Vic Mensa has always been a bit of a wildcard. His eclectic work with the group Kids These Days certainly made this clear from the very beginning. His following solo project, Innanetape, only further honed in on his unique voice. The project fused elements of hip-hop, soul and psychedelia to make something both familiar and innocent. With collaborations with fellow Chicagoans Chance the Rapper and Kanye West coming through the pipeline, Vic seemed like a shoo-in to be one of rap’s biggest names in the future.
Needless to say, this has not necessarily happened. Around the time that these developments were coming to fruition, Vic Mensa signed to Roc Nation. While this may seem rather insignificant, this shift towards a major label has definitely coincided with a shift towards mainstream accessibility as well. A lot of the soulful tones displayed on Innanetape have been traded in for more of a trendy and calculated sound. There’s Alot Going On and The Autobiography, Vic’s two latest project, have ultimately showcased potential, but been hindered by their needless pandering towards mainstream tendencies. As someone who has always had such a dynamic and wildcard personality, you would figure this problem would eventually sort itself out. Sadly, on Hooligans, it simply has yet to do so.
“Dancing in the Streetz” actually starts this project on a solid note. While the track is certainly still very much a pop song, the hook is excellent. On top of this, the instrumental and vocal tracks surrounding it are incredibly rich in melody. A lot of the problems that plague this EP are still present in Vic’s rapping, but the production on this track is certainly enough to overlook that. The outro of this track is reminiscent of something Frank Ocean would put out. Jesse Rutherford’s voice sounds huge over the bed of magnificent strings in the instrumental. After some of the turmoil mentioned in the track, this moment feels genuinely uplifting and magical. Sadly, these moments are inconsistent across this record.
On “Dark Things,” Vic continues to talk about his emotional distress. A lot of these lyrics detail the hurt that comes with being used. The problem is that every genuinely heart-wrenching thing Vic says is generally followed by something corny and insincere. The oversaturation of auto-tune in the vocals certainly does not help with the authenticity of the track’s message. At times on this track, it’s easy to mistake Vic for Post Malone. That’s certainly not an insult on Post Malone, but Vic is not really embracing his own voice on this song which is disappointing.
“Reverse” feels about as stale as Vic Mensa can get. While there are a plethora of funny punchlines in Mensa’s verse, the stumbling piano sounding beat paired with the lack of dynamics in his performance make for a slog of a song. On “Klonopin,” the production is much more nuanced and ear-catching. The muffled drums by Travis Barker and the hip-hop hi-hats on this track intersect in a very smart manner. With that being said, Mensa’s performance does not match this intensity. His singing is certainly palatable, but it gets a bit stale without a change of pace. The short bits of verses are very uninspired and ultimately hinder this track’s potential.
Still, this EP does feature some genuine high points. “The 1 That Got Away/No Shoes” showcases Mensa at his most mature from both a lyrical and songwriting perspective. Mensa’s beginning verse piques the listener’s interest with ease as he laments on some of his flaws. Pouring himself into a quick verse, the listener will begin to see some of themselves in Mensa’s words. When the verse dissipates, a passionate hook is sung by Charlie Wilson explodes into the listener’s ears. This hook feels triumphant and new for Mensa. The rich guitar sounds and interwoven vocal samples provide a triumphant energy to an already strong opening. While the rest of the song meanders a bit, that is perhaps a strong point. The mysterious transition midway through leaves the listener curious, but once the harmonious and swelling vocals close out the track, the audience will feel fulfilled on their suspense.
In the end, Hooligans is another confusing project from Mensa. While there are moments of true individualism and clarity, there are also songs that are clear cash grabs. Being stuck in the middle ground between embracing mainstream trends and remembering his roots, Mensa is currently in a bit of an identity crisis as an artist. His tremendous potential should allow him to create something magnificent regardless of what path he chooses. So, let’s hope he defines his direction sooner rather than later.