Cover Story – PAUSE Meets: Vic Mensa


Vic Mensa

Talks fashion, wellness and future.

Photographer: Ollie Ali // @mrollieali
Stylist & Interviewer: Rhys Marcus Jay // @rhysmarcusjay
Grooming: Dan Perri // @danperrihair
Project Manager: Johnson Gold // @johnson_gold

in time all of the peace will start coming together… people will get it. They won’t only see the controversy. I feel strongly that in five years, it will make a lot more sense.

A state of stillness and flow, contradictory, but that’s the life we live—one of duality, highs and lows, light and darkness, shallow and deep.

The roots tugged on today were Victor Kwesi Mensah’s, Mensah meaning “the third born son”, mostly known as Vic Mensa. Chicago raised but Ghanian through and through. Mensa winds us into the tape that is his state of being at this current time, which to us can be described as “characterised by the absence of fear” much like how Mensa describes Chi-town.

Like an eclipse Mensa doesn’t allow unwanted light to disrupt his channel, what he shares with PAUSE is his symbiosis of being Ghanian as well as from Chicago but also a Black Man that is a beacon of light when it comes to wellness, creativity, style and flow.

PAUSE took a moment to discuss the transitional period between Mensa’s early tapes as well as an appearance from then to now, along with how fashion and culture differed from then to now.

You came to set as fresh as ever today, I didn’t expect anything less to be honest. What keeps you flowing with divine energy?

Gratitude, it’s gratitude. I meditate constantly and I’m in an ever-revolving process of returning to a state of gratitude. I just make a conscious effort to recognise every blessing, appreciate every collaborator, every supporter. I had a great time on the shoot, and I really just feel grateful to all of y’all for putting that together. That’s how I stay divine, just through connection to God and gratitude.

You’re really into meditating, right? Yoga too?

I’m a little light on the yoga, man! I’m about to get on the yoga though because I’m starting to understand that internal strength is as important, maybe even more important, than external strength. I don’t think that’s any different for your body. A few years back I got into the gym real heavy and I got real buff, but I know I haven’t done the work on my internal core strength and that’s what you need to not injure yourself. So, the same philosophy that I’ve applied to my mind… I do as much exercise on my mind that I do with my body. So, I need to do that with my body as well, so I’m going to get on the yoga. Might catch me on a mountain in Tibet!

Blazer: Tokyo James Trousers: Catherine Hudson Jewellery: Artists Own

On a little retreat? (laughs)

I did like a silent meditation retreat not too long ago, it was dope.

Oh really? How’d that go?

It was in the mountains of North Carolina; it was really dope. I think about the things that I learned on a daily basis, and you really notice things about yourself when you spend a few days in silence. I noticed the mad external manifestations of my anxiety, you know… biting my nails, eating fast. I’ve had a lifelong journey with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, that’s what brings me to this place. So, doing that retreat in many ways kicked off my sobriety, and honestly, I’ve been sober ever since.

How long ago was the retreat?

It was in August.

That kind of brings us to that next question. How do you maintain a state of “peace” in an industry that’s full of ruckuses and occasions that happen at light speed?

When I was thinking of a rap lyric yesterday… “Black death is bubonic the way we plagued by violence, the rap game is the matrix, I’m tryna escape”. The rap game is the matrix! This industry is smoke and mirrors, it’s a false reality driven by social media and unrealistic appearances of wealth, beauty, and money, and inflated numbers, you know? It’s the matrix. So, as I said in that bar, I try to find my personal Zia and remain motivated by the things that matter to me. The things that are most important to me, which aren’t always in alignment with the music industry or the rap game.

I know what you mean. Even stepping aside from the music industry, does going back home, to Ghana, help to recenter you and also help you recharge before heading back home? If so, how?

Being in Ghana is so beautiful because it’s an overwhelmingly beautiful place. Chicago is a very violent and tumultuous place, as is America as a whole. In many ways, America and Chicago are characterised by a pervasive sense of fear. You can just look at the news… “Woman, mother of two killed”, “Republicans storm Capital”, “Democrats march through…”, you know what I mean? Everything is fear and everybody is afraid of each other. Ghana is, to me, very characterised by the absence of fear. Everybody doesn’t fear each other. Coming from a place where that cloud of fear colours every interaction, every day, every movement. To be in Ghana is this beautiful weight lifted off of your shoulders, it’s just like healing for the spirit. I just love to spend time there and I’m really realising the things I’m building in Africa; I see them as being the next decade for me. I think that one of my purposes in life is to be a link between the diaspora in America and the continent (Africa), because I am both. I’m Black American and I’m African, I’m that way… I’m Ashanti! I’m Ghanaian. I exist in that space, and there are quite a few of us, but there’s an ocean of divide. I’ve really shifted focus, creative structures, and programs, to build that bridge.

Truly. The essence of “Chi-Town”, Chicago, must be running through your veins, but let us know how that intertwines with your heritage as a Ghanaian Man.

In many ways, my identity as a Black man from the south side of Chicago, and as Ghanaian and Ashanti, they complement each other. Being raised In Chicago gives you a very realistic understanding of America and it’s also like being raised with wolves in a lot of ways. That can educate you as well as miseducate you, so there are things that I’ve got to unlearn but there’s also things that I know, ways that I know how to move through the world. It’s doubtful that a motherf*cker is going to take a match with me or get over on me. But I’ve also been able to unlearn other things so I’m peaceful enough that everything isn’t going to send me kicking your door in, sh*t like that. Chicago also has this brilliantly rich history of revolutionary action, from chairman Fred Hampton, down to my man Fred Hampton Jr., Oscar Brown Jr., the Black P. Stones and Jeff Fort. The history of Larry Hoover and the Gangster Disciples. There are so many sides of Chicago’s Black experience and such a wealth of revolutionary action, and also music. I’m hugely inspired by the music of Chicago, people like Kanye, Common, and Lupe. There’s no way I’d do what I do without those three guys, like those three individuals are representative of a lot of what I learned from Chicago musically, and they come from the lineage of the Blues musicians… Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, and even ‘Earth, Wind, and Fire’. So, you have all that and within my Ghanaian lineage, Ghana is also the first sub-Saharan African country to achieve independence. You have Kwame Nkrumah, a pan-African shining light, and my idols like Malcolm X, and others, going to Ghana to go and demonstrate with Kwame Nkrumah. Maya Angelou was in Ghana. So, many of my influences intersect between my Chicago and my Ghanaian ancestry.

How do the two cultures breathe through you in day-to-day life?

More and more, I’ve been remembering to honour and acknowledge my connection to my ancestors. That’s one way that I’ve implemented it into my life, constantly staying in communication with my grandmother, and my grandfather- who I never even met. And my warrior ancestors, his name was ‘Brafonama’, he was the most famous guy in my family tree. I’ve come to see my existence in recent times as being the justification for the oppression of my ancestors… I recognised that they went through so much, through colonisation, oppression, and domination. We’re so strong, for me to be able to have the ability to soar to the heights that I can. For you to be able to have the ability to do the things that you do, there are so many people that had to endure pain and suffering. Just imagine. I remind myself on a daily basis to be in that state of gratitude, recognition, and imagination. They suffered so that I could soar, so that you could soar. So, I stay in touch in that way, and also like I said I’m building structures to connect the land over here to the land over there. That’s in my daily regiment, my daily existence… as far as like, how being from Chicago manifests itself in my daily existence, I’m wildly inspired by Chicago. Most of what I write and many of my perspectives are very informed by Chicago. I literally ride around the south side, where I’m at right now and where I live, and write my songs, riding around the hood.

Jay-Z has referred to you as a “One Time artist”, having said that, your name sounds very impactful: Victor Kwesi Mensah. Tape together what each name means to you personally.

Well, they named me Victor in reference to the ancestor I spoke of- ‘Brafonama’. He fought the British many generations ago, so he was a very respected warrior. Kwesi means ‘born on Sunday’. Mensah is my father’s last name and it means ‘the third born son’. So, Mensa is really the way people know that I’m Ghanaian most of the time, because like a third of Ghanaians are named Mensa! (laughs) We all have the same names though! There’s hella Kwesis, Kwakus, Kofi’s, Appiahs, Akua’s! I’m blessed man, I love my name. I altered it a little bit, but in my culture, it’s like, my dad he has a different last name than all of his brothers and sisters anyway.

We noticed that you’re the founder of SavemoneySavelife foundation, what would you say your mission statement or purpose is?

To bring truth to the people. I had a ceremony with Ayahuasca some years ago, and I got clear idea that my purpose is to bring truth to the people.

And what would you define as being ‘the truth’?

Love. That’s the truth, hate is a lie. Being hateful is a figment of the imagination. Love is the truth.

I love that because love can only be pure. “Feel That” was the joint that caught my attention haha, but for the masses INNANETAPE was your first solo debut tape, right? Explain the influence fashion and culture had on you from then to now, as well as how it differs.

Around that time was right before I started to do the rock and roll thing, and when I was doing that, I was actually very inspired by The Clash, The Sex Boutique, Malcolm McLaren, and Vivienne Westwood… all that London sh*t. That was my primary inspiration. Shortly after the “Feel That”/INNANETAPE time, I was inspired by free clothes! (laughs). They’d send you HUF, and Crooks & Castles… I was just inspired by getting free clothes at that time, I’m not going to lie. Probably the beginning of my fashion thing was streetwear and sneakerhead sh*t… that’s where I started. And skateboarding! Skateboarding has always been a primary inspiration for me as far as style.

Your style to me has always been expressed as having seasonings of a Rockstar marinated with the essence an heir to the throne has, but with a distressed edging, am I right?

Yeah! I love Prince, man. Prince is definitely a primary inspiration to me, musically, terms of style, and energy. I even have done TV shows where I’m acting as Prince. I love Prince. I was actually into rock n’ roll before I was ever into rap music. I started off by skateboarding, then I was doing graffiti. Rap came later. The rock n’ roll thing was always just in my DNA. I really started to infuse it with my music and my style a while back, now I feel like it’s everything… so many are influenced by that style. When I was doing it before, I was ahead of that current curb.

Sunglasses: Bottega Veneta Shirt: Rick Owens Trousers: Dunhill Boots: Rick Owens

Which brands are in your wardrobe?

Shout out to my Ghanaian homies, Free The Youth and Daily Paper. Pyer Moss, Balenciaga, Rick Owens… I don’t know I’ve been wearing these big old boots, these new rock boots.

Those are fire! Where are they from?

I think I bought them in LA. I was wearing those a few years ago when I was super punked out. I just realised they were the perfect boot.

Was that the phase where you used to have your dreads?

I had dreads yeah! I got these boots, these specific boots. I got them and painted them when I was on tour with Jay-Z in like 2018. I had this custom red leather suit that might’ve been from Pyer Moss, and I would wear these boots with that. So that was my everyday school look outfit. Now I have an everyday winter outfit that’s like these gigantic Balenciaga pants with these boots, I’m just kind of wearing the same thing every day right now.

Are you someone who’s loyal to a brand or a certain aesthetic/silhouette?

Nah… right now, I’ve just been liking everything baggy, everything baggy. That’s more so what I’m feeling now. I used to wear the skinniest f*cking pants all the time, I can’t imagine how I did it all the time… I did it so much that I convinced myself that I was comfortable (laughs)

I did it too!

Got to stop giving a f*ck! I was never going to be comfortable in those little ass jeans!

That’s the flex!


Does that creep into other habits, say always aiming to achieve a particular sound when recording a project?

Yeah… I get into a wave in making music in that space. I’ve been making a lot of beats… I’ve been producing for a long time but recently I’ve started making a lot of beats. I’m sampling a lot of Highlife music, like African music from the ‘60s and ‘70s. And I’m always sampling soul music… I’ve kind of got angles and avenues that I stick to.

How are you going about getting samples? Say, the African music from way back when?

Just looking for ill sh*t on the internet man! When I was in Ghana I’m always listening and Shazamming things… asking people “What’s that?”. When I hear something at a restaurant I’ll go and ask the people at the bar “What was that song?” … Just to keep my ears open.

That’s beautiful. Speaking of projects also, how’s your clothing brand going?

I was doing clothing, but I’m not doing that particular project anymore. I started designing some new stuff that kind of picks me up and relates to what I was doing with that… but it’s kind of a different angle with some different inspiration. When I was doing the clothes, when I was doing the jackets… it’s called 93PUNX. A lot of that punk rock aesthetic and surrounding artwork and music is founded in negativity. Even with a song I love, Nirvana ‘Negative Creep’, is the name of the song. I’d be making clothes that say ‘Alone’, just a bunch of sad and negative things because that’s just kind of the style. Even with a t-shirt I just bought I still wear, It’s ‘Suicidal Tendencies’, an ill-ass hardcore band from Cali. More recently I’ve learned and realised that the words that we say, words that we wear, that we listen to… they have immense power. I don’t like to make things that are about death, suicide, negativity, sadness… sh*t like that. I just don’t like to do that sh*t anymore because I know better now.

Is it almost a thing where what you speak about is what you bring about, and spreading that message… it can deviate from the plan that you’ve got for yourself?

100%. You bring those things upon yourself when you focus on them, especially swearing those words on your body. I knew these things in theory, but I didn’t understand them. There are tests that they do where they either write negative words or they write positive words on a glass of water, and they put it in the freezer. When love is written on it, the crystals come out beautifully, it’s symmetrical. But when hate is written on it, everything is in disarray. Writing on growing plants actually impacts the way that the plants grow… and I’m constantly growing! So, how does it make sense for me to be walking around wearing clothes that are all about self-destruction and negativity? That’s obviously going to be impacting my growth. I don’t do it no more. I’m going to get back into making clothes, but I’m coming from a different angle.

Is it going to be under the same brand name? Or is that something you plan on changing?

Yeah, I’m thinking about changing it. I’m working on another one. Right now, it’s just designs… I don’t know what to call it yet or how I’m going to make it, but I’ve just got some cool ideas.

What do the next 5 years look like for you holistically, professionally and philanthropy-wise?

I got a lot of plans. I’m releasing a project right now, a music project, and I’m working on a collaborative project. I’m working on my next album… also, a tape that I’m looking to release in the next few weeks. Some short things. And, you know, I’ve got a bunch of film projects that I’m working on. Structures that we’re building in Africa… a heavy focus on that. A lot of sh*t is going on, I feel like it will make sense to people in five years. Right now, I understand negative things get publicity, so if I help to release somebody from prison twelve years early, that’s not going to be on The Shade Room, on the news in Germany… but if I catch a case for some microdose mushrooms that I’m using as medicine to get off of antidepressants, that’s just going to be on every news outlet. But I know that God knows my intentions and my movements, and in time all of the peace will start coming together… people will get it. They won’t only see the controversy. I feel strongly that in five years, it will make a lot more sense.

Full Look: Samuel Slattery Boots: Prada Jewellery: Artists Own

Just to close it, there’s no way I can’t speak on mental health, especially from a black man. So, walking in the boots that you’re in, how does that look for you? And what would you like Black men to do differently in how they deal with their mental health?

I’d love to see more Black men in therapy. Therapy has been super beneficial for me, and traditionally Black men have been discouraged from seeking mental health treatment for fear of being labelled as crazy, which is a stigma that has been used to discredit and control us. In the modern age, it’s important and necessary for us as the victims of so much trauma to accept and to use mental health care.

That’s beautiful. What words would you leave with those who wish to seek therapy?

Just go for it, man! People are often afraid of letting somebody in or being considered to have a problem. Honestly, it’s just an objective opinion that’s only purpose is to help you grow, so I’m a big supporter of therapy.

Trousers: Dunhill Jewellery: Artists Own

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