Last week, I called Vic Spencer and he immediately told me some good news. His second daughter, Taylor Spencer, had been born earlier that day. Pleased that his baby was healthy, Vic Spencer didn’t want to get off the phone, even though he was heading home from the hospital.
The Chicago native isn’t a new artist. At 33, Vic can considered a veteran among younger, rising artists like Save Money’s frontmen Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa. He made his official debut in 2009 with Vic Magorium’s Hip-Hop Emporium, produced entirely by TDE favorites Nez & Rio. Spencer’s unorthodox style and strong voice immediately caught on with listeners who wanted something different from Chicago’s commercially successful drill scene and projects like 2012’s boom-bap heavy Walk Away Music and 2013’s dusky The Rapping Bastard helped him increase his visibility in a sea of potential rap stars. For the Brainiac Society member, his mission in music is simple: challenge himself to progress artistically and become Chi-Town’s version of a Sean Price or MF DOOM.
Lately, Vic Spencer has been achieving his goals with a set of impressive one-off tracks. On songs like “Red Eye” and “Loop God,” his versatility as a lyricist shine through, giving fans more proof that December’s The Cost Of Victory will be a game-changer. On Spencer’s fifth studio album, he’s the same aggressive MC as before, only now there’s a clear vision in mind. With moody production by O. Bonjour, DC, Doc da Mindbenda and Black Spade, as well as a feature from Brownsville legend Sean Price, he’s ready to place his brand of raps on a wider scale. “The Cost Of Victory is winning in my own lane, winning in my own right,” he says. “Some people think that my goals are not big goals, but at least I am still achieving in my eyes.”
We spoke to Vic Spencer about his teenage years living in group homes, getting his start in hip-hop, the status of his working relationship with Chance The Rapper, and what it’s like being an older MC in a young man’s game. We’re also happy to premiere “Jungle Gym,” a track from The Cost of Victory featuring Sean Price and ILLA Ghee, below.
What part of Chicago are you from?
I represent the Eastside of Chicago. I kind of lived everywhere in Chicago though. I was born on the Westside, I grew up on the Northside, and then I finished college and just started raising a family on the Eastside. We’ve been living on the Eastside since about age 19. I’m 33 now.
Was it rough growing up there?
My younger years were definitely rough because I wasn’t fully raised by my parents. I entered into the ward of the State at seven years old. I was moving around from different foster homes, relative foster homes, and also group homes. I just basically moved around a lot in the city of Chicago. I was basically in the group home all my teenage years trying to find myself.
You talk about your father a lot in your music and how you had a rocky relationship with him. Was it because of him that you were in a group home?
My mom and my dad, they were drug addicts. I found out about this as the years went by. I remember this story vividly. I was on a big wheel—maybe like one o’ clock in the morning. I was about seven years old and the police asked me, “What’s going on? Why you outside?” I’m like, “I don’t know.” They asked me where my mom and dad was. And I said, “I don’t know.” They found them both intoxicated.
From then on, they kept me and my siblings—I’m the youngest of four—until court for foster relative care. So we went to court, and, as my mom told me, my dad said, “I don’t want nothing to do with it.” And he left out of the court room. That left my grandma on my mom’s side to take care of us. She took us in.
Your grandmother raised you most of your childhood. What happened after that?
I went to foster relative care, which is like one of your relatives becomes guardian. My aunt took responsibly for me at that point because my grandma had started to get sick from diabetes. She got real sick to the point where she couldn’t take care of us and her leg got amputated. And then my aunt was real malicious. She was real money hungry at the time. I can’t speak for what she does now, but when she took us in, her main focus was the money. She definitely took advantage of us.
At this time my oldest brother and my oldest sister, they were grown up and they made their decision to live out of her house. But me and my youngest sister, we had to go through it. My aunt started taking care of mentally ill children and found out that she got paid more to take care of those children, so she issued a 14-day notice for me and my youngest sister to get out of her home. And from there, me and my youngest sister started going into group homes.
I was in group homes from about 13 to 17 then I got my own apartment at 17 through the independent living program. Before I went into independent living, I moved into three different group homes. I developed a personality called Da Group Home Felon. Basically, that was just a person that represented who I was. I treated every group home like it was a strike against my life. That’s why I called myself Da Group Home Felon.
When did you get into hip-hop and start making music?
I was always listening to music but I wasn’t really taking music seriously until maybe the junior year of high school. I had gotten an opportunity to be part of a group called Uhlich Voices. Basically, they group was formed by all DCFS wards of the state. You got the guys that were musically inclined, and we all came together and started talking about our lives. And the CEO of Group House Music at the time basically gave us an opportunity. That was like my real first deal. You can sign and perform at different group homes, different agencies, all these different things. We went all across the country with it too. We were in D.C., Kentucky, California. We went to maybe seven different states and did a lot of things locally.
Overall, that was truly my beginning with rap. I was always recording on the karaoke machine as a kid at 16, 17. I had saved up my little allowance to get a karaoke machine and there was also a sense of leadership in me too, because I had other guys that were considered hard and hoodlums in the group home who would see me in my room creating music and thinking, “Well, I can do this too!” They didn’t consider me a lame or anything because I was talking about things that happened in my life.
You’ve said in previous interviews that Redman and “Tonight’s The Night” was one of the songs you really liked as a kid. What is it about Redman that influenced you?
He’s funny. I remember in 7th grade when I first heard “Tonight’s The Night.” Oh my God. It changed my life because I was listening to a lot of West Coast rap. Any guys that had the word MC or DJ in their name. I was heavily inclined to listen to them. DJ Quik. MC Breed. DJ Prince Paul. DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia. I was listening to all those guys because my brother listened to them. I kind of found my own lane of music to listen to when I saw the Redman, “Tonight’s The Night” video.
I thought that he was hilarious. I thought he was more funny and witty in his rhymes. That’s kind of what of made me want to make rap music. That’s when I started recording on tapes. This time, I didn’t have a karaoke machine, I had two stereos. One stereo was used to record my voice and the other for the music that would play to create these tapes.
How would you describe your rapping style?
I basically want to bring back that integrity to the game, rather than my music being based on what’s hot right now. I believe that in music you have to do things to get people to like you. But for some, it just takes longer. It’s not the same as it used to be. You have to consider a rapper like me being an old school Chevy which takes a long time to be built and rebuilt to be able to compete with these Euro cars. That’s what I think about the rap game now. There are a lot of Euro cars in the game.
Chicago was in the spotlight two or three years ago when the drill scene was blowing up. And then after that, people are saying there’s a post drill scene with Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, Mick Jenkins and yourself. What is your idea of this shift in Chicago music now?
I think it’s a good thing to have both cultures. The drill scene is still a scene. It is real if you live in the city of Chicago. But that’s not what Chicago is all about. A few years ago that’s what people were saying Chicago was, that drill sound, but this new generation is taking the music somewhere else. You got guys that are more conscious and happier like Chance, Mick and them. Those guys are kind of bringing that balance back in the game. I just want to be able to add in hardcore hip-hop to the game cause Chicago don’t have that. You are either doing music like Chance or you’re doing music like drill. There’s nothing in between.
That’s where Vic Spencer comes in. Vic Spencer wants to be the hardcore MC that people can say, “Aww man, Vic Spencer is like the Sean Price of Chicago.” That’s the type of label I want to have. I don’t want to be the one that’s in the forefront because I know my music is not for the radio. It’s not for all the media. But the substance that I bring to it, the rhythm that I bring to it, the hardcore element, the vulgar part, the aggressiveness? Nobody from Chicago does that .
You did a song with Chance The Rapper called “National Geographical” a few years ago. How did it come together? This was before he blew up.
This is way before Chance blew up. Nobody knew who Chance was at this point. My first time really giving him a listen was when he was doing a compilation. Now, this was before 10 Day. It was a pile of CDs called 5 Day that was to promote 10 Day. He was going around giving out these 5 Day promo CDs and I came across the CD and I liked it. I liked this song “22 Offs.” When I heard that, I thought, “This kid is awesome!”
So “National Geographical” was off my project called Vic Greenthumbs three years ago. I was celebrating my 30th birthday, so I put 30 records on the project. “National Geographical” was one of them and it was one of the very first songs that I recorded. At the very last minute, I asked my engineer if I could invite Chance over and he could record something to it. At this time, me and Chance kind of had the same management. So he recorded something and when I let guys hear the song at that time, they knew it was cold and wanted to give it more of a push. So we shot the video and it was big. This was back in the day when Chance used to come to my crib—my daughter and my wife they all know him very well. He’s been at my house. Just sat and chilled. Smoked all my cigarettes. All that.
I’ve got old GarageBand sessions actually with Chance on there trying to buy my cigarettes. He probably can buy me a carton right now. [Laughs] For real, he’s like, “Let me get two. Let me get two. Let me be squared with you man.” It’s crazy. I go back and listen to that stuff and I’m very proud of Chance and how big he has become, but “National Geographical” was his big break. Everybody could hear him and take in the same feeling that I had when I started working with him. People started to see why I worked with him. And that’s how me and Chance first started making music.
That was when I used to pick Chance up. He stayed in one of the roughest neighborhoods too on 79th St. I would go pick him up and we’d go talk about music all day, every day. And play each other’s music all day, every day. We talked about doing an EP. We made a record called “Out The Water,” which was produced by two famous guys Nez & Rio, and sent it out. It got a lot of praise and so forth and so on. That was kind of the beginning of me and Chance working on an EP together. But politics came into play and he started getting big.
I don’t know if it was him or the people around him that didn’t make this happen. Me and Chance’s relationship as far as making music is no more.
Let’s talk about your next project The Cost Of Victory. What does the title mean to you?
Basically, what we’ve been talking about. Going through adversity. Going through struggles in music. Doing whatever it takes for you to feel like you won. I feel like I won because I did a record with one of my idols, which is Sean Price. Sean has a team called the Ruck Down. It’s not a record label or anything like that. It’s just the crew. I went down to New York this past April to meet him and to discuss music. I played five hours of Vic Spencer’s music in Sean Price’s kitchen. Him rewinding his favorite song. It just meant so much to me. That’s The Cost Of Victory right there. I went the longest ways to reach my goal.
I always looked at myself as a versatile kind of guy, but musically I always wanted to be hardcore, the Chi-Town’s Sean Price. Or the Chi-Town’s MF Doom or any of those kinds of legends. I want to be those kinds of guys. I don’t want to be Chi-Town’s Twista. I don’t want to be Chi-Town’s Chance. I want to be with legends. My records get played with legends, and I am fine with that.
I want to get into the track “First Aid Kit.” You say, “Niggas fuck with me and see the real talent / And the rest of y’all niggas against me, it’s not a challenge.” Do you feel the rap game is nothing but competition to you?
I am in Chicago and there are a million rappers. You named off five rappers without even taking a breath. It’s definitely a challenge. It’s definitely competition. There’s too much power in me, Chance, and Vic Mensa’s names for us to be in a group. If me, Vic and Chance were in a group, it would be on some Barcelona stuff. But it would never happen. It’s egos. I got an ego, too. It’s all egos. Egos get in the way, and now I don’t see Vic Mensa. I don’t see Chance. I just see competition; you know what I am saying?
I am putting out my records when they put out their records. I’m putting out my record in the fourth quarter because that’s when the big stars put out they records. Just to have that mindset. When I say the rest of y’all against me, it’s not a challenge. It means it’s a sport. Nobody is messing with the style of music that I got. There’s a time and place for everything. For me, I think there’s a time to hear drill music and that’s when you out in the club and you out with a lady that likes to get turned up. And there’s also a place where you just want to listen to that hardcore music. That’s when you want to slap somebody. That’s when you want to listen to Vic Spencer. When you want to snatch somebody. To avoid that, you want to go listen to some Vic Spencer. That’s the type of competitive, aggressiveness that I want to bring to the game.
You’re a 33-year-old MC and it seems hip-hop is ran by the younger generation. I’ve even seen you work with Tree too. Do you think age is nothing but a number in rap now?
I think the game now is a manager’s game. What I mean by that is that managers don’t want to take on an older artist because nine times out of 10, that artist might be older than the manager. They are kind of in a situation where they don’t want to be told what to do and they don’t want to tell the older guy what to do. I think with a person like me and person like Tree, we are the forefathers. It’s necessary to have guys like us in the game to kind of bring that older age music and life substance into the game. But overall, just being older, it just goes back to that analogy when we are talking about the cars.
I feel like younger people don’t care about older rap guys, especially guys that express it in their music. All young people want to do is have fun. That’s all they want to do. They just want to have fun and turn up and all of that. Its kind of hard—just like a stubborn teenager—to get them on the right track. It’s kind of hard to get people on to my kind of music because they’re just not in-tune with that. They’re just so in-tune with having fun and turning up. When it comes time to play my music, it sounds like I’m preaching or I’m being bored. But that’s the young people, there are older guys that are looking at me to win, especially older guys that used to rap from this city. They don’t rap no more because of how the music is being portrayed now.
That’s why me and Tree are real close together too. We were supposed to drop a project called VicTree. It was supposed to be before The Cost Of Victory but it made sense to do The Cost Of Victory first, then VicTree. It sounds like I made it in VicTree. You know what I am saying? Me and Tree have a project that’s gonna come out next year. He produced all the joints and it is done. As soon as I drop The Cost Of Victory sometime in December, VicTree is gonna drop.
What is your biggest goal?
My biggest goal is be happy overall in music. Right now, I’m not happy. And it’s not because of me not having any radio play or not getting any shows or anything. I really believe there is a consensus against artists like Vic Spencer because I am so righteous about what I speak about. I am so upfront. I’m so real and I’m right there. I talk about it everywhere; social media, when I talk to my friends, I’m so outspoken in what I believe in. I just want that to get to people worldwide. I just want to be a link for change so somebody else can do something.
My goals are not big. I don’t want to be the No. 1 rapper in the country. It’s a risk to be the No. 1 rapper in the country. I don’t want to be the No. 1 rapper in the country. I just want to be able to say I’m the best rapper for me. I just want to be able to say I put out the best work and I know that it is the best work, so I’m the best. I just want to be able to continue to say that and to continue to create a legacy for kids that do listen to my music.