Chicago rapper and artist Alex Wiley released his critically acclaimed project Village Party in early summer of 2014 and introduced our ears to a music experience that transcended the bounds of rap. The twenty-one year old artist recently headlined his first show at SOB’s in New York and is at the forefront of Chi-town music, although his creativity and influence span beyond the windy city. The immense success of Wiley’s second project has put pressure on the artist to step up to the plate in 2015 and answer the proverbial call to greatness. A new EP by the name of “one singular flame emoji” and an intense desire to create original music that doesn’t compare to anyone else, has put Wiley on the path to not just become a niche in the rap game, but to become a legend.
It’s safe to say you can’t quite put a label on Wiley’s music but you can enter a different realm and feel his thoughts when listening to any song he puts out. Wiley has a rare talent for making you feel as if his lyrics are tangible. We wouldn’t say he’s a self-righteous rapper who is out to save the people. Wiley is more interested in saving himself and travelling through his complex thoughts and taking any fans who identify with him along the way. We were able to catch up with the artist for a lengthy interview about new music, the importance of Village Party, and his plan to become a legend.
Village Party was an extremely well-received project last year. How did this project differentiate from your first body of work?
It was definitely my biggest one. I only have two. It was by far bigger than the first one. It furthered my career and I have more fans. It’s really cool because for the first time I made the project I wanted to make.
It was super drastically different than the first one. It was a whole new sound, a new perspective. I was completely a new artist when I made Village Party. I did a lot of growing.
You just dropped a new project “one singular flame emoji”. How have you transitioned from the buzz surrounding Village Party to this project?
I feel like Village Party was like a free album. That was meant to be me trying to make an album for the people. This new project is me trying to embrace my status. I’m a buzzing underground rapper. I’m embracing my underground status. I have a very young and engaged audience. I don’t really need every project to be some genre defining moment. I don’t need to be dropping albums all the time. I want to start dropping music with more regularity. I have a lot of good songs and its very fun for me. I’m just getting back to what was very fun about music.
I do have a very specific creative agenda. That gets very stressful sometimes. I put a lot of pressure on myself to elevate and really come fresh every time. It’s very stressful sonically you know. I feel like that’s the non-rapper in me because part of me is really not a rapper. I’m like a producer, musician — I make music and shit. And that part of me really wants to come with those genre defining albums and really create an experience. I’m going to do that and I have every intention of doing that.
So where are you at right now in this stage of your career?
I’m still very much underground and super indie and hipster-friendly. I can do whatever the fuck I want to do. I’m not on some major label. All I have to do is please my fans and make music that isn’t bullshit. But I realized I’m not super ready career-rise, maturity-wise, and creatively to make the albums I want to make immediately.
I’ve been working on this super crazy album, and it’s not the project that just came out. I’ve been working on it for a while since Village Party and it’s been very stressful. Just trying to make it connect the way I want to on every level. You just realize how difficult that is to make a really cohesive and fresh album, that’s relatable but somehow unlike anything anyone’s ever heard. At the end of the day I’m also a rapper, I was into Odd Future early on. I started off rapping purely for the fun of it and shock value. I just wanted to get back to that a little bit. I’m still a music snob and the tape still has moments of musicality that will separate me from any other rapper.
The new project definitely has more rap than what I was working on previously. I’m confident in my sound and in my ear and I can have fun with it. It’s not going to be some shit you play for your kids in 20 years but my fans will love it.
How would you describe your sound if you had to?
I try not to describe my sound with definitive terms. It can’t really be described…I literally might do anything. If somebody sent me a beat that was country as fuck, like actual country, but somehow I liked it and for some strange reason I found some meaning in it, I would do it and it would have to come out. Ha, I would just have to face whatever consequences came.
I will describe the sounds that I have experimented with though. I’m really into spacial music that makes you see something. It’s like a 3D space. It‘s not such a flat stereo image. I want my music to be a little darker because that’s me. I want it to feel fresh man. Plus, I feel like Chance’s wave of depositing music…I feel like a lot of people are trying to exploit that and manipulate that for their own gain and make super happy music for the sake of it because Chance did it so well. People compare me to Chance all the time.
Really? I wouldn’t compare you two in terms of pure rhyming style. You kindof have this aggressive undertone to your music.
That’s true and that’s because I want to contribute something new to the game. I have to analyze the game and figure out what I’m going to do that’s going to be new. You know, a real contribution to music and not just riding someone’s wave.
I think so much about this shit because it’s not just about trying to get famous from here – it’s not about getting big so I can have money. I’m really trying to define my shit a certain way so it can last. I don’t want to be portrayed in some way that’s not me. I want this shit to be right essentially. My music is a little darker and I still want my shit to feel squadly for real. I make strong chorus-driven records that are influenced by genres and eras previous to me. My sound? I don’t know, I’m trying to make cool music.
You and Kembe X have a lot of music together. How far do you and he go back? He’s doing his thing right now too.
Basically all the way back, musically. He was the first person I ever made music with. I had just turned 18. My first verses ever, my first time rapping ever was with Kembe. That’s like my real true friend way before music.
In regards to the current Chi-town wave, we can arguably say that Mick Jenkins, Chance The Rapper, Vic Mensa, and yourself represent a completely new generation of Chicago music and culture. What are your thoughts on this perception?
It’s super unique and we were just set up to win. I’m not sure what it was but something about our upbringing and the generation before us aligned. This just happened to be something that the industry would find relevant at this time. A lot of things have to line up.
How do you feel about the Chicago music narrative of drill-style rap vs. alternative rap?
I’ve seen that narrative. They are two drastically different things. Honestly I don’t think about it.
I have a lot of respect for the music if it’s good. Drill music is not really the music that I necessarily like to listen to and I never think about it. No disrespect. I feel like we are pitted against them but I don’t have any weird feelings towards them. King Louie is out of Chicago and I think he’s one of the best rappers out. I like drill music in its doses.
I don’t really like that it’s being so vilified right now. Everyone was super on it and now everyone’s super shitting on it. And it’s because both of those things were really cool to do at the moment. It was really cool to dick-ride drill music and now it’s cool to shit on it. This whole blog culture is cool and I’m a product of it and I can’t knock it – but at the same time a lot of news stories are news stories for the sake of it. People post shit because it’s a Tuesday and they need a story on Tuesday.
Do you see the rap game differently now since you’re actually in it?
Yeah, it’s weird because being a rapper took me out of the fan pool. I can’t really be a fan of it so much anymore because I see the nuts and bolts of everything. There’s very few people I picture myself a fan of because I look at everything so technically. I’m a lot less impressed by stuff now that I know how everything’s made. It’s like sausage.
Yeah once you find out how it’s made, it’s just not as appetizing. So what are some of your non-musical influences?
Hooping definitely. The whole ‘ball is life’ definitely. Ball was life well before rap.
I don’t have problems with really finding influence or things to inspire me. I have to sortof tone down my creativity. I have to be careful or it’ll spiral into some other shit. I’m trying to learn to be 21 and go to a party. But I don’t really have to think about getting inspired. It’s moreso how to be more of a normal person. I don’t have to worry about how to be weird. I was very fortunate to find rap as an avenue to not seem so odd. My problem is making it so that the normal person can understand.
A lot of bigger rappers like Drake and J. Cole are hitting their 5-yr period right now and there’s room for new talent in our opinion. How do you differentiate yourself from everyone else?
Mainly the fact that I’m only 60% rapper anyway. The really real answer is that I’m embracing all of the things that are me. Truly being myself and trusting my influences and everything I want to do — Trusting the reason I want to do some shit that I’ve never done before. Trusting that feeling and not being afraid to do some shit that’s suspect and that you really aren’t sure that anyone’s going to like but you. It’s just a matter of not caring what’s going to be said. That confidence shows too. When you’re really confident about something you can really convince someone that they like it by the way you present it. In the end, when it’s time to press upload on a song, I have to just own that shit because it’s my name next to it. Nobody else’s name.
What can we expect from Alex Wiley in 2015?
I’m about to be an underground legend this year. I’m going for that. This moment, for this year, I’m embracing my underground status. I’m about to drop multiple tapes this year. I’m about to be like hipster Gucci Mane. I’m about to be the hipster version of mixtape Wayne. I’m coming with it, I’m coming with it all the time. It’s going to be hot every time and that’s just what it’s going to be. I’m confident that good things are going to happen. I’m not trying to do that with a certain goal in mind or get a certain amount for shows. At this point I’m chillin’ and I’m doing what I need to do. I’m in a very unique situation where I now have a big enough fan base where I can just make the music I want to do. I’m about to just get it poppin’ this year. For the people that fuck with me it’s about to be a very fun year musically.
Interview by Evangeline. @_vang