Vic Mensa: From Bad Boy to Good Man

Vic Mensa: From Bad Boy to Good Man

Story by Jade Gomez / Photography by Danielle Alston / Styling by Brandy Penelope

Vic Mensa's most recent ayahuasca ceremony was pivotal. He saw himself outside of his own body, expelled an unknown time's worth of toxins and learned he had to start eating better. On a warm winter night in New York City, he is on the prowl for plant-based foods. "It's not necessary," Mensa explains. "But I'm trying to not eat like shit."

That ceremony is one of several Mensa has done as he whittles away at everything he has bottled up inside of him. The cathartic spiritual and religious after-effects of the psychoactive brew is supervised under the watchful eye of a shaman, and the intense process has long-lasting effects. Mensa has done it more than most, and it has helped usher in a new chapter of his life marked to the public with the release of his psychedelic, meditative new single "Strawberry Louis Vuitton." With hearts in his eyes and a newfound lease on life, it's hard to imagine a different version of the musician.

Since the release of his monstrous solo debut INNANETAPE, Mensa has navigated the minefield of the music industry on his own terms. His first official single, "Down On My Luck," is a dance-inflected bop that starkly contrasts the scattered freeform jazz structure of his earlier work. From there, Mensa strapped himself in as he skyrocketed to the top. He found himself alongside Kanye West performing "Wolves" on Saturday Night Live, releasing their window-breaking collaboration "U Mad" days later. Mensa even scored a coveted deal with Jay-Z's Roc Nation.

Mensa dances between infectious aggression and a jarring calm. He snarls in the face of police brutality, water crises, presidential elections and mental health on the aptly titled There's Alot Going On, culminating in a fuck-it-all attitude that has accompanied him through some of his riskiest endeavors. The Chicago rapper even veered into punk music, forming 93Punx and embedding himself in the liberation and adrenaline of skate culture. One of Mensa's biggest strengths as a jack-of-all-trades was also seen as a weakness, and he stuck a middle finger at it all as he continued to use his music as a chance to get to the essence of himself.

Behind the scenes, Mensa's self-destruction was catching up to him. Legal troubles and addiction issues bubbled to the surface, forcing him to reckon with himself. Was this the person he became or had he always been this way? The hypocritical nature of speaking up against violence while also dealing with his own anger issues began to weigh on him.

The rapper found himself meditating in Ghana, surrounded by family, friends and art. He spent time between recording sessions, tours, album cycles and the pandemic digging to the surface of his psyche. Rehabilitation, sobriety and several ayahuasca ceremonies allowed Mensa to make a breakthrough. He examined his own relationships, his intentions and his passions to do a hard reset. Past the canvas of tattoos on his body, years of negativity and trauma and the massive persona he has created for himself over the past decade, there's a good, reawakened man inside of Mensa. That man has always been there, and he has finally found the language and tools to bring him forward.

Below, read on for PAPER's interview with Vic Mensa about his path to finding love, professionally, musically and romantically.

Jacket, pants and sunglasses: Louis Vuitton, Sneakers: Visvim, Scarf: Mia Lee

From our conversations leading up to now, it seems like you've dialed into your spirituality. Have you always been religious?

No, I was staunchly anti-religious. It actually just didn't work out. I think I just found that having a faith-based mentality – not faith-based as in monotheistic religion or whatever — but faith as in the definition of believing is so much more serving for me than having a defeated mentality. When I believe things are going to work out or that things are working out or things have already worked out, uncanny things begin to happen. Or when I go the other way, those things start to happen too.

I was in an airport coming here two days ago and for a brief moment, I allowed myself to go down a rabbit hole of shame and guilt. I was looking at Instagram, which usually will kick it off for me, and I'll start comparing myself to somebody else. I saw a guy that I'd been fucking with in London for a long time who runs the dopest clothing brand out of there. I was looking at his pictures where he was like, "This is when I was trapping out of this room in 2016. Then in 2017 I was doing this. In 2018 it was doing this now 2022, look at this huge warehouse with all my stuff and all my success and my Ferraris and shit." For a moment, I allowed that to take me down the path where I was judging myself and being like, "Man, you made a mistake here. You messed up. If you hadn't done that mistake when you were 17, then you would've released that album at that point in time and then your life would look like this now."

I usually don't even allow myself to fester in those types of thought processes anymore because they don't serve me. I like to just shift myself into gratitude. Being grateful that I have a voice, grateful that I've been able to free people from prison, grateful that I've inspired millions of people, grateful that I've taken care of my family in Ghana, grateful that I've impacted lives and culture in so many ways. But for that moment, I was just judging. I started saying it out loud. I was like, "Well, because if I would've done this..." I shit you not. I made it to the gate, the flight was delayed. I was waiting for 10 minutes and I was like, "Okay, it doesn't look like they're boarding this flight." So I went to the bathroom. I'm in the bathroom for five to seven minutes or something. I come back and I missed my flight.

The moment I get into thinking and let myself slum it out at a low vibration, the universe hits me immediately. My karma comes so quick because I know better. So I found myself just reveling in that negativity and instantly missed my flight.

I just read this book by Deepak Chopra, it's called The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire. And basically, he's putting significant weight on coincidences and recognizing them, taking note of them as God speaking to you or the universe or whatever you believe in. I'm taking note of those coincidences. I know what it means to fucking put out into the world death and destruction, and to manifest that and think about that all the time didn't work out for me.

You've been working in Ghana a lot from what I can tell.

Oh yeah, man. I just started to realize that I have a direct connection to my ancestry, my identity, language, gods and home that has been stolen from Black people in America.

That's a privilege not many people have. It's very special to trace that lineage.

That's exactly what I was going to say! I started to realize that it's an immense privilege. And I think that when you have privilege, it comes along with both responsibility and opportunity. As I have started to acknowledge that privilege, which is something I make sure to note when I'm expressing gratitude to myself throughout the day, I'll acknowledge the privilege of having this connection to my home and I've started to treat that with the reverence it deserves and put the energy and intention into it that it deserves. I've been able to build some pretty phenomenal things using that privilege and treat it as an opportunity to play that role to be the bridge between Black America and Africa.

I started going back alone a few years ago and just spending Christmas and New Year's there, building my own relationships. Growing up, I only went to the village. I mean, it's not really a village, but that's probably from a western perspective what people might refer to it as. It's really the area where my family is, it's called Zongo. Zongos are West African slums and are largely Muslim settlements. No running water in many places, dirt roads, et cetera. That was my entire experience of Ghana growing up.

I just started tapping in with the art scene, with the music, with the fashion, with the movers of culture and seeing possibilities open that I never considered before.

I'm assuming one of those possibilities is your music festival, Black Star Line Festival?

In January 2022, I told all my friends I was in Ghana. Only one person reached out to me to come. It was Chance [the Rapper]. So when Chance came, it was just a deeply spiritual and moving experience for him. It was just a time when he needed to get away and clear his head. And I was like, "If you want to come to Ghana, I could figure it out. I'll get the Visa. I'll get all that shit like that." When he came to visit me, things just started coming together quickly. I told him about this idea I had been thinking around the festivals to address the gap between Black American artists and the continent of Africa. We perform everywhere else on the globe. We perform in Europe 10 times over, we perform in Asia. We perform the whole continent of Australia. We be in Europe and cities we'd never heard of before like Oslo or Glasgow before we perform once in Africa.

Why do you think Africa is such an underserved music market?

I think at the base of it is a centuries-long propaganda campaign to justify the exploitation of African resources. In its modern form, the infrastructure is lacking, the conversion of money is difficult and it all points back to the colonization and enslavement of the continent.

It's a vicious cycle because then we also see the propaganda of Africa being this barren wasteland with nothing. Just poverty.

It's all desolate! There's nothing there for a western person because everybody's wearing loin cloths and there's just baboons and tigers running around. And that's the narrative that has been force-fed to many people in the West. And being at this amazing time in history, we have the opportunity to write our own narrative for the continent of our origin. That's what the Black Star Line Festival was about. It's a lot of work, but we were able to bring an amazing group of artists from America to come perform in Africa including myself, Chance, Erykah Badu, T-Pain, Jeremih, Tobe Nwigwe. There was a lot of dope people mixed in with Ghanaian artists. Jeremih, Tobe Nwigwe. Then they're sharing a stage with Ghanaian artists. The biggest rapper in Ghana, his named Sarkodie. My cousin is a rapper named Manifest from Ghana. These young bloods named Asakaa Boys do Ghanaian drill music. A group called NSG from London who are also Ghanaian. It was dope, and it was a free festival for the people. 52,000 people. It was massive.

Sweater: DIOR x ERL, Accessories: Secret of Manna

Speaking of which, you recently went viral again on Twitter for a resurfaced clip of you calling out Akademiks for his voyeuristic and exploitative coverage of the Chicago drill scene, which you know well. Now you have the genre expanding across the world. What does it feel like to see that?

It's really astounding, man. It's beautiful. Ghanaian drill is interesting too because it's this ping-pong effect where drill music from Chicago then inspired the UK who transformed that sound plus grime into a UK drill scene; which then ping-ponged and inspired Pop Smoke and them to do the New York drill scene, which then ping-ponged and inspired the Ghanaian kids to make Ghanaian drill. Their music largely reflects their realities, which are not the same as American drill realities. Ghana is a very peaceful place. People don't get killed like that. There's a lot of struggle though, so their music is rooted in struggle, but it's not so much tied into real murders in the way that it is in America or even England. UK drill is a lot about stabbings and shootings.

Ghanaian drill is not... You don't really hear about, "Oh, these drill artists in Ghana just shot somebody," because people don't just shoot each other in Ghana. So it's dope as hell. I feel proud as a Chicagoan. I feel like being a rap fan is conflicting because to a certain extent, you have to praise negativity unless you only want to listen to a select few conscious rappers.

The drill movement was always conflicting for me. While I loved the artistic expression in the music, I also had a front-row seat to the real-life accompaniment to that music. Friends of mine were killed in the midst of drill rap beef and all that shit. That was why I got into it with Akademiks, because a kid that I grew up with and went to karate with when we were five years old ended up being a street n***a, gang banging, et cetera. He was also a very talented rapper. When he got killed, there was music involved, there were big drill artists involved, and I heard about it on Akademiks' parasitic platform. So that's why I was upset.

For that reason, that shit was always conflicting to me. But looking at the way that music by kids from my city of my generation has influenced and impacted these movements worldwide and then being in a position to put those Ghanaian drill rappers on a platform to the biggest crowd they've ever performed for? In that way, that was strangely full circle.

You brought up the term "conscious rapper." How do you feel about that? Do you see yourself as one? I've been told that it isn't something you can place upon yourself.

I think of myself that way. It doesn't bother me. I think the place where it becomes sticky is that it's not the entirety of my being as a person. So if I want to make a ratchet-ass song for the strip clubs, I feel very conflicted. Can I even do this? That's where it becomes conflicting for me. But the label and the idea of being a conscious rapper don't bother me because what I study and what I aim to achieve is a higher level of consciousness. I can never be mad at the idea of being a conscious rapper. The truth is just that I'm a multifaceted person.

I'm going to do things that invariably will not align with one identity that you may have for me. I'm going to do it. You may think of me this way, and then you may think of me strictly for my lyrics and metaphors and storytelling. Then I'm going to go over here and play guitar and sing falling out of an airplane. Then I'm going to go in over there and do some house music. I might come over here and do some ratchet shit. I might do a 10-minute freestyle full of the most mind-splitting fucking wordplay ever. I want to be able to do all those things because I'm inspired in those different ways.

The first time we met was at Riot Fest, Chicago's rock festival. You told me you were nervous because it's such a different crowd and we also discussed your foray into punk music, which you said may have been ahead of your audience's time.

People hated it. People absolutely hated it. Some people loved it, but at the end of the day, I had a lot of fun. I was doing punk shows in my house. The bulk of the performances from the album was crazy house parties I was having in Silver Lake where helicopters would be coming and shut it down and shit.

What they really hated was when I put on a fucking dress. I put on this confederate flag dress that was inspired by To Wong Foo. It was a confederate flag dress inspired by an outfit that RuPaul wore in the movie. That got me so much hate.

Was it because of the dress or the confederate flag?

It was the dress and the makeup. The drag got me another level of hate that I wasn't ever really prepared for. I'm kind of still stung by it in all honesty. My brain is just formatted in such a way that oftentimes if I do something controversial, I don't even consider the consequences or how much backlash may come from it. In all honesty, I really don't give a fuck. But then at the same time, I do. It affects my life. As a human being, I don't care. As a commodity, I kind of have to care. I'm still working on not giving a fuck at all

Jacket and pants: DIOR x ERL, Scarf: DIOR, Boots: Walter van Beirendonck, Sunglasses: Louis Vuitton

It's a human instinct to want to be loved and accepted.

100%, it is. And the thing I have just been striving towards and learning is that ultimately, God accepts me and I accept myself. I have this thing I say to myself, "God accepts me, therefore man accepts me. I accept myself. Nothing can interfere with the divine design of my success."

I repeat that in my mind when I find myself too lost in what other people think about me. Many of the things that people demonize me for or judge me for end up being popular. I exist as a trailblazer in that way. When I was first going hard on a political stance in 2016 and I was fresh in the fame, people were like, "Yo, you just signed a deal with Jay-Z. Why are you so mad, so angry?" This was the comment as I'm making very political music. In 2020, protest songs were now on every award show. I was doing all the rock and roll, painted nails and stuff, and my friends was dissin'. Fast-forward, you got Lil Uzi and Playboy Carti being super hardcore, rocked out. Lil Yachty is doing a nail polish line and more kids are accepting it.

At the end of the day, you can't please everybody. I'm working on not even trying to please everybody and just focusing on the people that support me. My core group. I think that if you listen to my music enough, as with anybody, you're buying into them as a human being. For me at least. If I listen to somebody enough, I'm bought into them as a human being. I don't know Frank Ocean well, but I appreciate his humanity because I've listened to his music so much. I'm the same way with Kanye. Before I ever met Kanye, I knew Kanye to a degree because I deeply appreciate his music.

You referred to yourself as a commodity which stuck out to me. How do you stay authentic while knowing that for many, you are something to be consumed?

You got to keep the lights on. The sooner I can accept that, find the nuance in it,and play the line between pure expression and accepting the reality of this business, you can win the right way. As an artist, you are a commodity. There's something to be bought. I guess the goal is to create a mechanism of control.

Do you feel misunderstood?

Well, I'm black and white. Tere's never been a clear place for me, but I think that that's also amazingly one of my biggest strengths or most potent powers. It's to be able to understand different worlds and unite them. I definitely grew up without having a clear place to belong.My father's African from Africa and my mom is white from a rural setting. I'm growing up on the south side of Chicago, which is a very particular place. Nobody had the keys to tell me how to deal with that. My pops has a PhD, ridiculously intelligent, as is my mother. But they're from different worlds. They can't really tell me how to navigate this one in detail.

I've just kind of felt like I was on the outside of acceptance and was misunderstood until I grew up a little bit. By the time you reach about 11 or 12 in America as a Black boy, you're now treated as a threat if you make it that far. And so then I understood myself as a Black man because I saw how I was being treated by police and figures of authority. Also, I kind of got tired of feeling like I didn't belong or I wasn't accepted. I learned America's most widely understood language: violence. Violence is the language America understands. When I was in high school, that's when I really grasped that there will be no belittling me if I punch you in the fucking mouth. So I started to just live that way.

Shirt: Rick Owens, Pants: Dries Van Noten, Boots: Walter van Beirendonck

But in your eyes, it's survival, not violence.

Yeah. I really grew up loving violence. I loved violence since I was a small child, honestly. Then in high school, I realized that it could help me feel less of a pariah. Being a young man in Chicago, you are treated like you're worthless if you're not violent. Obviously this is the most patriarchal, convoluted thought process that being violent makes you a man of value, but that's what we grow up in and that's what we're convinced of.

I went down that road to get away from sadness. Ultimately though, it really only made me more empty. I went to the drugs. That helped for a little while, but then it really only made me more empty. I found fame and money. You would think that would help, but the drugs and the violence was clouding any appreciation I could have of the success. I always lashed out externally or what we called in 12-Step, acted out, externally to mask the anger I felt with myself for not being white.

Going to Ghana since you were a child must've helped with these feelings you were having.

I think it gave me a sense of confidence. I think it helped me to feel a little bit more belonging. I came back and went to sixth grade and I think I had got my first pair of Air Force 1s or whatever. At that same time, I was getting into hip-hop and I was also developing more of that tough exterior by dealing with police brutality and things like that. I think that gave me a sense of perspective and my place in the world in a way. It was my first experience with that entire side of my family. I had never met any of them before because they had never came to America.

And now you have that responsibility to care for your family.

In many ways, I'm the champion of my family and I'm the ticket out of poverty. Everything my father's been able to do and all the people he's been able to put through school, aunts and uncles and cousins that he's been able to keep afloat, that really comes over to me. I welcome it wholeheartedly because I see it as my destiny to change the economic status of my family. That economic status is one of poverty. And poverty, it's kind of hard to imagine from an American standpoint, but it's like working a job and making $85 a month, probably.

I don't see it as a daunting task. Imagine what a million dollars would do in the Zongo where my family lives. How many lives could be altered forever with $1 million? Take a million dollars and try to make something happen in New York City or Chicago, you can't even build a community center with that.

What about the cannabis brand you founded?

93 Boyz! We launched mid-last year as the first Black-owned cannabis brand selling weed in Chicago legally. My goal is to combine cultivation with community. I want to have a good product that is at the same time acknowledging the fact that cannabis has been used to destroy the Black community. The criminalization of cannabis has been weaponized against us. So if we're going to be doing this, it's got to be reinvesting at the same time. We do dope programs like Books Before Bars, sending a bunch of books into the prisons. Or working on expungement things. We actually did a contest where we brought some kids out to Ghana for the festival.

It's been great. It's really just getting started. Honestly, things have been kind of crazy recently and it's really time to kick into the next gear of 93 Boyz, being that we're in a whole new year. I really need to refocus, but we got new ideas, new products launching and new energy, man. We started strong. The brand is established in Chicago.

What brought on this wave of entrepreneurship for you?

I think that going sober and really focusing on my manifestation, my meditation, my prayer and my thought processes came together to lead me in a new direction. I've just shifted focus away from so many things that have drained my energy like street shit and beef and drama. I mean, there's so much that people never even seen. It's like people have seen so many controversies about me and that's only what meets the eye. That's the only thing that ends up on TV. People don't know that I've had multiple credible threats on my life. People were trying to kill me. Gun charges that motherfuckers never even heard about. Legal trouble galore. So much extra shit that I'm just not even entertaining the type of behaviors and lifestyle that brings those things to get in my way anymore. I think things are just starting to get rolling for me in the right direction because I've been rolling for myself in the right direction.

Shorts: Louis Vuitton, Shoes: Rick Owens, Laces: Bottega

Did you do 12-Step for drugs?

I did 12-Step actually to address really my infidelity in relationships. I was in a program called S.L.A.A. Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. It's really about relationships. I loved it. I was in the program and I think it definitely helped me to have a new perspective on the way I treat women above all. Because coming into money and fame and the rap game, we were never told that a quality of an icon or somebody we idolized was an honesty to their woman. That's not what was on BET. That's not what we saw in the music videos. You don't even think that you're doing wrong. You think you're doing exactly what you're supposed to be doing.

That shit was hurting my spirit though. I was so misaligned because on one hand, I'm fighting for truth and crusading for these causes and catching heat. I'm in Palestine talking about the realities of the Israeli regime, being in Standing Rock during the NoDAPL pipeline protesting and standing for Flint, Michigan. And at the same time, I'm going home and lying dead in the face of the person that I love. That shit was tearing me apart. It was also coming back to me in just wildly unexpected ways. People that I love on the other side of things, stealing from me, robbing me, lying to me because that's how the universe works. If I do that to the person that I love, be sure that from one direction or another, someone else that I love will do the same to me.

I just was tired of hitting my head in that way. So I started going to this 12-Step program and it helped me a lot. I didn't make it all the way through the program, but I learned a lot of things. I got a lot of tools. It just helped me to be more upright, be more righteous, be more honest and have more integrity.

Sex addiction doesn't seem to be taken as seriously because it's supposed to be fun! It's not heroin, so it's okay.

It's not a happy thing to do. It's all pain. When I went through my inventory trying to name or list out every sexual experience I can remember and my motivations for them, the vast majority of them had nothing to do with sexuality. It was all validation or control because I was so sad all the time that this could be my method of escapism. I'm just using it the same way as drugs in many ways, or if I felt like I couldn't control my mind or negative suicidal thoughts I was having, one thing I felt like I could control was a sexual situation. I could control that. I could make it happen. Then I feel powerful. But at what cost? It just changed me to list all that out and realize that I didn't do any of it because I actually wanted to. I did it because I wanted to feel validated. And it's hard to go back to that after you've seen how pitiful it was.

But you're in a healthy and happy relationship now, which is really special.

Straight up. That's what I wrote "Strawberry Louis Vuitton" about. it's about the relationship I'm in now. It's funny because my big sister, Aja, was like, "Man, I look forward to hearing the music that you'll make when you are in the right loving relationship." It's definitely the first relationship I ever been faithful in. No lies for real.

So that's been a completely different fucking experience. I'm ultimately grateful. I think it's helped me to become more focused, to be able to be on my square in the way that is necessary for me to do the things I'm doing in my life right now. I'm not going out. I'm not expending my energy trying to find women.

i'm not really into it. But that's not the reason I love being in this relationship. I love being in this relationship because she inspires me to be a better me. I respect her, so that inspires me to act accordingly. That helps me. I do better with discipline. I'm only a small period of time into being disciplined and things are just looking better for me. When I'm too loose, I'm too turnt and I can be my own worst enemy. With discipline, I'm learning to be my best friend. With discipline, I'm learning to be my own biggest supporter.

Pants: Walter van Beirendonck, Sunglasses: Friendship Club

And you seem really happy being sober. What has that been like navigating the industry while staying sober?

Sobriety's dope. I love it. It's rewarding because I'm not constantly getting myself in a mess that I have to climb out of. I'm able to build on moments of success and small victories. Even the time when I was at the Soho House and my girl got into it with somebody and I had to take her to the elevator, a man threw a drink on me as the door was closing. I didn't come back upstairs and wring his neck out. To me, that's a moment of success. I don't know if I was not in this moment of sobriety would I have been able to not beat his face across the floor and then deal with what comes along with that?

What I know better than peace, historically, is chaos. I know how to do that. Being peaceful and exercising restraint is much more difficult and much newer to me, but it's so much more fucking rewarding. I've learned that I can literally circumvent issues and negative energy that people are bringing towards me. In the past I'll be like, "Man, no n***a on this planet will speak to me that way." I'm willing to die about it. I'm willing to kill you about it.

That's so stupid, but that was my mentality! Now, I got a different mentality and I'm like, "Man, I'm going to put God in between the two of us. I'm going to put God between you and I. I'm going to stay faithful. I'm going to stay prayerful. I'm going to stay righteous. I'm going to stay generous. I'm going to keep being of service and I'm not going to entertain you with that shit." I've seen things just shed and fall off. It's such a better way to live.

When did you start to envision a longer life for yourself?

Just right within this last year or two. I started to feel grateful for where I am, feel grateful that I'm alive, that I have the opportunity to have a great day, to craft my future and my present as I want it to be. I'm just really learning to be grateful for everything. I could 100% just spend an entire day being grateful that you would give me a platform and an opportunity to speak my truths and share them with the world. I have somebody that cares what I have to say. If I got one person that cares what I have to say, I got something that someone out there doesn't have.

So many times I'll stop and I'll speak to a person that's experiencing homelessness. There's a guy who asks for money oftentimes right off the expressway by my house, and I kind of developed a friendship with him and do things like get a U-Haul truck and furnish his house and like that. Sometimes when you're speaking to people like that, they be so appreciative because they're like, "Man, nobody's taken the time to ask me how my day was in years." Nobody cares anymore.

I did a show last year in New York that was really dope. My sister opened a show up for me. It's called Celebrate Brooklyn. They got this dope festival. It wasn't huge. It felt like it was probably about a thousand people or something like that. They were there to see me. However many hundreds it was, I was like, "If I was grateful for one of these people each day, I'll be set to the end of the year." I'll be having a good year if I could remind myself to be grateful for one person each day. It just works better for me. I've done the other way of thinking about my life for too long and this one works better.

How is all of this informing your new work?

My album is really a story of redemption. It discusses in detail many of the things that we've been talking about. It kind of follows that spiritual journey and also goes into love and also goes into violence and goes into ratchet shit and goes into Africa. It does all those things. There's a lot more of my production on it. Just really exploring my own form of expression in that way. When you hear the project in its entirety, it's very clearly following these new ideas that I'm talking about. And I'm excited. I'm excited to share it with the world.

I've been doing music in the public sphere for 10 years, but I have an entirely new lease on my own life. I feel reinvigorated and I feel infinite. I feel that I'm only improving as a human being. I feel like all of the trials and tribulations and controversy and struggle that I've experienced has inspired me in a unique way to be the person I am today. I love the person I am today. I think I'm the shit.

I think that I'm informed by so much pain and love and loss and triumph that I'm in a place to make decisions as a good man. I wasn't in that space before even though I had moments of this quantifiable physical success. I wasn't aligned in my spirit to be a good man because I was really still used to just being a bad kid. It's like a proverb in my father's culture, the Akan culture, that roughly translates to "The bad boy grows up to be a good man." And that's what I feel like I am. I think that I'm seeing my moment right now as a trampoline for me to lift off into the heavens with a very intentional and positive.

Jacket: Givenchy, Accessories: Secret of Manna

How old are you?


This goes to show it's never too late to figure everything out.

For sure. I done made all these motherfucking mistakes and I'm not 30. But when I am 30, I'll be informed by all of this life experience that many people may not ever have. Had everything just gone right for me, then maybe I'll just be another asshole rich n***a. I'll be 45 years old all in the fucking tabloids for cheating on the baddest bitch of all time. This happens a lot. That's not the man I want to be. I'd rather have gone through the things I've gone through to bring me to the place of centered intentionality where I can now step into this next decade of my life making steps with integrity and making conscious decisions. I didn't appreciate that before. Now I do.

Photography: Danielle Alston
Styling: Brandy Penelope
Props styling: Nadya Laska
VFX: Erica Martens de Hoyos
Makeup: Alena Funk