alot Going On says it all — indeed, there’s a lot going on in his newly dropped EP.

Mensa is raw and vulnerable in There’s Alot Going On, arguably more so than he was in his beloved mixtape INNANNETAPE. Unapologetically transparent, the freshly signed Roc Nation rapper uses this project not only to raise awareness on social issues plaguing America, but also to purge his pent-up demons and youthful desires over the course of seven songs.

It’s a refreshing upgrade from his awkward Skrillex collaboration “No Chill,” a discordant, clashing mix between house and hip-hop. With Ty Dolla $ign as the EP’s only feature artist, Mensa conjures an unparalleled narrative so powerfully introspective that listeners resonate with his journey of wrestling with his traumatic past and prevailing as a rising rapper.

“Dynasty” kicks it off, an electrifying jumpstart that sets the tone of the EP. Mensa raps over crescendoing radio hiss fused with a persistent snare drum, unveiling his burning desire to top the charts alongside mentors Jay-Z and Kanye West. He boasts, “Mama Mensah knew she raised a very special man / Young Muhammad in the ring with the power in my hands,” and with good cause — the 23-year-old rapper clearly reveals his rising potential and drive to succeed.

But the power Mensa holds really lies in “16 Shots,” the most impactful, unrelenting song on the EP and his entire discography. The beauty of this track rests in Mensa’s heated, unfiltered rap on the cold truth behind police brutality. Alluding to Laquan McDonald, a black teenager shot to death by Chicago police officers in late 2014, Mensa raps with so much conviction and passion it’s almost like he’s protesting at a rally. And as if the hook isn’t haunting enough, with Mensa counting the 16 bullets that penetrated McDonald, “16 Shots” chillingly closes with McDonald’s attorney recounting the details of the teen’s unjust death.

Mensa reveals more of himself in “Danger,” which isn’t much more than an ode to his dangerous, reckless side — a side bred from his upbringing in Chicago. It’s introspective in that it lends a peek into Mensa’s lens of the South Side, characterized by gun violence and gang murders. Mensa welcomes the unforgiving streets of the South Side, exclaiming “You know me, I like the danger” — clearly a wild force to be reckoned with.

But “Liquor Locker” and “New Bae,” both of which are unsubstantial and generic in their hoorah to alcohol-induced sexual desires at the club, just don’t belong in an EP marked with so much soul searching.

The most revealing song in There’s Alot Going On is the title track. The song is a breathtaking conclusion to the EP, as Mensa recounts the timeline of his career with so much detail it’s as if he’s in a therapy session. From battling depression as a new, self-doubting signee with a major label to abusing drugs on the brink of death, Mensa exposes the darkness he’s cowered in throughout his rise to fame and success.

Mensa’s narrative stands out not because he’s just another rapper trying to make it in the industry, but because in the midst of it all, he’s like us: a lost young adult struggling to find his place in the world. His vulnerability and honesty shine through, but it’s the triumph over his past that radiates throughout the track and the EP.

Equipped with more direction and purpose lyrically and sonically, Mensa delivers a promising prelude to his awaited debut album, Traffic. There’s Alot Going On is a new chapter of Mensa’s life and a farewell to his past, signifying his growth as an individual and rapper. Mensa condenses his experiences and perspective within a short EP, but the lyricism and production weaved throughout the project make it a commendable one.

Contact Caroline Lee at [email protected].