By: Sharice Bradford

Recently Bronzeville Life had time to chat with Chicago’s own Vic Mensa.  We talked about his relationship with Virgil Abloh, his organization SMSL (formerly Save Money Save Life), his Chicago connection, and what he is working on.  

BL: Tell me what you love about Chicago? 

VM:  Man, I love the unique mixture of artistic history and street culture and authenticity and sheer aesthetic beauty.  Fashion, design, architecture.  Yeah.


BL:  When it comes to Chicago music, in your opinion what makes the Chicago music scene so unique?  What makes Chicago music stand out?

VM:  Chicago has a rich history as being a beacon for much of the most important Black music, which is the most important music to ever impact the world.  Beginning with the Blues and being the center of the Great Migration and kind of playing that role for the cultivation of some of the most important Blues musicians like Buddy Guy.  Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy.  We don’t have anything with the Blues music.  Blues music is the foundation of Rock and Roll, it’s the foundation of Hip Hop, Jazz, and Soul.  With all of the musical contributions it has made, Black Americans the most impactful cultural force on the planet, and many of those origins are in Chicago.  


BL:  June is Black music month, can you share a few Black musicians that have inspired your work and that have inspired you in general?

VM:  Jimi Henricks, Prince, Andre 3000, Nas, Common, Jay-Z, Kanye West, Nina Simone, Lauryn Hill, Jill Scott, Minnie Riperton, Nancy Wilson, Coltrane


BL:  Right after Virgil Abloh passed away, you wrote a tribute to him can you tell me a little about what Virgil meant to you?  

VM: Yeah, Virgil is really important to me because, he has shown me that many of the inspirations I draw upon that may seem at first very different, from graffiti to Rock and Roll to skateboarding to Hip Hop, and Japanese tattoo art, you know all the fly shit, you know Virgil would make it all exist in one space and make it elevated.  And make it high fashion and high-level art.  And that’s been really inspirational to me.  Especially as a Gemini, I can just have a tendency to be so phase-heavy and Virgil has really made me think about having an integrated artistic style.  Letting those different inspirations and influences…letting them coincide and letting them live together.  


BL:  Is there one specific lesson that he taught you that you will carry forever?  

VM:  I think that one, just how to integrate the different sides of my artistic personality and create in that way something that is new and at the same time true to all of those different inspirations.  


BL:  Besides your music what else are you passionate about? 

VM:  I’m passionate about literature, I’m passionate about history, psychology, fine art film, design, graffiti, I’m passionate about cannabis, and I’m passionate about Pan Africanism to name a few. 


BL:  Tell me about your Same Money, Save Life Foundation.

VM:  Yeah you can call it SMSL we are changing the name just to the acronym SMSL.  I started SMSL in 2018  with Lani Keepseagle from the Standing Rock Reservation.  She along with a close collaborator of mine named Burundi were really kind of pushing me to make an organization.  I was already involved in a lot of socially-minded initiatives.  Like when I met Lani at Standing Rock, I had just a bus load of Black poets, activists, and free thinkers in general from Chicago down to Standing Rock, we brought a bunch of necessary supplies, and my friend Kirby Jean Raymond who is the founder of an amazing fashion label called Pierre Moss came down and brought a bunch of things from Reebok I believe, who he was working with at the time.  I was already kind of doing things like that just to connect the dots and stand in solidarity with those in times of need.  In 2018 we founded SMSL.  The first thing that we did was called the anti-bait truck and gave out 15, 000 pairs of shoes.  Shout out to Shawn King, he really made that possible.  Since then we just have done a lot of different programs.  We’ve done something called Street Medics where we have trained and equipped a lot of first responders in the most violent neighborhoods in the city. And you know a lot of mutual aid during the pandemic, delivering hundreds of thousands of pounds of groceries just different creative solutions or strategies to address any problems that are faced in the city.  


BL:  I hear you have new music on the horizon, do you want to talk about that a little bit, when it will be released, and what your fans can expect?  

VM:  I’m just finishing my album right now.  It’s like 95% done, just adding some features and some more mixing things.  It’s like my first full-length project in probably like five years or something like that.  So, I’m really excited about it.  I haven’t put out any release dates yet, but it will be this year definitely, it is pretty much done.  I won’t be performing much until the album is released but you can follow me on Instagram to receive all the updates.  


BL:  You’ve been involved with Bud Billiken on multiple occasions, what is your connection and dedication to Bud Billiken?

VM:  Bud Billiken is just a legendary and necessary institution for our city.  Its representative of our beauty and pride but is not always the narrative presented about Chicago.  93 years strong is just something to be really proud of.  History in conjunction with the Chicago Defender and the current movement of Bronzeville Life, I think we just really, really need, we need the Bud Billiken parade and really we need the history to be understood and told. Because we are working against pretty serious detractors, of Chicago’s beauty and every day in the news somebody’s trying to use Chicago as a scapegoat, and the people in Chicago, the Black people in Chicago as some type of super predator monsters.  And the Bud Billiken parade is just something that shows the depth of our humanity and our joy and it’s just a necessary story.  Especially in this day and age.