I bussed to Chicago this past weekend to visit a high school friend at Northwestern University and to escape the Ann Arbor bubble for a second. We went to a Vic Mensa show in the city Friday night, at some spotless meat shop with an indoor-venue in the back — stage, lights, visuals, second floor gallery; a lot of buttons, heels and man buns. Lux underground, you could call it.

I had not heard of Vic Mensa, but I learned about his recent successes, coming off a feature on Kanye’s recent drop “Wolves” and a European tour that just returned from London and Paris. “That was all cool, but it’s about Chicago,” Mensa said to an eager crowd. It’s unclear how much of this is due to the “Kanye Effect” (hanging out with Kanye and earning his respect brings fame).

There was a good-sized mosh already formed when we arrived – maybe 300 heads. We found some space towards the front right, by the un-dancy VIP section with its table of unopened waters. I liked feeling like a plebeian. A part of me wanted to mosh and completely let go for a night, but I was worried my friend wasn’t as keen, so we danced hard and sober among stiff people, even though I usually say I only can dance when I’m drunk.

Mensa is a natural performer, which also helped, and held the crowd’s attention well. I chanted “Save Money” and “Los Angeles” when he told me to. I jumped up and down when he told me to. I turned my phone into a faux-lighter when he told me to. He did at one point ask the soundboard guy to “turn it up” because “I gotta keep these people moving,” but I still saw a talented kid my age with a few catchy songs, lyrical chops and serious potential. He mixes vocal melodies around his raps and makes you want to dance. There’s a lot to compare with Chance the Rapper, which makes sense considering the two plus a few other dudes make up a Chicago crew called “Save Money.” Think the next Odd Future.

Looking at Mensa, I saw in him the moment I dreamed about when I was younger – traveling the world with a band and fame and all that. Sure I’m a bit envious, but of Mensa, not his band. If he wants to be a Chance-caliber superstar, he needs to either get some actual talent supporting him — not a drummer that can’t even follow a backing track with an electronic kit, and not a guitarist named Juicy Jack whose pick was more often in his mouth than his fingers — or, he needs to embrace what it means to be a solo artist.

Take the low point of the show for example: Juicy Jack mistimed a sound cue at the climax of a new track, and while Mensa tried to save the moment by improving a vocal line, Juicy Jack took his white tee in his teeth and shook his head offstage at some friends in the VIP section. Big-time performers sell their mistakes.

But I believe it’s kind of silly there’s anyone onstage besides Mensa. The guitar and drums were more visual placeholders than anything, since he uses a pretty loud backing track. And the audience didn’t come to see anyone but Mensa in the first place. Why play the music any differently than how you made it? And if you think a band is crucial for a live performance, at least get a good one.

Mensa can write solid verses and has a knack for squeezing syllables into small phrases. He can produce a catchy dance tune and performs like he knows he has it. But his lyrics aren’t on an Earl Sweatshirt or J.Cole level, and he doesn’t have the vocal chops of a Frank Ocean or Childish Gambino. At least not yet.

When the show ended and the mosh-pit unpacked, there were a bunch of shirtless boys, dazed and smiling, dripping sweat. Mensa’s music clearly has power. I just hope the fame doesn’t get to him like it did for Mac Miller.

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