The Kanye-approved rapper, now on tour, breaks down the lyrics of his 'There's Alot Going On' EP

By Nolan Feeney
July 29, 2016 at 01:50 PM EDT
Ollie Millington/Redferns

There’s a reason Kanye West tapped this Chicago native for The Life of Pablo: Vic Mensa has emerged as one of his generation’s most provocative and politically-minded voices in hip-hop, tackling topics ranging from police brutality and the Flint water crisis (on his recent There’s Alot Going On EP) to LGBT acceptance (on “Free Love,” a collaboration with Le1f, Halsey, Lil B, and Malik Yusef released in honor of LGBT Pride Month). Currently on the road for a summer tour, the 23-year-old breaks down his most notable rhymes in the new issue of EW, on stands now.

“There’s Alot Going On”

The lyrics: “Medication for depression that I cut cold turkey, had the kid manic/In an episode out in Hollywood, wilding out like Nick Cannon.”

The story: “I had been notably absent from releasing music for some time, and I wanted to make it understood where I’d been, what I was doing, and what events transpired to bring me to this point. It’s frightening, honestly, and very uncomfortable [to rap about mental health]. But I think the job of music is to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

“Dynasty”

The lyrics: “I heard a certain who’s who mad that I like the danger/Get your priorities straight like Hermione Granger.”

The story: “I thought somebody somewhere would know the scene I was referencing and be like, ‘Oh, I’m a nerd too!’ I’m a huge Harry Potter fan—I read all the books, saw all the movies, and I’ll probably see the play when I go to London. When I was on tour with Disclosure, I would say everything in a Harry Potter accent. When they were on stage, I’d just scream Harry Potter lines in the backstage area and say everything like I was Ron Weasley.”

“U Mad” feat. Kanye West

The lyrics: “Hater, please let me live my life, swear to God I be tryna do right/But if she bad I might hit a bitch in the elevator like Ray Rice.”

The story: ”With that line, I just went too far. I was at a point when I had forgotten a sense of responsibility to the people listening and to myself. I more or less was just feeling like, ‘Let me say whatever the f—k I want, whatever’s going to get a [gasps].’ It was a learning experience. It really made me remember how I’ve always approached rap music from a perspective of truth and importance. There was a lapse with that line.”

“Shades of Blue”

The lyrics: “They got Damn Daniel distracting you on Instagram/Back again with the all-white media coverage.

The story: “This is about the lead-poisoning water crisis in Flint, Mich. I was in Flint when I first heard about [the] Damn Daniel [meme creators] on Ellen. I was like, ‘This is important? This is the type of thing people with the power to publicize are putting on major television networks?’ I thought Ellen was bogus for that, I can’t lie. I know we live in an internet age and viral stories are popping, but that s—‘s not important.”

“Wolves” (Kanye West feat. Vic Mensa and Sia)

The lyrics: “Don’t fly so high/Your wings might melt, you’re much too good to be true/I’m just bad for you”

The story: “It’s about being a star, especially as someone unexpected to do so: a black kid from the South Side of Chicago. Icarus flew too close to the sun, he was so ambitious, but can you really blame him? They tell you that you can’t do things your whole life. They tell you rapping is not a profession, try to get a job, go to college. The idea of going as high as you can, with the possibility that it could all crash and burn, inspired the line.”

“16 Shots”

The lyrics: “This ain’t conscious rap, this s— ignorant … Ain’t no fun when the rabbit got the gun/When I cock back, police better run.” 

The story: “I wrote the song about the brutal killing of Chicago teen Laquan McDonald by a police officer [in October 2014]. The anger I had made me feel like I had to speak about it. I’m not bugged by the ‘conscious rap’ label, I just want to make it clear that although there’s a lot you can learn from it, it’s not safe rap or education rap. It’s not [turning] the other cheek. It’s not collegiate. I’m coming from a street perspective. I’m not worried about how people might perceive those lyrics because I consider fighting back as an oppressed person to be resistance.”

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