Alex Wiley's post-drill Village Party raises the bar on the artist's previous work, but fails to live up to its musical ambition enough to limit its enjoyment.
The concern spreading throughout Chicago Hip Hop isn’t about available talent, and for the first time since GLC, Really Doe and Malik Yusef were among the initial G.O.O.D. Music signees, it’s not about exposure, either. Rather, those apart of the incredibly vibrant and equally insular scene that fielded four of the 12 XXL Freshmen are wary of a lack of industry resources in the city. Hyper-local Chance The Rapper just moved to Los Angeles; Vic Mensa will distribute his upcoming EP Street Lights through the UK’s Virgin EMI label; Lil Durk has been signed to Def Jam’s Coke Boys imprint for more than a year.
It’s that concern that fuels the urgency of Alex Wiley’s Village Party, the biggest release to date from the first artist signed to Closed Sessions, Chicago’s leading independent label. Village Party is exactly what its title implies, a communal and inviting celebration for those as frenetic and recalcitrant as the high school dropout that hosts it. Wiley says his influences range from Do Or Die to Kid Cudi, and on Village Party, dexterous double times and hymnal hooks merge smoothly.
It’s Chicago’s Party, but Wiley has no interest in exclusion. “Everyone’s invited,” he hazily repeats on “Village Party II,” and raps, “We are the ones, we are the givers / We are the sun, we are the rivers” on “Splash Game.” The project captures the raw, eclectic energy of post-Chance, but does an even better job extending it beyond the city’s parameters—though the emcee, the label, the features and more than half of the producers are from Chicago, Village Party translates pretty much anywhere.
Restlessness quickly becomes the driving theme of the project, and it presents itself differently on each track. Over the fuzzy synths and clanking percussion of “See The Day,” Wiley knows that his time is coming: “It’s just a young free thinkin’ nigga in a room full of older folks / Told me when surrounded by pebbles, you will never see the boulder boast,” he raps, before adding “fuck your little wisdom” three bars later for good measure. The anthemic “Ideas (Adderall)” has Wiley wailing, “Roll up my fears / Hold up, I’m here!”Both songs find him bobbing and weaving through epiphanies, rejecting adages and triumphantly introducing himself to a widening audience.
Other times, the restlessness manifests darker. The portentous guitar and snares of “Yung San Diego” let a jittery Wiley alternate between a bellowing hook and a speedy 16, while on “Village Revival,” he lurches to calls for salvation. But the spirit of Village Party is best captured by its lead single, the Hippie Sabotage-produced “Vibrations,” which features both charismatic paranoia (“Okay I’ve been, I’ve been high for way too long”) and melodic eagerness (“Cream always gon’ rise to the top / Lil’ nigga, we killing the noise”).
Unlike 2013’s Club Wiley, which had guest verses on nine of its 16 songs, Village Party keeps the features close by and to a minimum. Mick Jenkins kicks spiritual self-assurance on “Forever,” one of the tape’s standouts. And after Wiley flexes tonal range on the convivial first half of “Know Normal,” longtime partner Kembe X brings grounded aggression and “throws salt on the wounds” as the beat shifts to rifling 808s.
Few of Village Party’s songs have more than one Wiley verse, something he attributed to his severe ADD in a recent interview with Noisey, and ultimately, it distracts from the overall effectiveness of the music. While Wiley’s penchant for booming hooks proves to be as valuable as his ability to twist tongues, and his producers buoy the ending of tracks with ringing distortion, live instrumentation and woozy outros, his inability to put himself above the production rather than behind it makes this listen far less enjoyable than it could have been.
Village Party succeeds in being patiently impatient, and there is no doubt Wiley knows that his ascent has begun. The anxiousness of the mixtape allows for some proud middle finger wagging, be it at institutions or elders of the bevy of major labels approaching him, but his reluctance to take center stage when it matters most is his next and highest hurdle to leap. “Just don’t be surprised, when I take off, when I take flight, when I go crazy,” Wiley says on “#Takeoff #Takeoff.” At this point, who would be? Though, he must be careful to scale the icy cliffs of the Hip Hop landscape by finding enough charisma to finish out songs the way he begins them.