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Photo Credit: Michael McKay/The Reel McKay

The budding rap star usurps CMJ week with one of the best performances you didn’t see.


CMJ week is usually the enigma among hip-hop/music festivals, and 2013 has not proved to be the year to break that trend. With other more focused festivals like SXSW, Rock The Bells and Coachella happening in the spring and summer, CMJ finds itself with an extravagant array of indie, mainstream, and flat-out un-heard of artists making up the bulk of their 4th quarter bill. Chances are, all the artists that are going to blow this year have already done so—see: Chance The Rapper, A$AP Ferg & Travi$ Scott—and the juggernauts who have the musical and social clout to make an impact during holiday season, i.e. Eminem, are gearing up for their album campaign.

Yet, Santos Party House found itself playing host to one Vic Mensa last night in New York City, and after the opening sets, most of which were played by rappers expected to hit their peak long before Vic—Kid Daytona, Mr. MFN eXquire—Chicago’s hottest spitkicker took the stage, donning his signature “FREE WI-FI” black snapback, accompanied by the executive producer of his debut project (INNANETTAPE), who manned the keyboard for the night, and his eccentric DJ. A diverse crowd that included middle aged men, 20-something petite women fumbling for loose cigarettes in the chest pocket of their ripped denim jackets and gentlemen in three-piece suits focusing extremely hard on not appearing uncomfortable with the hazy air of one of NYC’s most frequented show venues, seemed to be ready to watch Mensa perform, but not sure what to expect, and even appeared worried shortly before Vic took the stage that his performance wouldn’t live up to their expectations.

They were quite wrong.

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Photo Credit: Michael McKay/The Reel McKay

What was a rocky opening—Mensa tried, almost vainly, to rap every single word of his verses on INNANETTAPE’s intro “Welcome to INNANET”, which didn’t bode well with the impatient crowd—became a superfluous mid-section and a statement conclusion. Fighting through resident feelings of reluctance, Mensa found solace in his bubbling-over, energetic nature, literally skidding from one side of the stage to the other as he screamed out the chorus to his DJ Dahi-produced “Yung Net Save Peso”, by which time any straggling members of the almost-packed house were in full swing with the former frontman of Kids These Days’ set, waving their hands from side to side as the bouncy instrumental played all the way through.

Despite “Orange Soda”, “Hollywood, L.A.” & “Time Is Money” being the most popular cuts from Mensa’s debut release, two of the aforementioned songs weren’t even performed, and “Orange Soda’s” reception was welcoming from the crowd, but not as overwhelming as that of other performances. His remarkably animated-but-controlled antics while performing “Tweakin’”, his INNANETTAPE collaboration with Chance The Rapper may have been the set’s highlight, showcasing Vic’s ability to involve the crowd, but still retain content, reciting most of his two verses verbatim. Even introducing Save Money crooner Kenna—an unannounced performer, who, at first glance, represented the unfamiliarity that usually severely slows down the momentum of a live show—proved to be quite the antithesis of a pothole, as the crowd only became more involved with the genuine emotion exuded from Vic, Kenna, and Cam (who played the keyboard), and Mensa carried their spirits as high as his skyrocketed as the seamless transition to the Outkast-esque “Yap Yap”—quite possibly the most high-octane performance on the mixtape—was made.

For those witnessing Vic Mensa for the first time, one could tell from their expressions that they got what they came for. Even with an absurdly late start time (1:05 a.m.), the energy was high, the electricity levels were raised, and attention was captured for the better part of what became a near 40-minute engagement. With his best friend, and Save Money counterpart Chance The Rapper touring overseas with some of hip-hop’s most reputable and successful acts, those unbeknownst to Mensa’s career track may find him to simply be a carbon copy of Chance, whom he confidently refers to as his brother. However, upon watching him perform, its very clear his hip-hop fingerprint belongs solely to his wildly entertaining INNANET personality. With rock influences, near-perfect sing-song balance and a bevy of flows, cadences, and (of course) bars that could make the purest of purist’s head spin, one thing was certain: with Vic’s camp fully behind him, his energy level at an interestingly high mark and Santos’ staff not charging at the door, NYC all had Save Money in common Wednesday night.

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Photo Credit: Michael McKay/The Reel McKay

As it may be for the foreseeable future.

Words by Khari Nixon (@KingVanGogh)

Photos: Michael McKay (@thereelmckay)