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South Side with Vic Mensa – This is UGG

Vic Mensa for Foot Action

If there’s any doubt as to where Vic Mensa comes from, just look to the SOUTHSIDE tattoo proudly emblazoned across his neck. “I think that I learned how to navigate the world from Chicago,” he reflects. The rapper has formed an identity firmly embedded in his hometown and a neighborhood that impressively boasts both unparalleled diversity and segregation. “It kept me very grounded in reality.”

Vic Mensa in the Roskoe

This reality could have easily eluded Mensa on his rapid ascension to stardom. After appearing on Kanye West’s track “Wolves” just two years ago, Mensa was quickly signed to Jay Z’s record label, Roc Nation. Soon after he appeared in Nicki Minaj’s and Beyoncé’s “Feeling Myself” video. Mensa continued working with West, even earning a Grammy nomination for co-writing the single “All Day.”

Vic Mensa in the Neumel

Although he’s yet to release his debut album, Mensa has earned a place among today’s greatest hip-hop artists, but despite a blindingly bright future, he always keeps at least one eye on his past. “I get the most of my inspiration from the situations of people where I’m from,” he explains. “The man pushing a shopping cart down 47th Street, mumbling to himself all day. That was always just riveting to me and made me think about why he is that way.”

Vic Mensa in Neumel Velvet

Mensa’s recent work emerges from this question of why and makes it clear that he has found his voice where the personal and political converge. He has been a vocal participant in shifting the national conversation toward more progressive issues. In his most recent single, “16 Shots” (which refers to the number of times 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot by a Chicago police officer) Mensa finds harmony between art and activism, delineating a clear evolution from his earlier tracks, such as “Down on My Luck,” which undresses the glamour associated with the Hollywood lifestyle.

Vic Mensa in the Butte

As Mensa’s personal life, art, and activism have bled into each other, he has successfully broadened the scope of hip hop, especially as the championing member of his collective SaveMoney, which supports Chicago-based students, entrepreneurs, and artists. Even his fashion choices have artistic and political consequence. “I just think that there are so many opportunities with the clothes you put on your body to give out your ideas. I feel like I’m translating an idea when I put [things] on.” Of starring in our new campaign in collaboration with Foot Action, Mensa asserts, “I like where they’re going with the brand…taking new perspectives on. It’s dope when people are open minded and willing to see possibility.” That’s probably because no one would have recognized the potential of a South Side kid tagging trains and riding from one end of the city to the other. But here he is, now making a mark on the world with his voice instead of spray paint. “It’s fun to be grown up and still doing the same thing,” Mensa says, possibility coating his every word.

Vic Mensa: Artist and Activist

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Photos by Jake Osmun.