Review written by Eli S. (@eschwad)

“At age 12, I learned the difference between white and black/police pulled me off of my bike, I landed on my back/Back to reality, oops, a victim of gravity/where they pull you down and keep you there/Depending on how you keep your hair.”

On Vic Mensa‘s new album The Autobiography, the 24-year-old Chicago rapper is as honest as he’s ever been about his own life. Whether he’s telling a gripping, personal anecdote about police brutality, breaking down the nuanced differences between South Side neighborhoods (and where he once fit in amongst this complex world), or writing a letter to a dead friend, Vic leaves no stone unturned about his path to becoming Jay Z‘s protégé.

The Autobiography is less about the actual music than it is about the MC’s up-and-down journey since dropping his debut EP, Straight Up, back in 2010. That being said, it doesn’t hurt that the music is damn good, too.

[Quick sidenote: if you haven’t gone back and listened to Straight Up yet, do it. Think early Drake/J. Cole. Here’s a sampler]

The project starts with a sample of Ol’ Dirty Bastard‘s introduction on “Got Your Money,” and then we get our first taste of the soul-fueled Darondo sample, which bolsters the rest of track one, “Didn’t I.” We hear Vic’s father pounding on the MC’s bedroom door, scolding him for staying up late in the studio on a school night – a scene which reminds me of the “Mom N’ Pop Shop” interlude on Straight Up.

When the drums drop, Vic dives into a celebratory chorus (“Didn’t I tell you this was the new birth of the roc, n*gga?”) before spitting two soul-quenching verses. Vic raps about the death of Nikko Washington‘s father. He raps about the death of his own grandmother. The song feels like one of Kanye West’s more heartfelt tracks, “Never Let Me Down.”

Track two, “Memories on 47th Street,” sounds exactly like the title implicates. Vic paints us a vivid picture of his formative years in the Windy City. He came up on a good block, but some of the country’s worst violence took place in adjacent neighborhoods, some just five minutes away (a common theme in Vic’s music, and one that he tackles fully on the song “Heaven on Earth”). Backed by a No ID, DJ Dahi and 1500 or Nothin‘-produced beat, Mensa offers his best metaphors to date.

“Kept me from off the corner where Stones and GDs was warrin’/And Kings and BDs and VLs all had dreams of bein’ Jordan/Even dope fiends was scorin’, swish, tryna be like Mike/Shootin’ through that baseline in their veins tryna reach that height.”

The Pusha T-assisted bonus track “OMG” and the Pharrell-produced “Wings” are other highlights on a thoughtful, carefully constructed album, which, unfortunately, might go underappreciated in a year when fans received new albums from hip-hop giants Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z and Drake.

“Rollin’ Like a Stoner” is the most fun listen on the album. To this writer, it’s clear that Vic could have made a project full of party bangers/radio-friendlys like “Rollin;'” instead, he made a conscious choice to create an honest, open and meaningful body of work for his debut album.

The Autobiography is not necessarily an easy listen. It’s a completely different kind of Vic – there’s no “Tweakin'” or “Wimme Nah” on this project. Regardless of your personal taste, it’s hard not to see the former Kids These Days frontman selling out arenas in a few years’ time. When Hov calls you a “once-in-a-lifetime artist,” you’re doing something right.

You can cop The Autobiography on iTunes now for $9.99.