The Chicago rapper explains why he's going darker his upcoming project, 'Silent Party,' and discusses the future of music technology.
Photos by Andrew Zeiter, courtesy of Closed Sessions
Alex Wiley has had a pretty good year. Early in summer, he released Village Party, a sophisticated, adventurous rap album that established him as a legitimate creative force in hip-hop’s underground and expanded his visibility beyond his hometown of Chicago. He’s spent the subsequent months playing shows around the country and continuing to build his fan base. Working in a kind of psychedelic, upbeat, pan-genre sound and relying on his instincts toward both humor and candor, Wiley has been one of 2014’s most consistently interesting rappers.
It’s also been fun to watch as Wiley has relentlessly pushed himself to try new things and improve his craft. He’s legitimately getting better, and when he tells me that he’s listened to Village Party a hundred times in the last month to pick apart its flaws or that he’s trying to write more concisely like Ernest Hemingway, I’m not particularly surprised. “I’m in this really cool space where it’s all clicking and I know what I’m trying to do,” he tells me from the studio where he’s about a third of the way into his next album, tentatively called Silent Party.
He’s already sitting on quite a few completed songs, too, though. There’s a trilogy that tells the loosely fictionalized story of “this kid who’s just going through school, nobody really fucks with him, and he’s just having a really hard time in school.” And then there’s “Booty Club,” which Noisey is premiering today, which takes a different approach, pulling from Wiley’s tour stories and coming together in one of his weirdest and most party-friendly songs yet. Produced by Blev, who did “See The Day,” “Ducats,” and “Splash Game” on Village Party, it’s lighthearted fun, but it’s also probably my new favorite song of Wiley's, melodically bouncing all over the place on top of a bunch of laser sounds while reminding us that the booty club is, in fact, going dumb again.
After jokingly comparing his new output to Love and Hip-Hop (“they’ve been doing it for the bitches and the streets this whole time… I gained a lot of respect for the broadcast”) Wiley shared a couple thoughts about the song and the future of recording technology with me.
Noisey: Tell me about this song, “Booty Club.”
Alex Wiley: It’s a song that I made in a hotel room. I had this bodyguard on the East Coast tour, and he used to come in the hotel rooms like late as shit at night, like on some 4 AM shit, and we’d just be like ‘where were you?’ And he’s like ‘man, I was just in the booty club’ and shit. And one random night he comes in at like 5 AM, waking everybody up, and we’re like ‘where were you?’ and he’s like ‘the booty club, going dumb again’ and it was like the funniest shit I had heard in that moment, the booty club going dumb.
What’s the deal with Silent Party?
It’s like very dark and grungy. I’m trying to make very dark, beautiful things. Pushing myself, I want to make more beautiful music, stuff that whether you like rap or me or not, you can listen to it and it’s just undeniably well put-together, beautiful music. I think it’s easy for that to get kind of corny and not as impactful when it’s bright, happy, smiley music. I just think that a lot of artists now are painting this picture of how they want things to be, and I’m going to paint this picture of how things are for me right now.
This super positive wave of rap—I call it Smile Rap—it’s very cool, and it’s noble. It’s noble to make super positive stuff like that, but it needs a balance. Rap isn’t supposed to be fucking kumbaya session, to me. I think it’s supposed to be gritty, and it’s supposed to be uncomfortable sometimes. It shouldn’t be all ‘let’s fucking hold hands and love each other.’ That’s tight, but that’s not real life to me. I was trying to come with a new approach and trying to make dark-ass, beautiful music that really reflects real points in my life. And I felt like if I did it that way it would be easier for me to try and dig deeper and give more to the project than I have before.
Has there been anything that’s happened in your life or any artistic inspiration that’s happened that’s pushed you to dive a little deeper?
I’ve had a tough time over the past couple weeks with some things. In high school I got committed on some, like, clinical depression. I used to have like these really bad episodes, and I wasn’t having them. And then I had two in like the course of a week, and it was really intense and really reflective, and I wrote a lot of music, and it was just really, really strange because I didn’t understand why it was happening.
It all clicked for me that I still have this big part of my story to tell. Also, like, traveling around—I don’t want to get too heavy, but I’ve had kids tell me that my music was the reason that they haven’t killed themselves. And I didn’t know what to do with that information. It added a piece of responsibility to my music that now it’s not even just about making things that make me want to dance or making things that I find cool. It’s like I have an actual obligation to the people that this shit means something to to keep it genuine and authentic. I don’t feel I have an obligation to pander to them. I don’t feel like I have to give them things that they want, but I do feel like I have to give them that same energy that they want. I have to find that balance between doing exactly what I want and still giving the people something that they want and can relate to in a real way.
Have you been working with anybody different in terms of producers or other musicians?
I’ve been working with this band, Silent Party, and we’ve been playing shows together. And that’s who I’ve been composing the music with. It’s really cool, man. This dude Eddy has this thing—I don’t even know what it’s called—where you can plug a guitar into and we can basically record into GarageBand on his phone, like on the road. Like in a van or in a hotel room. We have all these demo records where I’ve just been laying in bed in a hotel room singing a chorus, and then he’ll play. We’ll pull out a synthesizer and then record directly into the iPhone. And then I’ll just like record a rough version of the chorus into the headphones of the iPhone.
We’ve just been making music in all these cool ways and in all types of random ass places all around the country. Like in a fucking mall, we’ll pull out the phone. It’s been a cool way to do it. And basically I feel like I have some of my best stuff. Because sometimes I’ll just be walking around and a melody will come to me. And normally it would come to me and I’d just fucking forget it, and that would be that. But now it comes to me and I can immediately do something with it. It’s been a cool new process.
That’s awesome. Technology is crazy.
Yeah man. I think the same way iPhones really made photography, really put photography on its ass, it’s probably going to do the same thing for music recording pretty soon. Like you don’t necessarily need to go to the big studio to record. You just need to go there to mix and master. The first time I recorded an actual good-sounding song on a cell phone, I lost my shit. I definitely didn’t even think that was possible yet. But it is.
Follow Kyle Kramer on Twitter.