Still Alive: Vic Mensa Talks New 'Victor' Album & His Mental Rebirth
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PHOTO BY DANIELLE ALSTON/COURTESY OF ROC NATION
Vic Mensa has come a long way from struggling with substances to cope with life’s troubles. At this point in his career, the Chicago native can confidently say his mental health is in the best places it’s ever been, especially now that he’s over two years sober.
The 30-year-old is in an entirely different era from before: His VICTOR album is one of the first projects he’s done sober. He’s ready to reintroduce himself to fans and bring them into this new stage of his life that he promises will be the best.
Victor is both a sonic and mental rebirth for the artist. PHOTO BY: TINLEY
After embracing sobriety, where are you now regarding your well-being?
I don’t have as deep of lows, and I have much more of a sense of control over my thought processes. Before, I was always seeking some escapist fix like medication, narcotics, sex, violence or even psychedelics in the way that I used them. Now, I recognize that it’s a constant work in progress, which helps me contextualize things.
PHOTO BY: DANIELLE ALSTON
What were some of the things you did to improve your mental health?
I think sobriety is one of the first things that helped my mental health. That’s been transformative for me because it’s forced me to face all my feelings in a raw form. Plant medicine, too, from shrooms to ayahuasca, but I use them with reverence and more therapeutically. Meditation has also been massive for me, as well as breathwork.
What were the first few months of sobriety like for you?
A month turned into two months, and two months turned into six months. I quickly realized it was a much better way to live, and sobriety came at a necessary time. I had been drunk driving, crashed this car with illegal shit in the back seat, and got lucky. I interpreted that as a sign from God, and I tightened up. In that space, I realized my behaviors and some of my actions were escapist methods and weren't taking me anywhere positive.
Did you have a support system of family and friends to help you throughout this sobriety journey?
I can't say because nobody around me is sober. I'm pretty much the only person I spend time with regularly, and I'm pretty much the only person in my close everyday circle that doesn't drink or smoke. I also don't want to rely on any other human being to be the catalyst for my discipline. If I make a decision, it must be based on my conviction. It can't be someone else's participation that decides my success and failure.
What were some of the things you understood about yourself in sobriety that you couldn't figure out while on drugs?
The things I was doing were in pursuit of fun and were antithetical to the pursuit of joy. I started seeking that, just identifying what brings me joy—realizing my potential, creativity, and being free from conflict and incarceration brings me joy. So I just cut a lot of shit out.
PHOTO BY TINLEY
This year, you’re celebrating the 10th anniversary of your debut, Innanetape. How do you view that moment a decade later from a sober lens?
From a mental health perspective, that project also came from a pretty dark place, but it was a lot of joyful and bright music because my intention in using my voice was often to speak words of affirmation to myself. I went through a heavy breakup with my band and dealt with things from early childhood that I felt discarded and betrayed, so the tape came from a space of depression and drug use. But it’s beloved and has meaningful music, and I don’t regret it.
Are you looking at this sophomore album as a comeback now that you’ve embarked on a new life journey?
Yeah, I feel like it’s my strongest body of work in a long time, and I think people will appreciate it for being there. Like I told you, I’ve made a lot of music that never even saw the light of day. I was going through it with my mental health, but I’m glad to put out a real album that I’ve worked very hard on and put a lot of intention into [it].
In January, Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper put on a free festival in Ghana that drew 52,000 attendees. PHOTO BY JAMIL MCGINNIN
What inspired you to make this album now?
Well, I see a lot of things we're speaking about, you know, like coming into like faith. I've been practicing Islam and I moved back to Chicago shortly before I started writing this album. So the dynamics of the city of Chicago and the magic and the misery, as I say in this song called ‘South Side Story.’ The good, the bad and the ugly, you know. It's not just songs thrown together, it's not an EP and it's not a mixtape. It's an album album with skits, themes, storylines and all that.
How do you think it’ll resonate with your audience who love your older work?
Honestly. I think if there's one thing that’s certain, it’s that human beings are going to take value from this album and it's gonna mean a lot to a lot of people in the way that previous projects of mine have helped to get someone through this tough time or that difficult moment. This is definitely one of those albums, you know, where it will speak to people on a deeper level.
What’s your favorite anecdote while making this album?
This song on here titled ‘Victor,’ and this was dope because I wrote this while I was in the county jail in Virginia. So originally I was gonna call it ‘Letter From a Virginia Jail,’ based on Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter From [Birmingham] Jail.’ Obviously, being in jail is not the best moment at all. But I just thought it was a dope story in a way, you know. One thing I’ll say is one of my favorite positive moments, it’s very connected to that. There’s a reprise of the intro to this album and I wrote this... for a brother named Julius Jones. I was working vehemently on his freedom campaign from death row in Oklahoma. So his execution was scheduled and the day was getting closer. There was massive support, millions of petition signatures within Tulsa, Okla. ‘Black Wall Street,’ it’s like a historically very racist place. But on the final day, the execution was called off and they took him off death row. So that day I wrote this, which was the reprise.
What’s in store for you as you continue down this sober path?
I’m going to maximize and realize my full potential and break that down into tangibles. I’m going to shorten the time between my creations and album releases. I have a lot of goals. I’m still alive.