Chicago is on the rise as an epicenter for raw young hip-hop talent. The city has attracted major league cosigns and media attention via its drill subgenre, epitomized by the likes of Chief Keef and Katie Got Bandz. However, there’s another narrative that’s flourishing in the streets of America’s second city. Voices like Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa are changing the perception of Chicago rap with their free-ranging, organic sound. Alex Wiley is adding even more spirit to the collective with his unique sonic range. The Hyde Park native has released his sophomore mixtape Village Party, an ambitious 14-song undertaking that transports audiences to Wiley’s weird world.
Village Party feels like a slight shift from Alex’s debut Club Wiley. The lyrical ingenuity and variety are still present but Wiley sounds more spiritual this go ’round. The production includes more layers, faster beats, and extended bridges. Village Party begins with an otherworldly intro that sets the scene. Wiley takes full advantage of a spacey beat, church choir, and a Kool & The Gang sample to bring listeners into his realm. The rest of the project unfolds as part-spiritual battle, part-psychedelic party.
At times, Wiley seems to use Village Party’s runtime for soul searching. Over the colorful arrangement of “See The Day,” he raps, “I don’t believe in destiny/I hope the Lord’s just testing me/My emotions get the best of me/and I hope you see what’s next to me.” He continues his ascent on the Kembe X-assisted track “#takeoff #takeoff.” The Southsider rhymes with a double-time flow, separating himself from lames (a.k.a. anyone who isn’t a “descendant of gods”). X slides into the cut for a few lethargic bars about the vices addling him.
It’s not all heavy raps for Wiley, though. He shows some diversity on rock-infused songs like “Ideas” and “Yung San Diego.” The former plays like a Limp Bizkit cut with a kinetic bounce and plenty of attitude. The latter is a rallying cry pushed by a hypnotizing guitar melody and uptempo drums. Wiley’s flow is malleable; allowing him to float over anything from Kito and Stefan Ponce’s bongos and Auto-Tune effects (“His Lil’est Nonchalant”) to The Innovatorz’s synths (“Know Normal”). The rapper’s experimentation is admirable but blows up in his face toward the end of “His Lil’est Nonchalant,” on which the final 30 seconds are drowned out Auto-Tune wailing. It’s just too sloppy.
True to the project’s title, Wiley lets his inner party animal roam on Village Party. “Vibration,” a keyboard-tinged vent session, finds him feeling optimistic: “Only put down good vibrations, I don’t even see the lows/Tunnel vision to the paper, I don’t really see you hoes.” With his slow, substance-induced chants and cogent rallying cries, Wiley could incite either a party or a riot, with equal efficiency.
While you can’t deny that Wiley’s lyrics are genuine, he misses the opportunity for truly deep anecdotes. He’s upstaged by trackmate Kembe X on “Know Normal,” which finds the guest leaving it all out there: “Contradictions stain my record and I admit it/Consequences came, I stumbled but I can fix it/I struggle with my addiction/Pussy and hoes’ attention.” Wiley has the dexterity to pull off this kind of candid storytelling (see “Ducats”), but he doesn’t take advantage. Let listeners hear about growing up “different,” about road stories about the internal battles that make Wiley the Buddha emcee. Stronger narratives will put Alex Wiley over the top. Until then, listeners can buckle up for an extraterrestrial trip with Village Party. —Tariq Rashid