Vic Mensa On Opening For Jay-Z: ‘It Was An Experience For Me To Really Hone My Craft’

Vic Mensa
Noam Galai / Getty Images
– Vic Mensa
Vic Mensa performs at The Bowery Ballroom in New York City, Sept. 30, 2017.

Fresh off playing opening sets for Jay-Z’s “4:44 Tour,” Vic Mensa spoke to Pollstar about warming up a crowd for a hip-hop legend, as well as what he is doing to become the best live performer he can be.

Mensa has spent the last couple of years racking up notoriety. For being only 24 years old, the Chicago native has already been an active musician in the industry longer than most others his age. He began fronting the band Kids These Day when he was just 17.

After making his hip-hop debut on Chance The Rapper’s high-profile 2013 mixtape, Acid Rap, Mensa released a series of EP’s, including There’s Alot Going On and The Manuscript. He went on to work with high-profile rappers like Jay-Z and Kanye West, appearing on the latter’s song “Wolves” on his 2016 Life Of Pablo album. A year later Mensa released his official debut album, The Autobiography, in July 2017.                                                           

Most recently, Mensa opened for Jay-Z on his “4:44 Tour,” which placed No. 26 on Pollstar’s Year End Top 200 North American Tours Chart with a gross of $39.3 million and more than 383,000 tickets sold, according to box office reports submitted to Pollstar.

The outing hit arenas all over North America, with – despite the rumors – many shows selling out, including Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena (14,128 tickets sold, $1 million grossed), Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena (15,735 tickets sold, $1.7 million grossed) and two gigs at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. (31,253 tickets sold, $4.3 million grossed). 

Mensa hasn’t had a problem selling tickets for his own headlining shows at theaters and clubs. One only needs to look at his sold-out performances at the Vic Theatre in Chicago (1,400 tickets, $40,600 grossed) Brooklyn Bowl in New York (613 tickets sold, $15,689 grossed) and San Francisco’s Social Hall, (700 tickets sold, $21,927 grossed). Mensa’s wide appeal is evident with the other artists he’s played opening sets for, including Beyoncé, Justin Bieber and Disclosure.

Mensa is represented by manager Scooter Braun of SB Projects and agent Cara Lewis of Cara Lewis Group. He is signed to Roc Nation. 

How was it opening for Jay-Z?

It was phenomenal. It was long. It was dope because it was an experience for me to really hone my craft and become the best performer that I’ve been.

Can you expand on how it improved your performances?

Doing the same stage, night after night, it really sets a sense of routine to help me develop as a performer. I think this was the longest consecutive run that I’ve been on. Like anything else, that’s how you work the muscle. It was just repetition.

Was it challenging?

It wasn’t difficult. It felt dope, performing for a lot of people night after night. It was great to play for a lot of people who didn’t know me and some who did know me. For a lot of new listeners, first-time listeners, I knew that I was getting them as ready for Hov as they could be.

If you came to a show and you didn’t even know who the opener was, and then they were as dope as me, then you’re going to be hyped.

How did you get to open on the tour?

It was through my relationship with Hov. We worked on our albums at the same time. I was in the studio during the time that he was making his album. We just really built that relationship and I think that our albums are also similar in spirit. They are very honest and transparent pieces of music, speaking to things that haven’t been spoken about too often before.   

You were playing arenas for this tour. Do you have a preference between playing arenas versus smaller venues?

I think they both have a place for me. Arenas are dope because of the magnitude of the stage and the show and I feel like a superstar. Smaller venues are dope because it’s more intimate and I feel like I could connect and speak to people in a more direct way. 

Vic Mensa
Timothy Norris / Getty Images
– Vic Mensa
Vic Mensa plays an opening for set for Jay-Z on his 4:44 tour at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif., Oct. 27, 2017.

When you decided to go on this tour, did you view it as a way to make money or as a way to market yourself?

I would say it’s both. I do it for exposure, money, and last but not least, being able to express myself on a grand scale. The fact that I could be doing shows this big, talking verbatim about stories. That’s what’s dope to me.

Everything that I rapped about on the stage, sang about on the stage, means the world to me. [Opening for Jay-Z] was a momentous opportunity to really be able to share myself.

You’ve gotten really big in the past year, have you noticed a difference in your crowds?

The Hov tour, there’s a very specific Jay-Z fan. He has fans from every walk of life, but he also is the spokesman for the streets. He completely occupies a different lane than me. I found it dope being able to captivate the hearts of the typical Jay-Z fan.

What about when you do solo shows?

Yeah, there has been a difference. People who listen to my music listen to my message. My music has always had real honesty and transparency. I’ve always found that my fans have been very connected to me. I notice it being just a bigger fan base at this point in time.

What songs are your fans crazy about?

My favorite song to perform live is “We Could Be Free.” I think that’s my favorite at the moment. I think it simmers down the crowd and make the show so raw. It’s breathtaking.

What’s your relationship with Scooter Braun like?

It’s good. Scooter is really smart, very intuitive. He plays the game like a pro. It’s great to have someone like that in my corner. I first started working with Scooter through Dave Appleton. He works with Scooter’s company, used to manage Asher Roth when I was in a band called Kids These Days. We opened up for Asher Roth on tour and I met David at a show when I was about 17. When I left my last management, Dave stayed in contact with me and so then we ended up going over there and working with Scooter and it all came together.

What about working with Cara Lewis?

It’s great working with Cara Lewis, she’s a legend.

Do you have any favorite cities to tour?

Some of my favorites to play are London, Asheville, N.C. I haven’t been there for so long, but I love Asheville. It’s a hidden gem. Just the spirit – it feels like a hippie town. There’s always music on the streets. There’s all these street festivals, it’s a special place. I like L.A. Los Angeles is always hustling. Anywhere in California is great.