Vic Mensa Credit: Danielle deGrasse-Alston

Chicago rapper Vic Mensa has had a career trajectory unlike many other Chicago artists the past decade. After rising to national prominence in the early 2010s as front man of Kids These Days, he became a solo star, delivering a sharp debut mixtape (2013’s Innanetape) and a career-making hip-house single (2014’s “Down On My Luck”) en route to signing with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label in 2015. Since then, Mensa has bared his soul in a smattering of stylistically scattered EPs, dropped the lucid 2017 studio full-length The Autobiography, and swung for the fences with the 2019 agitprop pop-punk album 93Punx, produced by Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker—a memorable curiosity that feels destined to find a cult audience. Mensa’s recorded output has sometimes lacked the personality and vision he’s so frequently brought to his laser-sharp radio freestyles, but he snapped into focus on the August EP V Tape—and his follow-up, the new I Tape EP (Roc Nation), achieves the narrative nuance and refined clarity he’s been working toward in the autobiographical tracks that fill his back catalog. Better still, Mensa sounds like he’s having fun on the mike: on “Victory,” he complements Just Blaze’s barrel-chested production with rapping that courses with the “anything can happen” energy of his freestyles, making the song’s title feel well earned.   v