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“A poet’s autobiography is his poetry. Anything else is just a footnote.” – Yevgeny Yevtushenko

In a small event space at the Ace Hotel in Chicago, anticipation ripples through a crowd of 50 or so people. The faces, illuminated by red LED lights stationed throughout the space, represent a range of individuals, from youthful and devoted hip-hop fans to veteran music photographers in town for the 12th annual Pitchfork Music Festival. It’s still early in the evening; doors to the event just recently opened and it’ll be an hour or so before Vic Mensa debuts his first full-length album, The Autobiography, to the crowd of eager listeners.

Around the room, there are bookcases housing a unique collection of literary works. Anne Lammott’s “Traveling Mercies” leaning against “The Way of Zen” by Alan Watts. “Twilight,” on the bottom of a shelf, is sandwiched between a Disney chapter book and a New York Times #1 Best Seller. The cover art for The Autobiography is projected on pull-down screens: Vic holding an unidentifiable book on the floor of an unkempt apartment. It’s tracklist, scrawled across an opposite wall, reads like a cryptic piece of poetry at first glance.

When Vic enters the room, a palpable sense of positivity and excitement exudes from the narrow space he occupies behind a DJ table, surrounded by what are presumably his family and close friends. This night is special, Vic regales in his introduction to the album, because Chicago is his hometown. This is the city that made him who he is and inspired the work that’s become his autobiography. Tonight is a celebration of the album, and the life that Vic has lived in order to make it.

Photo by Anna Selle

The album has been in the works for more than a year now, and features collaborations and samples from Pharrell, Weezer, Syd tha Kid, fellow Chicago-native Joey Purp, and a slew of other well-known names. Lyrically, The Autobiography delves into vulnerable places regarding everything from navigating relationships in the 21st century to the political climate to turmoil in Chicago.

Listening to the album, it’s no wonder that the room is filled with fans, friends, and writers. In a few years, after this album has dropped and Vic rockets to unthinkable notability and prestige as an artist, we’ll all recount the details of this night to our friends and acquaintances with a twinge of nostalgia. Vic’s humility and grace as he introduces us to each individual track, the glow of the red lights, the skyline sparkling just outside the window, bearing witness to the culmination of so much creative energy as it sparks to life.  

The Autobiography is out July 28th. In the meantime, stream ‘Wings,’ Vic’s first release from the album.