In the fall of my junior year, I acquired an aversion to elephants and the color red. The red elephants on my television screen were revolting: come January 2017, an openly sexist, racist bigot—the antithesis of the American spirit—would hold our country's highest office. My calculus homework was long-forgotten on the kitchen table as I sat next to my mother in silence. I envisioned repealed civil liberties for minorities, eradicated universal healthcare, and an ominous wall that separated us from the rest of the world. I felt helpless—but, I was not alone. 2,140 miles away in an Atlanta hotel room, the face of social hip-hop, Vic Mensa, fielded phone calls from his dejected sisters and dealt with his own incurable disgust.
Mensa grew up in Chicago's South Side. His parents (both educators) taught Mensa the importance of politics, literature, and mathematics, while the rest of the South Side exposed Mensa to humanity's unsettling realities: gun violence, drugs, and police brutality. Following the murder of his childhood friend, Mensa decided to create music that inspires political and social change. Mensa writes and performs powerful songs packed with an effective combination of both rhetoric and personal experience. To him, the 2016 Election results were not disheartening; instead, Trump's win only strengthened his vision. "I realized that [Trump] had to happen because we've been pacified by having Barack [Obama] in office. That pacification would have only continued by having Hillary elected," Mensa stated in an interview with CNN the day after the election, "My fight doesn't end here no matter the outcome".
Mensa's debut album, There's a Lot Going On, was released a few months prior to the presidential election. On the seven-part album, track six, "Shades of Blue", is the most politically-charged song included in the collection. The first time that I heard the song during the summer of 2016, I focused solely on the appealing beat and pretty harmonies. I understood the obvious reference to the Flint water crisis; however, I overlooked the lyrics' full significance. Listening to the song post-election was a drastically different experience. As Mensa predicted, Trump's hateful rhetoric and racist remarks pushed social justice issues towards the forefront of my mind. This elevated awareness made me conscious of "Shades of Blue"'s allusions to social justice, and Mensa's intricate lyrical tools reinforced my sense of purpose: taking a firm stance against injustice to spur political change.
As I later discovered in "Shades of Blue", Flint is a segue to other social justice themes. Race, socioeconomic status, government inefficiency, and white-centric media coverage are all problems that are exacerbated by the Flint crisis. Mensa utilizes potent images, the "color of morning pee coming out of the sink" and "lead in the water gun," to highlight the severity and transparency of the crisis. Mensa further articulates his point on race and class disparity by comparing the Flint crisis to a sinking boat: if the boat contained white people, the government would intervene and help; yet, since the boat contains minorities (both racial and socioeconomic), the government will allow it to sink. Mensa's lyrics also explain the government's inability to aid poverty-stricken areas. Our representatives allow inner-city areas to flounder under mounting violence while allowing media sources to emphasize the stagnant stalemate between the U.S. and Russia. Rather than confronting the rising crime rates in places like Mensa's native South Side Chicago, the government chooses to work on "true" American problems like Russia and to leave the "black problem" to fester and deteriorate. For me, these verses highlighted the government's incompetence and failed attempts to provide tangible assistance for specific minority groups which amplified my frustration with the inequality in America.Trump has forced America to recognize some of its ugliest truths. His supporters no longer have to hide their racist opinions; the enemies are clearly targeted, and the lines have been erased—anything is fair game. For years our nation has suppressed underlying marginalization, and now that these sentiments are public, our generation can identify, confront, and combat racism. I have followed politics from a young age, but Mensa's music inspires myself and my peers to actively participate in politics. With the Trump administration bearing down on valued American institutions, the public must unify and stand as an ally for groups who have been ignored and suppressed throughout history. Our strength and influence is derived from passion, large numbers, and ceaseless agitation. "Change gon' come," Vic Mensa promises in "Shades of Blue", but "it's all on you."