Vic Mensa’s most recent release There’s Alot Going On, an EP, fires at American society without remorse, except on “New Bae” wherein he celebrates his ability, ingenuity even, at meeting a new bae, his “spirit,” on a Papi Beatz instrumental.
I poured a drink, let’s get twisted, get twisted some more
Yeah, better be good to me, baby
Girl, you better be good to me
I see your eyes when you look at me I see your soul
I see your soul, you better be good to me, girl
If you listen to Mensa’s Hip Hop closely, you come to realize that though it does not address our society’s political economy, the fact that labor is getting short changed for example, or that education, all important in a secular society, has become decadent in many of this country’s sub-polities, the most important issues, it is seriously political thanks to protest in a song like “16 Shots.” His EP, however, could not spark a revolution, what he claims to want in “Letter to the People,” with “All rise and face the defendant in the mirror; we’re going to need all the help we can get if we’re gonna make things right, cause’ There’s Alot Going On.”
Why can’t it? It’s fine that Mensa’s music does not present a solution or address our crisis in any intellectual way because it speaks to sensibilities that contradictions of our society produces. However, the narrator of this political EP is also decadent according to this society, not wholly invested in issues of feminism enough to find a song like “New Bae” hurtful, and not conscious enough of how alcohol hurts Americans in “Liquor Locker,” in short a “decadent spirit,” by 21st century social liberalism standards. For example, it would be impossible for this music to become the music of a major contemporary political effort, wherein feminist women play a major role, and posteriori obliges us to address drug and alcohol abuse.
Late night calls
Feelin’ slightly faded
Free alcohol at the club
That shit’s overrated
Call up Liquor Locker (brrt brrt!)
Bring me apple vodka
Shawty yeah, yeah, yeah
You know that I could do you proper
Pour you a drink, would you please
Stop fussin’ with your Samsung?
I call your bluff, why you playing?
I ain’t that nigga to play games on
Neo-marxist philosopher Louis Althusser wrote a defining essay on revolution, “Contradiction and Overdetermination.” In the essay, he explores how it is what leads to, and has lead to, revolution.
If this contradiction is to become ‘active’ in the strongest sense, to become a ruptural principle, there must be an accumulation of ‘circumstances’ and ‘currents’ so that whatever their origin and sense (and many of them will necessarily be paradoxically foreign to the revolution in origin and sense, or even its ‘direct opponents’), they ‘fuse’ into a ruptural unity: when they produce the result of the immense majority of the popular masses grouped in an assault on a regime which its ruling classes are unable to defend. Such a situation presupposes not only the ‘fusion’ of the two basic conditions into a ‘single national crisis ‘, but each condition considered (abstractly) by itself presupposes the ‘fusion’ of an ‘accumulation’ of contradictions. How else could the class-divided popular masses (proletarians, peasants, petty bourgeois) throw themselves together, consciously or unconsciously, into a general assault on the existing regime?
- Louis Althusser
In his essay, Althusser argues brilliantly that for a society’s contradictions, inequality between the rich and the poor being one, to become a reason for rupture with the current regime, a certain accumulation of absurdity must happen, a surplus that drives the humans to band together and take down this regime.
Mensa gets contradiction: that the US government, the state of the wealthiest society in the world, treats some of its citizens, and contributing “non-citizens,” like crap, or shit to be precise. Mensa also gets that accumulation leads to rupture. He states it loudly and clearly, as if to force rupture. Vic Mensa’s EP’s title says it all: there is a lot going on – his title identifies the regime, “alot.” A lot is a pretty blunt way of stating that there’s an accumulation of things going on, this and that, and that it’s both the reason for the killings of young blacks at the hands of criminal police activity and the killing in itself.
Color of morning pee coming out of the sink
It’s 2016, who would think
Kids in America don’t have clean water to drink?
Like they cut the EBT, took ’em off of the link
I read a story about a woman with her daughter in Flint
She got lead poisoning from showers in the morning
When the governor switched out the pipes to bring the water in
To the city river cause he said they can’t afford to get clean water
So now the poor people get the shorter end
Of the stick, ain’t that some bullshit?
Shorty thirsty, he just bought his fourth fifth
It’s lead in the water gun, he dying from a full clip
Now you’ve got toddlers drinking toxic waste
While the people responsible still ain’t caught no case
I don’t get it man, I just ain’t wit it man
They got Damn Daniel distracting you on Instagram
Back again with the all-white media coverage
They do it over and over like remedial subjects
The people with the least always gotta pay the most
We the first to go when they deleting them budgets
Can a nigga get his basic human rights?
Mensa gets his place in the possibility of a revolution wrong. Let’s first say that with or without a revolution, Vic Mensa is a wealthy and famous young man. With or without a revolution, he has “survived in America.” In his essay, Althusser also brings up a pretty interesting idea: over determination. Althusser considers the institutions in a society, laws, literature, political parties, all “determinations.” Then there is the over determination, or an amount of thoughts associated with an image, that leads to riot, agitation, rupture (revolution.) To Althusser, with over determination there is a certain condensation of psychic energy transmitted from one being to the other. When listening to Mensa’s instrumentals, made by producers like Papa Beatz, we hear what passes for that over determination, but is really, in the end, strategy for commercialization. Add that to Mensa’s narrator who drinks, has reckless sex, and protest: we get an attempt at popularity, and not at agitation. Finally, we get music that will be foreign to any sort of consensus between organizers and members of any sort of party working towards rupture, and music that is fated to be music for sensory tourism.
Hip Hop music is often categorized as revolutionary only because it protests. It isn’t always the case. Revolution, or rupture, is achieved with tremendous work. Mensa’s music is historical but not revolutionary, it is an attempt at harvest: harvesting an image, harvesting a world, and finally harvesting one’s wealth.