Published Aug 18, 2015When listeners thought they had the musical mind of Vic Mensa all figured out following the success of 2013's Innanetape, they were forced to reassess their conclusions about his work the following year. Straying from the jazzier influences that dominated his acclaimed mixtape, Mensa took steps into exploring house and garage music while also becoming more lyrically assertive. This year, signing a record deal with Roc Nation and working with the likes of Kanye West and Skrillex have only kept his followers guessing as to what his major label debut, Traffic, will be like. Anticipating the record's arrival, those that packed the Hoxton were eager to get a good look at the young Chicago emcee's push towards widespread mainstream recognition.
Mensa's unpredictable nature ended up being somewhat of a detriment on Monday evening (August 18). Though he was set to take the stage later on, the opening tandem of Houston's Cory Jreamz and Toronto's Nightizm were nowhere to be found come their respective set times. A lengthy mix of hip-hop hits was enough to keep the crowd appeased, though many had grown weary of the wait by the time Mensa's SaveMoney crewmate Towkio started his set an hour later than scheduled. Still, he gave them something to cheer about, showing off a few of the more energetic cuts from his recent .WAV Theory project while spraying the onlookers with water bottles to liven things up.
Arriving on stage around 11 p.m., Mensa had the crowd hanging on his every word as he opened his set with 2014 singles "Feel That" and "Wimme Nah," followed by his feature spot on Chance the Rapper's "Cocoa Butter Kisses." Not missing a word in his delivery as he bounced from side to side onstage, the heat in the small nightclub began to get the better of him as the crowd waved their arms side to side for "Orange Soda," the only call back to Innanetape all evening. An inability to turn on some fitting orange stage lighting prompted a few concerned looks back to the sound booth before he worked his way through the track's first verse in a slower fashion than usual, though it was in his best interest to save energy for the following one-two punch of his latest releases, "I Been" and "No Chill."
Mensa was joined onstage by two bandmates, both of whom were armed with laptops in addition to a guitar, bass and electric drum pad. For the majority of the set, the occasional inclusion of live instrumentation remained a non-factor, with the bass guitar either drowned out by the blaring beats or the uninspired six-string work detracting more from the performance than it was contributing. It was at its worst during Mensa's emotional reinterpretation of Future's "Codeine Crazy," in which his softer vocals were no match for the overpowering volume of the guitarist's plodding two-note accompaniment. With "Down On my Luck," the inclusion of some crunchy chords promptly snuffed out the airy atmosphere of the song's pre-bridge section, while Mensa left most of the heavy lifting vocal-wise to the backing track.
Sensing the need for one final burst of energy after entrancing the room with a quick look at Kanye West's "Wolves," Mensa divided the crowd in two before seeing which side could go crazier when the menacing instrumental for "U Mad" was played. "When this beat drops, nobody is safe!" he yelled into the mic before launching himself from the stage to crowd-surf. With the way the floor trembled under the weight of the uproarious crowd, he certainly wasn't wrong.