Steven began his review of Alex Wiley‘s debut mixtape Club Wiley by saying “first impressions are more important than they have ever been” in the digital era of music. The young emcee from the Southside of Chicago has not only managed to receive good first impressions from peers and critics alike for what he does on the mic but also for what he says away from it. I had the opportunity to sit down with Alex before his show at Canopy Club last Wednesday to discuss his recent success with Club Wiley, his feelings about the current state of music, his relationship with Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, and much more. Read below for the entirety of our conversation, and download Club Wiley here if you have not done so already.
UPC: When did you realize that you wanted to dedicate yourself to becoming a performer?
AW: I was seventeen already. I just dropped out of high school. I didn’t even rap yet. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but it was me starting out halfway. It’s started to pick up a little bit, and then it was like “oh shit, I’m doing this.”
UPC: What is the dynamic when you step into the booth with established artists like Chuck Inglish and Freddie Gibbs?
AW: The label I am on, Closed Sessions, had worked with them before. When I was making these records and deciding who to put on them, we were sending them to the biggest people we could think of, and they liked them and got on it. It was really cool. We missed a couple of features, there were some people who didn’t do it. I had a verse from Raekwon that didn’t make it because he didn’t like his verse.
UPC: How did you go from zero rapping at age seventeen to securing established names in the industry three years later?
AW: There has been a lot [of time] in between when I was seventeen and today. I made a lot of music in between and did a lot of stuff. I don’t feel like I was reaching. This twitter generation of rap has made people so accessible. I’ve had conversations with Action Bronson on the internet. People like that who are willing to work with less-established artists and more off the strength of the music… there are some artists like that, like Ab-Soul, who worked with Chance way before a lot of people didn’t think Chance could get an Ab-Soul feature.
UPC: What do you think of the twitter culture of music nowadays?
AW: It’s cool that you can directly talk to people. It’s not cool in some old-fashion rapper ways though. It humanizes you and makes listeners feel like you’re their friends. Personally, I like that. It definitely changed the game that you can talk to your favorite rapper if they feel like talking to you.
UPC: What is it that you like about Migos?
AW: The patterns. I love their flows. It brought a whole new thing to trap music. Nothing sounded like that. They came on with a whole new energy and whole new patterns. I love them right now. They are some of my favorites.
UPC: Which had a bigger impact on your career, getting a verse on “Windows” from #10Day or the release of “Mo Purp?”
AW: I don’t think I broke into the industry yet. My mixtape was well received, and my next project will be better received. Breaking into the industry is when you are selling records. I’m not interested in breaking into the industry. I don’t know when I will know.
UPC: What song holds the most meaning to you? What song do you think will resonate with fans later on or has not been realized yet?
AW: “The Woods.” It’s so good. It’s so hot. It’s my favorite song I’ve ever made that’s out that’s not the standout on the tape. Everything about Club Wiley I’ve loved except for the fact that “The Woods” did not pop as much as I thought it would.
UPC: What will you change for your next project?
AW: I’m elevating the soundscapes of the music. It’s a much more concise sound. With Club Wiley I was trying to show diversity, and some of the songs were old. I was in different places when making the songs. I have a very different soundscape in mind that is much more cohesive.
UPC: What music would fans be most surprised that you listen to?
AW: I love Mars Volta. I love Cage the Elephant. I just listened to Little Dragon – Machine Dreams a week ago, and it was amazing. I think my favorite band overall in Led Zeppelin. Florence and the Machine was a big influence on the project. “Suck It Revolution” sampled her. I listen to music for the sound of it and the feel of it rather than the lyrics.
UPC: How come?
AW: I feel like music is not going to change your life in that way. I don’t want my music to be super preachy, and when it is super preachy it’s for me. It’s not for the listener. What I do for the listener is make it sound good and make it enjoyable. The content is for the artist, and the enjoyability of it is for the listener.
UPC: What role do you believe humor has in hip hop and where does it fit into hip hop today?
AW: I kind of came out as a humor artist. To be honest with you, I was self-conscious about the music that I wanted to make, and humor was a way to rap without going all in. I wasn’t secure enough with my craft. That is not the music that I wanted to make, but that was the simple choice. Humor has a place in my personal life, but as an artist I am trying to give off more of a soundscape. I want music to feel a particular way, and I don’t want that way to be a giggle.
UPC: What is your relationship like with Closed Sessions?
AW: They allow me to make the kinds of music that I want to make because I have access to a really good studio. I want to make albums, and I want it to have the best production value it possibly can. They allow me to do that. Just the quality that we are able to put out. I would not be able to put out the same quality of music if I was not with them. I’ve been able to grow so much just by having access to that studio. From where I was when I signed to where I am now, I am a completely different artist.
UPC: How do you feel about being grouped with Chicago artist like Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa?
AW: I don’t think my path matches the paths of any of the Chicago artists right now. At the same time, Chance is an amazing ambassador for the city. He’s so talented. His music is so good. If I’m going to be grouped with Chance, I have no problem with that. Same with Vic. If I’m going to be grouped with artists from Chicago, I would like it to be them. They each bring something new to the table.
UPC: Dead or alive, who would you work with?
AW: 1.Future 2. The Arctic Monkeys 3. Florence and the Machine 4.Eric Clapton 5. Cream
UPC: How do you find new music?
AW: I ask people on twitter a lot now. People put me on with stuff I have not heard before. I’ll do a lot of the wormhole thing now. Next thing you know you’re six steps from where you started and you don’t know what the music is, but you like it. I also just listen to a lot of new albums from bands that I already like. There are endless music choices nowadays.
UPC: Future albums, videos, tours, etc in the works that you would like to let us know about?
AW: I have four more Club Wiley videos coming before the end of 2013. “Own Lane” “The Woods,” and “Suck It Revolution” are tied together, only those three. We’re going to put out a video for “Spaceship” before the Metro show in Chicago. I’m really excited about my Metro show in December.