Vic Mensa‘s music career never followed the mainstream, taking all kinds of side roads to success as the 26-year-old creative blazed his own trail. After first breaking out as the wide-eye teenage frontman of the Chicago group Kids These Days, he developed a successful solo career once the group disbanded in 2013, spending the next few years working on music and touring. Mensa dropped hit singles like “Orange Soda” and “Down on My Luck,” followed by his acclaimed mixtape Innanetape and full-length album The Autobiography. Recently, he launched yet another new project: 93Punx, an aggressive rock-rap band with strong political messages delivered in a radio-friendly package.
Mensa’s always been a vocal activist, fighting against racial injustice; his new group’s punk-infused style is a natural tool for expressing these viewpoints. “I think that the ethos of punk is, to me, radical individuality,” he explained to HYPEBEAST. “Being passionate about things that really matter, not being afraid to express yourself outside of conventions, stereotypes. I grew up skateboarding so I’ve always felt like a kindred spirit, it’s informed my whole life, from the politics to the clothes, to the way I carry myself.”
The video for “3 Years Sober,” the Travis Barker-produced single off 93Punx‘s debut project, is a perfect example of how The Autobiography MC uses fashion as a political statement. Its accompanying visual showcases Mensa applying makeup, pulling on a confederate flag dress and tussling with a Mike Pence stand-in over cries of “Three years sober and I’m still hungover!” Directed by Mensa himself and Franc Fernandez, the music video was met with mixed results. However, Mensa is prepared to receive the naysayers.
“Making [“3 Years Sober”], I felt inspired. I felt that I wanted to shock, be extreme, be topical, and all of that was accomplished,” said the former XXL Freshman. “The reactions were mixed from different communities. Like the hip-hop community was upset, people in the rock community have f*ckin’ loved it. It’s polarizing, you know, I rarely do sh*t or hear about myself with much indifference. People either love me or they hate me.”
But does Mensa even care about the mixed reactions? “Yes, I care,” he laughs. “[It] makes me feel misunderstood, but that’s not new. To the people who feel [upset about what I’ve put out], I’d say this: There’s a lot of shit in the world and me wearing a dress shouldn’t be what brings you to outrage.”
Mensa is fascinated by DIY clothing, having put together some one-off items for his own imprint and collaborated with Represent for “Camp America” charity tee. Another emerging punk-affiliated label has proven key to inspiring Mensa’s fashion sense.
“This is a bandana from 99%IS-,” Mensa points out. “I met Bajowoo [99%IS- designer] at H.Lorenzo’s strip club pop-up. I’ve always been a huge fan of his work, very inspiring to me. This T-shirt and leather jacket is from our 93Punx line. We take vintage items and give them a new life; it’s like a resurrection. It’s all done by hand, like this,” Mensa says, gesturing at his arm. “We didn’t know there was a machine for putting studs in jackets, though, so Conrad [Muscarella] had to do everything himself.
“For the rest,” he continues. “I thrifted these camo overalls yesterday and been trying to beat up these Docs for a minute. I’m into the low-key silver jewelry. This girl gave me this barbed wire bracelet, my creative director Franc gave me this red one, these are from The Great Frog. Also, I lost my Rolex not too long ago, but I didn’t really care. See, I have this tattoo on my wrist tellin’ me that I’m enough. When I lost the Rolex I thought it was kinda symbolic, to look at that and know it’s true, that I don’t need some f*ckin’ jewelry or some sh*t.”
As for musical influences, Mensa draws from all eras and styles. “Really, like, my favorite band of all time is The Clash. But, one of my favorite bands that I was listening to while creating this album was Leftöver Crack. … I thought [Leftöver Crack] sounded sonically unique, but when I went back and read the lyrics, it made even sense. … I mean, I used to be this little skate punk when I was a kid so it all came together with where I am now.”
93PUNX‘s eponymous debut album launched today. 93Punx is a fourteen track project executive-produced by Travis Barker, it features contributions from Tom Morello, Good Charlotte, Francis and the Lights, H.R. (Bad Brains), and Loko Wit Da Mask.