Vic Mensa is speaking out about the ongoing fight against systematic oppression and the COVID-19 response in the United States.
The acclaimed artist, who just released a new single “Shelter” with fellow Chicagoan Chance The Rapper and Fugees legend Wyclef Jean, told ET Canada the new track was “expressing things on my spirit and my chest.”
The Grammy winner said: “It starts with dissecting the ways we’ve been conditioned through our environment to value ourselves. How can we heal, for real, if we can’t have a clear picture of how to love ourselves; how to love Black women, Black men, Black trans men and women?”
The hard-hitting track, hears Mensa tackle the coronavirus crisis’ disproportionate effects on communities of colour, police brutality, the broken criminal justice system and more. Mensa references the police killings of Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile and Elijah McClain, and continues to advocate for Oklahoma death row inmate Julius Jones.
“Wyclef told me, ‘call 9-1-1,’ but who do you call when the ambulances don’t come? Or watch as the ones sworn by law to protеct us, wrongfully convict us, then call the corrections, nеxt, they bail the banks out when we in recession/
Or hang us in a jail cell so they could swing the election, I walk Chicago streets with potholes that’s deep, and Tahoes creep like T.L.C., hospital workers in scrubs with no P-P-E, but they got money for riot gear, my n***a, we dyin’ here…/”
The “Shelter” video, directed by Andre Muir, who’s worked with stars such as Beyoncé, shows visuals cutting between kids playing in the street to people lying motionless clutching flowers; a symbol of the disproportionate mortality rate due to racism. At the end of the video, Mensa is seen wearing what appears to be a white bullet proof vest surrounded by makeshift graves.
He added: “The flowers on the mouths and the bodies, it was a depiction of COVID-19. The whole COVID-19 experience was a microcosm for the way everything disproportionately impacts Black people and we wanted to express that.”
Mensa, who also co-founded hip-hop collective Savemoney, spoke about his struggle to provide protection to loved ones in a world filled with dangers for the average Black life, which includes police brutality and the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t feel so much peace in Chicago or in America… I feel safest in Africa,” he explained.
It’s not the first time the rapper has dropped a socially and politically charged track. Last year Mensa gave what he described as the “middle finger” to a symbol that represents racism. In the opening of the provocative video for “3 Years Sober”, the track from his rock band 93Punkx, Mensa wore a sequin-covered red dress adorned with the Confederate flag.
Mensa, who’s struggled with anxiety and depression, said after a stint on anti-depressants he turned to meditation to silence negative thoughts, “I wanted to address the mental health issues I was having. I didn’t trust medication because I felt like it would diminish my creativity.”
When asked what he’s still trying to prove to himself, the artist answered, “That I’m enough,” pointing out he has the phrase tattooed on his arm.
The “Down on My Luck” singer cited artists such as Kendrick Lamar and Mos Def as examples of Black Excellence: “Kendrick falls into the pantheon of artists that I’ve always loved. He’s a person capable of expressing and understanding the world on a higher level, with the words, with the pen, with the music.”
Watch the “Passage” short film by Okayplayer and Andrew Morrow (“Lemonade”, “Black is King”, “Homecoming”) below and listen to the EP of guided meditations via Okayplayer on your music streaming service.