Yesterday local MC Vic Mensa sent me on a wild goose chase. Sort of. When the former Kids These Days member and cofounder of rap collective Save Money retweeted a fan photo of a few CD-Rs of Mensa’s brand-new debut mixtape, Innanetape, placed upright next to rows of books at the library, I took it upon myself to close my laptop and take a trip to the Harold Washington Library to investigate. I love a good scavenger hunt, and this was a good one—the spines on each book in the photo gave me a good clue, and after jotting down the name of an author whose novels help prop up one of the CD-Rs (Jodi Picoult) I set out for the library, eager to find a copy. Perhaps I was a little too eager, because rather than seek out more clues or even look into the possibility that the library in the photo was anything other than the Harold Washington, I just took off running. Even though I came up empty after scoping out the library stacks on a few different levels, I appreciate that Mensa employed this particular method for promoting Innanetape. Sure, he wasn’t the one who actually dropped copies of the CD in the library—he asked fans to do that for him—but it’s still an unusual way to engage with fans on the ground, and I imagine that, like me, anyone who decided to hunt down a CD-R had fun doing it.
The mixtape itself is pretty fun too. At times the atmosphere on Innanetape is so carefree it feels separate from Mensa’s recent experiences, or at least the public perception of his recent experiences. Back in May his band of four-ish years, Kids These Days, called it quits, just a little more than a week after Mensa’s close friend and Save Money member Chance the Rapper dropped his second mixtape, Acid Rap. Chance’s profile has been skyrocketing ever since, which has put significant pressure on Mensa to deliver his own stellar solo project—especially since Mensa’s contribution to Acid Rap cut “Cocoa Butter Kisses” is one of the best guest drops on the mixtape—and establish himself as someone other than “Chance’s pal who raps on that great song” to a wave of new listeners unfamiliar with his history. Mensa has also had to carve out an identity separate from Kids These Days, a seven-piece group that presented themselves as a reflection of their collective vision, which was part of their charm and curse*.
I felt for Mensa in the months leading up to Innanetape. I felt anxiety over the mounting stress to match Chance, and I felt incredulous that national publications would write about Mensa as if he hadn’t done anything other than “Cocoa Butter Kisses.” Mensa must have felt the pressure (he addresses some of his struggles over the years on “That Nigga”), but from the sound of Innanetape he didn’t let it get to him. The dude raps with the ease of the pro that he is (after all, he’s been at it for years), playfully twisting words around as he draws them out and rattling off a barrage of raps with machine-gun speed while somehow letting each syllable smoothly roll off his tongue. Mensa’s got a lively, engaging voice, and it’s fun hearing him juggle words on the sprightly funk of “Magic,” the sweet neo-soul of “Orange Soda,” and the giddy romp that is “Lovely Day.” At its best moments Innanetape is so fun it’ll make you forget about the pressures and problems you’re grappling with—it certainly sounds like Mensa did.
*I say curse because some Kids These Days songs sounded like a messy collision of genres instead of the kind of seamless hybrid pop jams the bands’ members were (and are) capable of delivering.