Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)
New Chicago hip-hop artists continue to make an impact on the culture in 2014, and one dude who is generating buzz outside the Windy City right now is Alex Wiley. Repping the Closed Sessions camp with credits that include collabos with Chance the Rapper and Action Bronson, Wiley is set to drop his new project Village Party in May (we posted his catchy new joint “Vibration” on the site recently). For those still unfamiliar with Wiley’s style, well, he describes the music he makes as a literal “breath of fresh air.” And we agree. Dude’s got bars, but also an unorthodox approach to songwriting that gives his joints a flavor that strays from the norm, in a good way. So we asked Alex to break down five songs he’s been pumping regularly for our latest Heavy Rotation, to give us a closer look at what types of tracks are influencing this freshness. This may be the most off-beat edition of our series yet. Peep below.
1. Little Dragon “Klapp Klapp”
Alex Wiley: “[Little Dragon was] a band I had heard of, and one day I was on Spotify, bored, just listening to music. And anything that I’ve heard of, I’ll look it up and see what’s up. I looked them up, and I was hooked instantly. Their lead singer is super crazy, their production is super crazy. It just clicked for me.
“Then, right before we left for tour, I saw Complex post [‘Klapp Klapp’]. I heard it, and thought it was amazing, and instantly downloaded it on my phone. And I don’t have a lot of music on my phone that’s not my own or a beat. So when I was in the van for twenty hours [drives on tour], I ended up listening to that song a bunch of times.
“I’ve definitely been influenced by Little Dragon on this project. Vocally, she’s very mellow, but the production is up-tempo and in-your-face. That balance really intrigued me. And the lead singer’s melody palette is something that I envy and look up to.”
2. Michael Christmas “Drunk”
“It was my first time touring the East Coast ever, and we had a show booked in Boston. So we were looking to see who was hot in Boston to do the show with. I met [Michael Christmas] in Chicago with my other homie Cam Meekins when they were on tour, and he was a cool dude. So we ended up doing this show together. And then, we had four off days in Boston, and he was like, ‘You guys can stay with us [instead of having to get a hotel room].’ That’s when we made ‘Step Brothers.’ And he reminded me a lot of myself, in the least weird way I can say that. He was doing his thing in his city, and starting to get looks outside, and it was cool to see. I really like his music. That ‘Daily’ video is fucking amazing.
“When I listened to his album [Is This Art?] for the first time, all my favorite tracks were the ones that Goodwin produced. We bonded over being big Dom Kennedy fans on some Yellow Album shit, and he came on this track with that kind of swag, but on some pimp, Boston shit. It’s super smooth, and the content is slightly edgy and very honest. That’s what I’m on lately—making very honest music. It’s not sappy or annoying, where he’s whining about his problems, but it’s still a very honest song. For him to make a charismatic song that was low-key very revealing was cool to me. And honestly, I’ve listened to the song high as hell not even [paying attention] to the shit he’s saying, because it just sounds cool, too.”
3. Rush “Tom Sawyer”
“That’s one of my favorite songs of all-time. I feel like that’s one of the best songs that’s ever been made. The reason my music is so rock-influenced is because that’s the music I grew up on. My dad was a light-skinned black dude from the South Side of Chicago, and he looked like a light-skinned Michael Jackson with the afro. He went to this all-white school in the suburbs for high school. It was a weird period in the ‘70s when disco music was the popular black music. In his neighborhood, everyone was bumping disco, and wearing shiny shit, and listening to Donna Summer. But my dad personally thought that was wack, and all his white friends from school were listening to Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Alice Cooper, and Rush. And my dad was like, ‘Man, this stuff is low-key better than disco.’ So when I was young, my dad was listening to that type of shit, so I found an appreciation for it early.
“It was my favorite song probably because it sounded cool to me as a young kid. But now that I can listen to it and analyze it further, it’s still so good. It sounds crazy progressive. It [has relevance] now, even though it’s an old song. But that’s not a song I would sample. There’s no improvements I could make to ‘Tom Sawyer.’”
4. Hurt Everybody “Anubis City”
“[Hurt Everybody is] killing it in Chicago right now. They’re one of the biggest rap [groups] in Chicago right now. They’re coming up very heavy. I really fuck with their music. It’s genuinely on some whole other shit.
“We’d been on tour for three weeks, and they dropped that a couple days before we were about to go to SXSW. And I heard it, and it was raw as hell. And [I played it for all the people I was traveling with] in the van, and everyone was fucking with that shit. And they don’t really listen to that type of music—they listen to more traditional hip-hop. It’s definitely on some other shit, but it has something that’s mad relatable that brings it back. It’s like a palatable envelope-pusher. The 808 and kick pattern brings you back, like, ‘Okay, I’m familiar with this.'”
5. Black Sabbath “Black Sabbath”
“[This song has the] ‘Devil’s Third’ on it. Basically, it was a guitar riff that was banned in old England. You could get executed if you were heard playing it. It was believed to summon the Devil, for real. But that’s not really some shit I’m into. I don’t think about Devil shit, that’s weird as fuck. But just the fact that there were three guitar notes that if you played them in a certain order [had so much power] intrigued me. I saw something about it on TV, some Black Sabbath [documentary]. It was super interesting. And when you listen to it with that kind of back story, and it’s still a cool, innovative song, that’s the stuff that makes me feel all fuzzy inside about music.”
Previously: Heavy Rotation with Smoke DZA (Kush Edition) | Heavy Rotation with Chase N. Cashe | Heavy Rotation with Tree (Chi-Town Edition) | Heavy Rotation with Eddie Huang | Heavy Rotation with Doley Bernays | Heavy Rotation with Black Dave | Heavy Rotation with Mistah F.A.B. (Bay Area Edition) | Heavy Rotation with Hannibal Buress | Heavy Rotation with Chuck Strangers | Heavy Rotation with Sean Price | Heavy Rotation with MTV’s Rob Markman