Chicago rapper underlines his versatility on a broad and frequently surprising tape…

Vic Mensa has never been afraid to walk his own path. The Chicago rapper is able to work with arena-filling trap bangers and gospel leaning moments of introversion – hell, he even formed his own punk-rock inspired 93PUNX project.

New release ‘I TAPE’ underlines both his versatility and his ability to surprise – in spite of its slim seven-strong tracklisting, it encompasses a dense array of styles, a process that is both its greatest strength and its ultimate weakness.

The follow up to last year’s ‘V TAPE’ - which featured BJ The Chicago Kid, Snoh Aalegra, and more – the similarly-titled ‘I TAPE’ also leans on Vic’s collaborative nous. His abilities as a curator never falter, with the list of guests moving from Tish and Jeremih through to old guard icons such as Wyclef Jean.

Indeed, it’s the solitary Fugee who adds a soulful touch to new single ‘SHELTER’. A brooding piece of introspection, Vic Mensa’s intelligent lyricism retains its punch, while a guest spot from Chance the Rapper finds the revered rappers going bar for bar.

With the plaintive ‘INTRODUCTION’ and the spoken word ‘KWAKU’, you could be forgiven for pinning ‘I TAPE’ as a work of soul searching. While a quest for meaning litters most aspects of Vic Mensa’s work, this is offset by some bruising moments of stadium ambition – the raw sonic thrust of ‘VICTORY’ for example, finds Vic reaching for the biggest prizes of them all, the sound of the glass ceiling being shattered.

‘MILLIONAIRES’ is a slick piece of autotune rap, with the effects being used to more effectively pluck the heart-strings. ‘FR33DOM’ leans on R&B songwriting, while ‘MOOSA’ finds Vic on pensive form, a singular figure dealing with the aftermath of the party; “Half empty Hennessy bottles and condoms on the carpet…”

Just one aspect of Vic Mensa’s continuing evolutionary arch, Clash would be remiss to judge ‘I TAPE’ without looking at the broader context of his creation. A rapper who is perpetually searching, the scattered but succinct nature of the project offers a glimpse into his process, while offering pointers on his final destination. Replete with fresh highs, ‘I TAPE’ is a vital aspect of Vic Mensa’s experimental process.

7/10

Words: Robin Murray

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