Just over a month ago, 20-year-old Chicago native Alex Wiley unleashed a bold, unequivocally entertaining, musically sound debut mixtape called Club Wiley. What made the project special was a combination of several things. First of all, the young emcee has been making waves for a long time. I first stumbled across his name two years ago in association with fellow Chicago spitter Kembe X via Rap Genius. His energy and definitively unique image combined with his ability to deliver bars at a frighteningly fast pace caught my attention right away, and he’s only improved in every way since.
On top of that, Alex Wiley is in the thick of the firestorm of talent brewing in the Windy City. He was one of the small number of featured artists on Chance The Rapper‘s April 2012 debut, #10Day, and we all know how that turned out. As a matter of fact, Wiley told us how that was gonna turn out in his verse on “Windows” with the now classic line, “Hella love for Chance The Rapper we know #10Day is a classic on God.”
The noise being made by a slew of elite young artists in Chicago certainly helped draw attention to Wiley and catalyze his buzz, but even so, he delivered. One of the biggest challenges in life is living up to any type of hype. Wiley earned hype through hard work and smart career moves – his association with Closed Sessions included – but with Club Wiley, he proved he’s here to stay.
Before you go any further, download Club Wiley now by clicking right HERE. If you haven’t heard it yet, throw it on while reading the interview to get a little taste, but this is a project you definitely want to give a close listen. As you’ll read below, the intricacies and attention to detail throughout are what make it so engaging and what will ultimately continue to separate Alex Wiley from the crowd.
I spoke with the Closed Sessions signee last week, and we talked about everything from his background and introduction to rap to his friendship with Kembe to little known facts about Club Wiley, and much more. Check it out:
The Fresh Heir: I wanted to start by asking about the New York experience you had a few weeks ago after the release of Club Wiley. What was that like?
Alex Wiley: Man, it was really cool. It was really cool to see what people thought of the tape. Everyone seemed to like it. It was even better than I could’ve hoped for.
TFH: For people who don’t know you, where does your story begin?
AW: I’m 20 years old from the south side of Chicago. I grew up in a neighborhood called Hyde Park, it’s a really historic Chicago neighborhood. Barack Obama lives there, Oprah and shit. That’s where I grew up. I guess my story as a rapper starts when I dropped out of high school my junior year. I went to this high school Whitney Young, a really good school in the city. I dropped out of that, then six to eight months later, I started rapping.
TFH: Was it something you fell into because your homies were doing it?
AW: Yeah, it started as us just making joke songs and putting them on Facebook, then it just grew from that basically.
TFH: What about your association with Kembe? That’s how I first heard about you a couple years ago. How has coming up together helped?
AW: I think it mainly just helped us get better. There’s always someone driving you and pushing you to get better. Having someone that’s really good, striving to get better makes you do the same – and vice versa.
TFH: How long have you known him?
AW: I didn’t meet him til I had already dropped out of Whitney Young. I met him through my friend Wes [Freeman] that produced “Spaceship II.”We were basically all dropout buddies. We had all dropped out of high school and were all young as fuck. Kembe was still 15. We were just high school dropouts running around the city and shit.
TFH: What’s it feel like having the project done and out, especially after having a ton of buzz with no project out for a while?
AW: It’s weird, it still doesn’t feel like it’s out sometimes. It was really cool. I put a lot of time and effort into the project, so for people to finally hear it was a really cool feeling. It was received the way I thought it was gonna be so that was really awesome. Tweeting it out for the first time… that shit was really cool.
TFH: Describe the whole creation process, I feel like a lot of up-and-coming rappers don’t know what it really takes to put out a quality mixtape.
AW: It was lots of coming back to songs. Adding more stuff to them, more background, messing with the beat, being really hands on with the production and arrangements, the levels of my vocals – every aspect of it. Really I just tried to address like every four bar stretch of the tape and make sure something was happening in that stretch that was sonically interesting. Like adding background vocals underneath a verse, which is something a lot of people told me not to do, adding so many backgrounds to hooks, then having songs where there wasn’t a second verse and it just went and did some whole other shit for a minute. I was really trying to make sure there was as few dull or boring moments on the project as possible.
TFH: You got a favorite track?
AW: Yeah, “The Woods” is still my favorite track. To me it doesn’t sound like anything else. That’s really cool to me.
TFH: “Spaceship II” got picked up as a single by a lot of blogs, was that your intent? Did you know people would fuck with that one heavy?
AW: Yeah, I mean I made that song at the end of 2011. That’s the oldest song on the tape. As soon as I made it I knew – when I first recorded it, it was just my verse. A couple weeks later I brought Chance to the studio ad he put a verse on it, then a couple weeks later GLC recorded his part. Even early on though I knew it was gonna be a cool song, then when Chance and GLC came on I knew it even more. I didn’t know it was gonna be the biggest song, I thought “Earfucked” (watch video here) was gonna be, but I knew it was gonna be a premier track.
TFH: What was it like working with guys like Action Bronson and Freddie Gibbs?
AW: Yeah, it was really cool that they heard my shit and fucked with it more so than anything. And what they brought to the tape was crazy, and the project wouldn’t have been the same without them. I’m just really thankful that they fuck with somebody who didn’t have anything out.
TFH: What’s it been like working with Closed Sessions?
AW: It’s been great, basically they brought me into the studio a year ago damn near. They wanted to do a project with me and Kembe. At first it was gonna be a five track EP, then we were talking about doing a full-length. But putting the time and effort into a group project didn’t end up making a lot of sense at the time. They approached me shortly after about being their first artist, their first signee. We talked for a couple months, I was really hesitant to do it. I had some more established people reaching out to me but they weren’t on anything cause I didn’t even have a project out. It was kind of a weird situation for me. After really hearing and figuring out what they wanted to do and their vision, I believed in what they wanted to do and they believed in what I wanted to do, so we took a leap of faith and took a chance in one another, basically. But yeah I mean it’s really cool, we all just understand what we’re trying to do. I have a ton of chemistry with Mike Kolar, the engineer at Soundscape Studios. When we’re making music, it’s way quicker than it would be with someone else. I think he mastered my project really well. It’s been a good experience.
TFH: I wanted to touch on the recent violence in Chicago. It’s a touchy subject, but I know you’ve been outspoken on Twitter following some incidents. I wanted to get your perspective on the whole situation and if you feel like you guys could potentially have a hand in curbing the violence in any way.
AW: Yeah, I mean basically what’s going on is like anarchy. It’s crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it or heard of anything like this in America. People are getting killed every single day. I honestly don’t think we have much to do to help it as rappers. I think what we’re able to do is super limited. We have to help from more of a real person perspective than a rapper perspective. No one really knows what to do, the one thing everyone can agree on is that it’s just fucking crazy.
TFH: Last question, what can people look out for from you in the future?
AW: We’re working on a bunch of visuals from Club Wiley. I think it was a very visual project the way we put it together, and we knew from the jump that would be a big part of it. I’m also back making music. I haven’t really worked on a new song in a long time, I’ve just been finishing Club Wiley, polishing those songs. So I’m making new songs, some not rap stuff too. But really the main thing to look out for is the visual side of Club Wiley. Like the video versions of the songs. We’re really trying to capture the energy of the song and making the visual mesh with it. Almost like your first time hearing the song because of a multimedia component that’s attached to it. It’s gonna be cool, we’re really just trying to approach it differently. I’m really excited though, the “Spaceship II” video’s gonna be crazy.