The Chicago rapper, activist, and Savemoney founder used to drape himself in black leather and rap about self-medicating to ward off his demons, but these days, VIC MENSA’s more of a “wake up at sunrise and read the Qur’an” kind of guy. That’s the mood on Victor, the long-awaited follow-up to his 2017 studio debut: a portrait of the artist at 30, two years sober, and celebrating a personal rebirth. An outspoken protester of police brutality and the Dakota Access Pipeline, MENSA’s never shied from speaking truth to power. Now he’s ready to get real about his own radical change. On Victor, MENSA’s letting go of what doesn’t serve him (strip clubs and Newports, to name a few) and appreciating the simple pleasures of existence. The lush Thundercat collab “STRAWBERRY LOUIS VUITTON” has him cruising with the top down, whispering references to early-2000s R&B in his partner’s ear. But growth can be bittersweet, too: On “Blue Eyes,” he admits to resenting his Blackness as a child as he raps, “Internalized self-hatred with racism in society is as American as apple pies.” He’s joined by Common on the soulful “$outhside Story” to recall summer nights punctuated by fireworks and gunshots, back when a young Victor would ride the Green Line and imagine his face on the billboards he’d pass—like the ones young Chicagoans can see MENSA on today.

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