Words By Jesse Fairfax
Vic Spencer can’t be compared to any other emcee to have made a name for themselves hailing from the Windy City. Steadily working on his grind for years now, things have finally begun to pay off as Rolling Stone considered 2015’s The Cost Of Victory one of the year’s best Hip-Hop releases.
While rap was practically founded on airing out grievances, in 2016 speaking up too often is a quick way to be rendered a troublemaker. These days most artists take the safer politically correct route to avoid potentially alienating themselves, that is unless they’re pushed to the absolute limit. Judging from his Twitter feed, Vic Spencer’s default setting is pissed off with the state of Hip-Hop, fortunately this hasn’t prevented him from being recognized as a future hopeful alongside today’s brightest up and comers. Effortlessly gliding over soulful beats catered to hardcore underground and boom-bap heads, Vic spits venom and never fails to back up the trash he talks on and off the mic.
Vic Spencer recently took time to talk with watchLOUD about Chicago’s Hip-Hop scene, Spike Lee’s recent film Chiraq, solutions for the city’s violent epidemic, what it meant to have Sean Price’s respect and his recent failed attempt at squashing problems with one of the Chi’s other bubbling acts Mick Jenkins.
WatchLOUD: You’re from Chicago, a place that has produced more sounds and styles of Hip-Hop than most other big cities over the past few years. Where does all of the city’s diversity come from?
It’s all over. We’re all over the place, it’s different in every area. The South side and the West side of Chicago are kind of the same, but everything else is different. We all try to be different musically and culturally, that’s the only way to show people how advanced you are and how aware you are of what to sound like or look like. It’s all different personas, Chicago aint nothing but a big pot of gumbo. You’d be surprised what comes out of it and who’s getting something from it. Even though we’re all one and the same, we’re all aiming to be different from one another.
Who have been some of your favorite emcees from the city, past and present?
In the past I’ll say Kanye, Twista, Psychodrama, Snypaz, Do Or Die, E.C. Illa, Juice, Lupe. Now I listen to myself, Sulaiman, MC Tree, D2G and Chris Crack. Those are the only ones that I really tune into and listen to hard as hell.
Your rap style in particular is pretty aggressive. Is this a part of your persona that comes out on the booth or this your regular demeanor?
I’m very outspoken regularly. As far as being aggressive and ready to punch somebody? Nah that ain’t what I’m thinking about all the time, but lyrically that’s what I want to do to the game. As far as music and how I speak on the mic, that’s just my attitude towards the game and how disgusted I am. There’s just so much more of that on the microphone because I’m more disgusted at that.
It’s different with my life because I’m not disgusted at life, I’m married, I got two kids and I’m happy, but a lot of musicians don’t make me happy. With the game being so saturated, a lot of people take advantage of it. It’s up to me and select others that like to rap how I rap to try to get that point across, luckily for me it’s sticking
Your ear for beats is pretty crazy. What do you look for in your production?
If it touches my soul, stops me from driving, makes me cry. If I’m in the barber shop and I tell my barber to stop cutting my hair so I can nod my head to the beat. If it don’t touch my soul then it’s dead to me, that’s the approach that I got when it’s time for me to pick a beat.
I get a lot of beats daily, and a lot of ‘em be wack. But some of the producers I’m impressed enough to where I ask them to keep sending them, and then I find the right one. I be challenging producers to cultivate something that you might think Vic Spencer might feel. If you feel like it’s dope, just send it to me and let me be the judge of that. If it’s something I’m feeling at the moment, I’m jumping on it. I’ll stop what I’m doing to jot down a lyric or an idea. If the beat don’t make me do that, then it’s not touching me and I won’t rap over it.
You had a relationship with the late great Sean Price and he was known for being a harsh critic. What was it like to have his respect?
Speechless, man. The first time I talked to Sean Price he cut me off from telling him he was the dopest rapper ever alive. I was trying to tell him that, but he was like “Nah son, you inspire me.” That blew me away, Sean Price don’t like nobody. He was a heavy critic on everything, just like me in a sense. For him to like me is a slap in the face to a lot of rappers and a lot of people in general. He was the king of blocking people on Twitter [laughs], some people were real upset about that.
In two years I had a good relationship with him, we kept in contact via phone and I went to New York and recorded with him. That was one of the most precious moments of my Hip-Hop history, leaving out of the recording booth, he’s giving you a high five and he’s so tall you gotta jump up. Those are moments that nobody can take away from me in the rap game. I freestyled in his kitchen, getting to hang out with him and know him on a personal level was one of the most profound experiences of my career.
Also being a part of his crew Ruck Down Records, he was really going to get that off the ground before he passed. I keep in contact with his wife and she said she’s going to keep his promise alive, so I’m still Ruck Down to the fullest. Rest in peace to Sean Price.
The Cost Of Victory was recognized by “Rolling Stone” as one of last year’s best Hip Hop albums. What was that sort of recognition like as you’re a relatively underground emcee?
I was in the house when the news came to my phone. I had a broken phone and I had a long day at work, my phone rang and I didn’t know who it was because all of my contacts were missing. It happened to be one of the producers on the project by the name of Doc Da Mindbenda, he told me and I was like “You gotta be shitting me.” So I go to look it up and there it was, I was speechless for a couple of hours.
I read the entire write-up and looked at who else was on there, I was the only hardcore underground rapper from Chicago on that list. I was surprised to see my brother Sean Price on that list as well, so I’m on there twice and he’s on there twice because we’re on each other’s albums. There was excitement internally, but externally I started to send the links out to all of the haters that’s been doubting me for the longest. I felt good about doing that.
When it happened I got the sense from your tweets that you were proving naysayers wrong, has that been a battle for you?
It’s unbelievable. I could talk all of this trash in the world, but if I’m not able to back it up then it don’t mean nothing. It’s so easy to talk shit but harder to back it up. I’m always confident in what I do, whether people think I’m losing at it or not. My engineer Mixed By DC told me “You ain’t even gotta be tweeting how you tweet, just tweet the link to the motherfuckers, they’ll get your message,” and sure enough they did.
As soon as that article came out I was eager to send it to those people, because these people are running around throwing dirt on my name. They’re talking about I’m taking L’s or how I’m the wackest rapper in Chicago and I burned all of my bridges here. But I’m still here, ain’t nobody took me off the planet, ain’t nobody outrapping me.
Until I’m proven wrong, I think everything that I do via Twitter is pertinent because somebody is watching, listening and praying on Victor’s downfall. But every time somebody prays on Victor’s downfall, something positive always happens. That’s because I have this positive attitude on life anyway, anything negative thrown towards me I make into a positive whether people are aware of it or not.
On an old song called “Ill Description” you mentioned not having a filter on Twitter. What causes you to not hold back your feelings?
Me just being a real individual, I think Twitter is like a made up world. Someone could tell you “I just found $100,” they probably found 10 cent [laughs]. I got tired of seeing that type of shit, I started unfollowing people that some others think are cool. People will say “Yeah I follow him because he be saying some cool shit or wearing cool clothes.” That ain’t what I follow people for. I don’t follow people because they’re funny or posting all of these .gifs.
I speak out and it gets people’s panties in a bunch, but that ain’t the reason why I do it. I’m just an outspoken person. I just want to be somebody that can be honest, everything don’t have to be a lie. If that makes me the villain in these situations, then I don’t have a problem being the villain at all. I just like to be myself on social media, I don’t like to put a facade on anything.
Would you say you’ve developed a chip on your shoulder?
I developed a chip on my shoulder because a lot of people don’t believe in me. A lot of things done happened in my rap career where a lot of people done turned on me. I don’t believe that a friendship should end because of what somebody tweeted, that’s happened in my career.
It’s like a chain reaction where one person thinks it’s cool to dis Vic Spencer, then the world does. I got a chip on my shoulder because of that. Why should I not speak up for myself? When people see me in real life, they don’t be talking like how they talk on Twitter. The chip on my shoulder is there and I’m not letting up on them. I’m gonna keep doing what I gotta do and make sure I get heard, because I’ve never been in a position where I wasn’t heard and my voice didn’t stand out.
Speaking of Twitter, in the recent past you exchanged words with Mick Jenkins. From the looks of things it started on his end, then you guys both made diss records. What happened there from your perspective?
I made a tweet about a club called The East Room and I guess that’s where Mick Jenkins and his friends go. When I made that tweet a lot of people that went there and throw events there started slandering my name, and he knows those people so he felt like that was an opportunity to come and throw dirt on my name. So I was like “I’ll destroy you musically, this ain’t even got nothing to do with you. I wasn’t even talking to you.”
That’s how it started, then he started saying “You can’t sell out any shows in Chicago,” so I was like “I’m not gonna go back and forth on Twitter, I’m just gonna go to the studio. I got beats and studio time for you. I’m gonna go destroy this man.” I seen them tweets on a Friday night and that Saturday morning I went and recorded the first diss record [“Dick Jerkins”]. I put it out maybe that Tuesday and it went crazy.
I know all of his producers and the people he hangs around, I knew too much going into the song. So when I was done with “Dick Jerkins” I thought it was done and I didn’t think he was gonna respond. Number one he’s a coward, number two he’s not even a battle rapper, he ain’t even got that in his DNA. Here’s this conscious, conceptual rapper trying to jump into the ring with a lyrical beast and I’m not folding. I don’t care if he’s signed, he had absolutely no reason to say anything to me. So since he did and he’s a musician, he had to get that work.
According to his producers he didn’t have anywhere to record his diss, that’s why it took so long. But that didn’t do nothing, I thought I was gonna get bodied. I thought since he had a platform he was going to destroy me, but he didn’t. He put the diss out on my birthday, I was appalled and disappointed. If you gonna do something on somebody’s birthday, at least do it right. If you gonna get somebody a gift on their birthday, at least get them what they want. Once that diss record came out, my inbox was full with people trying to get features and people giving me beats to diss him again. It was like a whole new world opening up to me. I got all that bread from features, even if songs was weak as hell I jumped on them all.
For the record, I’ve not shared this with anyone else except my manager, you got this first hand: Mick Jenkins followed me on Twitter last week. I told him “Thanks for the follow, I’ll follow back.” A few days later I inboxed him like “You know what bro, I think it’ll be a good idea if we just drop a record together to unify the situation. I think unification would be better than any of the disses that either one of us put out.” He ignored it and subtweeted me instead.
If you go back on Mick Jenkins’ timeline it says “I was telling n*ggas in China about you.” Joe Fresh Goods was the guy doing parties at East Room [the venue I dissed], he originally said that to me. I took it as a sarcastic way to let me know he was in China. So months later, two hours after I DM’d Mick Jenkins about unifying, he sent that tweet out. This is why I bodied him in the booth, he has a verified account and he’s abusing his power. Why would you tweet that? What is your point? You’re subtweeting me.
After I tried to unify the situation, a lot of people didn’t know about that. I kept it under wraps, my manager is looking at me like a good samaritan, he’s like “I appreciate you trying to be the bigger person about it, it just didn’t work out.” But I’m glad I did that, it just lets me know his ego got in the way. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll never be cool with Mick Jenkins and I’ll never say a word to him in public because of that.
He’s just scared that I’ll body him and get more shine if we both was on a record, because in my opinion conceptual raps don’t last forever. I didn’t see his project from last year mentioned by “Rolling Stone”, and my album came out January 2015. It’s going on a whole year my album’s been out and people are still talking about it, I just want to know how I’m losing here. How did I take a L?
There’s been a long running issue of gang violence in Chicago. A few months ago this was illustrated in Spike Lee’s film Chi-Raq. A lot of the city’s rappers were vocal about not supporting the film, what were your feelings if you’ve seen it?
I actually went to go see the film because my wife wanted to, I wasn’t really interested in it. When you use the name Chiraq, people weren’t expecting satire or any big lesson that they were trying to pull throughout the movie, people were looking for guns. There wasn’t a lot of shooting throughout the whole movie. Nobody uses the term ‘Chiraq’ like that but one neighborhood, and that neighborhood wasn’t even aware of the movie like that. It was a bad idea, but I did go see it and support it even though I didn’t want to. We went to the movies and my wife fell asleep watching it [laughs].
How do you think there can begin to be any sort of a resolution to this crisis in the city?
More adults have to consistently interact with young people. People with power in the city go protest and that’ll be the end of it. But I don’t never see nobody go to the neighborhoods where these people have lost kids to gun violence. People need to start taking these acts of violence personal. As soon as somebody gets shot or a young kid dies [in this neighborhood], all of the people go downtown to protest. Why? That ain’t where it happened at.
I want to help out in a way that the young people will get. I work in Englewood five days a week, that’s one of the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago if not the roughest. That’s where Chief Keef is from, nobody visits that neighborhood after 5 PM. But I’m there going to pick up kids and get them out of that element. If a kid only sees his neighborhood as Chiraq and you don’t expose him to nothing else, then you’re to blame. If you can provide opportunities to a young person exposed to different acts of violence and the only thing you do is protest, what is your purpose or point?
A lot of young people are lost and don’t know who real leaders are. The people that they look up to are either dead or in jail going through the same thing that they’re trying to beat. Nobody is breaking any cycles or putting any positivity in the atmosphere, and it’s all messed up. Rare individuals are out here doing stuff, but it’s not enough.
On “First Aid Kit” from The Cost Of Victory you said “The rap game is a lying affair/The shit that makes n*ggas put dye in their hair.” Were you going at anyone specific?
Nope. But a lot of people said I was going at Vic Mensa, Wiz Khalifa or anybody that changed their hair color. They’re right, that goes to anybody. That’s why I said “I don’t give a fuck, call it a sneak diss,” because it’s for anybody. Anybody that’s out here rapping and you get a good look from dyeing your hair, that’s a lying affair [laughs]. You did something you probably wouldn’t have done three years ago now that dyeing your hair is an option, and now you’re out here selling records. Also it came from listening to Sean Price, he would say some shit like that [laughs].
Then on “Sony Walkman” you said “I’m not for the average listener/In Hip-Hop I am a political prisoner.” Why do you think there’s less of a lane for lyricism in today’s day and age?
People don’t want to listen to that shit, man. They want to party all day, life for me is not a party. If I’m not able to teach through lyrics, then I’m not doing my job. Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, they didn’t settle for what was there, they went and did something deeper. The average listener who just wants to listen to [party music], I’m not for him. I’m for a person that wants change and wants to see something different. That’s why a lot of our leaders have been assassinated and why I’m not heard as much. Gatekeepers keep that stuff from getting inside the system and actually making a change, even though I think that lyricism and hardcore raps is almost coming back full fold. I’m just gonna wait and see how it all pans out. I’m glad to still be alive and relevant doing it.
You’ve just dropped the Who TF Is Chris $pencer? project with Chris Crack. What can fans expect from this project?
Definitely a blend between The Cost Of Victory and the VicTree project I did with MC Tree. It’s different, but when you listen to Vic Spencer on any kind of beat the results you’re gonna get is a Vic Spencer record. You don’t say Vic Spencer sounds like somebody, so when you listen to the Chris Spencer project you’re definitely getting both sides of the spectrum. Sean Price told me one day he thought I would sound good over Young Chop beats, I was like “Are you kidding me? I’m not rapping over that shit.” But when I thought about it, I could do anything instead of being one-dimensional.
It’s not an experimental project, it’s just getting in tune with what I can really do. Half of the project sounds like something I wouldn’t normally be on, the other half sounds like something I would body. “Play Rough” is a record that I would destroy, but our lead single “No Biggie” is something I wouldn’t have rapped over two years ago. But it’s still Vic Spencer, expect me but expect greatness because I won’t do no collaborative project with nobody that I don’t believe in. I didn’t start doing this record with Chris Crack because he was hot on his own, I did it because I believed he was hot myself and I wanted to see how to incorporate it with what I do.
You’re steadily releasing music and it seems like you’re showing no signs of slowing up. What do you think it will take for you to gain greater recognition?
I need a machine behind me, I need a budget. But if I keep doing what I’m doing, I think I’ll be great. I think my next solo album is gonna blow people away. I’m not even going for features and high profile producers, but you’re gonna be surprised at who jumps on a Vic Spencer record from here on out. I always take it up a notch with everything that I do, I can’t go backwards.
The bar is set high with me, I’m an unsigned artist [getting critical acclaim] with no budget or PR. It’s just me, my manager and my engineers. That just says a lot about the way the game is changing, and I hope that it inspires others my age to build a platform for underground hardcore Hip-Hop.