Three years removed from his breakout mixtape Innanetape, Vic Mensa makes an impassioned and shamelessly personal return with his newest EP There’s Alot Going On.
Filling the space between projects, Vic brought us a slew of singles hinting at both his maturation and emotional turmoil. House infused single “Down On My Luck,” which came out only a year after his tape, marked a clear branching away from the sunny days and playful, springtime bars of Innanetape. Follow that up with the more biting “U Mad” that he laid down with Kanye, and it’s undeniable that something has been brewing inside of Vic. While the singles are little offshoots of steam, There’s Alot Going On is nothing short of an explosion.
Operating as a solid intro track, “Dynasty” doesn’t give up too much of the EP’s narrative, but instead establishes a theme of being overwhelmed by, and wrestling with, the past. Be it the violence on the South Side of Chicago, or his trouble with addiction and depression, this initial crash course on Vic’s past is a haunting vignette of the last three years. The song is concentrated on building and maintaining this almost tortured mood throughout the beat with the layered wailing instrumentals. However, it is really the outro of the song that brings us in from the abstract mentions of what’s been “going on,” and firmly plants us in the concrete: police brutality.
Ushered in by sound bytes of protesters chanting for self-preservation, resistance, justice, and finally “16 shots,” the song “16 Shots” in part details the chilling reality of Laquan McDonald’s brutal murder. Vic suits up this track with charged and violent language. Images of cannons, trauma, war, and murder practically choke the first verse. There’s no breathing room on this track, simulating the way police violence is choking an entire community. Moreover, the way Vic’s personal demons are suffocating him. The hook plays on the haunting elements of the previous track while building another mood of the EP: outbursts of entirely justified rage. Once again, it’s the outro of the song that really cements the overall sinister tone as McDonald’s lawyer’s statement eclipses the track.
Vic also takes the EP as an opportunity to show that he fully understands how to develop a thoughtful tracklist. Following the first two heavy hitting tracks is a rowdy and accessible banger, “Danger,” which manages to settle the emotions of the EP while also keeping up with the overall narrative.Vic is still touching on street violence, but an emotionally subdued and high octane hook, keeps the song from bogging down the EP with too much tension too close together.
The break continues with the part melodic trap ballad, part sexually freeing “New Bae.” While the hook attempts to stay true to the discussion of Vic’s addictive tendencies and references his troubled relationship with ex-girlfriend Natalie, the song deviates from the established themes of the project. This deviation brings us a new side of Vic, and while growth and expansion into other topics is appreciated, the song feels too far gone for the EP. Being that the project is shorter than a full-length album, coming in at only seven tracks, any offshoots from the main mood come across as extra jarring. Though a catchy house party song on its own, “New Bae” is missing the vein of blunt honesty that runs through the other tracks, and ends up feeling like it doesn’t entirely fit in the scope of the project.
On the other hand, the immediately following “Liquor Locker” is a better example of lacing in experimental tracks into a very focused project. Similar to “New Bae” in topic, the song also lacks any allusions to a greater theme, but is instead supplanted by an intoxicating guitar riff and Vic’s emotive singing. What the lyrics lack in hard-hitting honesty, the melody of the song nearly fills in. We’re left with an outline of an emotion that I can’t quite place, but am still drawn to feel alongside Vic during the song. Thus, the song ends up standing in as a final exhale before Vic dives into another politically aware song, and finally, into his most pained and personal title track.
“Shades of Blue” works to bring us back into the more chaotic mindstate of the project with its somber piano. Vic uses this song to speak on the Flint water crisis but more than that, he uses the song to display a level of desperation over the widespread “all-white media coverage.” His voice over the first verse carries a sense of resignation or exhaustion, just so tired of the racial inequality “over and over again like remedial subjects.” Though the mood of the song is morose, Vic takes to the hook to remind the people that they still have the power to bring change to their situation despite all the opposition. That bit on the hook quickly becomes the theme on the second verse, as Vic acknowledges his own power to rouse a community that may be feeling dejected. A power that Vic capitalizes on by giving the EP away for free in exchange for fans pledging to vote in the upcoming elections. The repetitive nature of the hook also mirrors the sentiment of an endless fight in the second verse: “it ain’t enough for cops to wear body cams.” At the same time, Vic isn’t ashamed to admit that even he “has room for improvement,” and it’s that awareness and humility that imbues the song with the same honesty as the earlier tracks, without it being backed by a raging beat.
And so we arrive at the final and title track “There’s Alot Going On,” which is an appropriate name for a track that acts as a type of cleansing exercise for Vic. This track is one long, vulnerable, candid, and all together striking verse coupled with a more subdued and simple beat, so as to not distract us from the meat of the song. Vic spits out bar after bar, as if he’s about to lose control. Listening closely, you can hear him gasping between lines, drudging up the same choking sensation as heard on “16 Shots.” The overwhelming past of the intro track is growing and strangling Vic; this song is his ultimate chance to escape that torment and move forward into a new chapter of his life. As such, Vic spares very few details as he sums up all the demons he’s had pent up for the past three years.
Vic paints a grim picture of his drug habits and his toxic, now turned violent, relationship with longtime girlfriend Natalie. Admitting the Adderall addiction and to laying hands on Natalie carries on that same stark awareness and humility from the earlier song, and amplifies it. Not proud of his altercation with Natalie, Vic still tells the story as if he is shamelessly flawed; and as such, shamelessly human. These sentiments then get compounded and resurface as Vic shedding light on his battle with a deep depression and medication. His willingness to bare all, get as personal and as vulnerable as he’s ever gotten, is really what makes this track his best work yet.
As the verse winds down and Vic makes another allusion to contemplating suicide, he ends the track by detaching himself from all the wrongs he wrote into the track. He closes out the track and the EP by welcoming us to his season, as if to say this EP has just been a therapy session for him, and he’s now ready to deliver the debut album we’ve all been waiting for.
In the past three turbulent years, Vic’s storytelling has become punchy, powerful, and appropriately murky. His ability to for the most part capture, establish, and sustain mood speaks to how much he has matured. Vic has always had the wordplay, the flow, the cadence, and the ear for beats, but this project is a true display of all of those components coming together cohesively. There’s Alot Going On gives us the fullest picture of Vic Mensa to date, but if the project is any indication of what’s the come, this picture is only going to get fuller.