You may have read Yardain Amron’s piece in The Michigan Daily on Wednesday titled “Who’s Vic Mensa? You’ll know soon”. In it, Amron reviews a secret show of Mensa’s he caught in Chicago and also declares that Mensa’s work in recent months has finally brought the artist onto the hip-hop scene. Well, I have to respectfully disagree.

A brief disclaimer: Vic Mensa went to Whitney M. Young Magnet High School in Chicago. So did I. Vic Mensa performed with his first band “Kids These Days” at various locations across Chicago. I was there — not at all of them, but a couple of them. I am incredibly jealous that I was not at that show with Amron, since I am undeniably a fan.

Still, while Vic Mensa is not a new name for me, there’s plenty of evidence to indicate he was on the scene even before the “Kanye effect.”

Before focusing on his solo career Mensa was in the band Kids These Days, an eight member group with Mensa’s fellow Whitney Young students and other high schoolers across the city. It was a rap-jazz-rock blend of sound that was exciting and inventive. Songs like “Darling”, “Bud Biliken” and “Don’t Harsh My Mellow” show the band’s impressive ability to combine the clever rapping of Mensa, the solid lead guitar and singing of Liam Cunningham and the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Macie Stewart. Also in the band was trumpet player Nico Segal, now Donnie Trumpet, who has since gone on to tour with Chance the Rapper’s band The Social Experiment and is taking the lead on their upcoming Surf album.

KTD formed in 2009 and quickly caught the local spotlight. However, it was their 2011 performance at Chicago’s Lollapalooza music festival that earned them national acknowledgement. From there, the group landed a spot on “Conan” as a musical guest in 2012. All the while, Mensa’s name and face was slowly penetrating the music world.

Kids These Days split up in 2013, after finding it difficult to financially support such a large group. From there, Mensa would go on to drop his first solo album, Innanet Tape, a superb debut featuring infectious beats like “Orange Soda” and “Hollywood LA”. While the album allowed Mensa to flex his muscles a bit more as a rapper — and earned him recognition as one of XXL magazine’s “Freshmen of the Year 2014”— it was largely overshadowed by fellow FOY and “Save Money” companion Chance and his “Acid Rap” mixtape.

Things started to change with Mensa’s hit single, “Down On My Luck”. The song jumped to the top of the iTunes song charts, beating out Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” and Drake’s “0 To 100/Catch Up.” The song was a driving-beat party tune, a diversion from the more prototypical rap Mensa had done previously, but was clearly a hit. And then, of course, his most widely known accomplishment to date: featuring on a Kanye West single “Wolves” and performing with him on national television.

It also can’t be forgotten that Mensa isn’t a stranger to Ann Arbor either, having performed at Hill Auditorium just last year.

So, even coming from a long-time fan, it’s clear that Mensa had plenty of notoriety and at least some name recognition before this collaboration. Mensa was already on the stage before his performance with West, but “Wolves” pushed him directly into the spotlight.

As part of the wave of younger, inventive and fearless hip-hop artists, Mensa is indicative of an exciting couple of years to come for the genre. Mensa’s dabbling in an array of musical styles is evidence of his philosophy that music should be fun and this creative openness is something to be celebrated. In fact, it’s probably the reason West thought he’d be a good fit for whatever unknown sorcery he’s putting into his next album.

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