If you've been paying attention to Chicago's hip-hop scene over the past couple of years, there are likely a few names you're familiar with: Chief Keef, King Louie, Chance the Rapper, and Vic Mensa chief among them. Though he may not yet have the sort of online reach and increasing real world presence of some of his peers, Windy City rapper Alex Wiley has become to carve a path for himself through his ambitious, fun-loving raps and larger than life personality. His most recent mixtape, Club Wiley, serves up a colorful mixture of personal raps, escapist partying, and a healthy touch of humor. It's a different take on Chicago rap, removed from both the bleakness of drill and the world-weariness of Chance's Acid Rap–a reaction to circumstance as well as a style cast in the ever-present shadow of early Kanye (one of Club Wiley's highlights is a sequel College Dropout's "Spaceship").
On the eve of his first east coast mini-tour–spanning New York on 9/25, Washington, D.C. on 9/27, Boston on 9/29, and Atlanta's A3C Festival from 10/2 to 10/6–we spoke to Alex about his influences, his embattled hometown, perfectionism, ADD, and what he has in store for the future. Check out the conversation below and listen to Club Wiley, which features guest appearances by Chance the Rapper, Action Bronson, GLC, Kembe X, and Vic Mensa (embedded at the end of the interview).
So you haven’t done any dates on the East Coast? This is gonna be your first full East Coast leg?
Yeah, these are our first shows on the East Coast ever.
Are you going to have any time to see anything other than like the insides of venues and buses?
I think so. Actually, yeah, the way it works out is we’re getting out there Tuesday morning and I’m gonna be there till Thursday night. And it’s gonna be like that in every city. We’re gonna be in DC an extra day and we’re gonna be in Boston for three or four days or some shit like that. So I’m gonna get to see the cities. I’m really excited for this trip, I think it’s gonna be really, really fun.
What was the first really memorable encounter with rap that you had?
Um, like as a rapper or just in rap?
In rap. In your life: Alex Wiley and rap.
Aw, man. I’m trying to remember like the earliest moment I can remember some rap shit. It might’ve been Eminem’s The Slim Shady LP. That might’ve been like the first rap thing that made an impression on me, something I gave a fuck about.
Was that the first CD that you bought?
No, the first CD I ever had was Get Rich or Die Tryin’. And I had the edited version and it was fucking awesome. It was crazy. My mom bought me that. It was the first CD I ever owned. That was a great first CD to ever own.
You started on a very high note.
Yeah, I thought that’s just what CD’s were for a while but it’s only Get Rich or Die Tryin’. I thought all CD’s were like that. Like you get a CD and every song’s just gonna be awesome, and it just wasn’t like that.
How old were you when that came out?
Um, what year did that come out? Like ‘01 or—
So I was ten, yeah, listening to 50 Cent when that shit was super hot. That was like the soundtrack of my whole year. I had like a little orange walkman CD player that I was walking around listening to that and then whenever College Dropout came out, that was like really the first CD I ever owned. That was the first CD I ever bought. Pretty much College Dropout came and I swapped out Get Rich or Die Tryin’.
At what point did you figure out, "Alright, I’m going to pick up a pen and start trying to rap?"
I was 17. Kembe [X] decided he wanted to rap earlier that year. Our homie John's cousin lived in this really like hood suburb neighborhood and he had a studio in his closet. And we would go out there, and it was far from where we lived. Kembe’s mom would drop us off and then go back home and we’d just be there like all day. Kembe would have his raps and he’d start rapping like Nas cause he’d just gotten into Illmatic. He was doing his songs and then we still had like three or four hours before Kembe’s mom was gonna come get us and shit. We would start making these joke songs. That was my first time rapping ever. After that, I just kept doing it. It was really fun, and we were putting these songs on Facebook and all our little friends and shit were liking them. And after like three joke songs, I wrote “Electric Relaxation” and that was my first verse that wasn’t really like a joke. After that I just was rapping.
When did you start interacting with other kids in the scene?
When we started making blogs and shit was when people started taking us more seriously, and then all of our friends were kind of progressing at the same time. Like Chance [the Rapper] was coming up, our whole little team was starting up at the same time. Between Chance and Vic [Mensa], these are the people I knew way before rapping. Like I went to high school with Vic, I went to grammar school with Chance. So when I started rapping, it was just natural that we were gonna make stuff together.
I’m from Chicago and I’m always gonna represent for Chicago as hard as possible. I really do feel like there’s no city touching what we’re making right now, and I feel like that’s kind of a fact. If you just lay our best music and the best music out of other cities [next to each other], there’s just really no comparison right now.
Obviously a lot has happened in the past year or so, but do you still feel that sense of a creative community in Chicago?
Well, I always kind of kept to myself more anyway so I don’t really know. I was never super a part of that community thing, like I kind of keep to myself with my music. I like to just make it by myself cause it’s kind of my thing, you know? I still will collaborate, but generally I keep to myself with my music. There’s still really good people here. Like Chance just came out and blew up and I think Vic is about to come out and blow up. Really it’s like Chance, Vic, and me that I look at as this new opposite lane to GBE. There’s a lot of really dope people here, it’s just a matter of getting out of this city cause there’s only so much you can do in Chicago.