When you’re 20-years-old, a buzzing rapper, and have no backup plan, the week before a make-or-break release can be filled with ups and downs. Chicago’s Alex Wiley takes us inside the process of the days leading up to releasing ‘Village Party’.
Dropping an anticipated hip-hop project the same week you’re turning 21 is probably a dream come true for some – shedding juvenile instincts and thoughts, for mature and grandiose views on life – all the while gulping down a first legal drink while you’re the sole proprietor of the “bars” everyone is talking about. That’s the case for Alex Wiley, who on the strength of 2013’s Club Wiley offered up his highly-anticipated mixtape/album, Village Party, from indie Chicago label Closed Sessions this past Thursday.
In today’s day and age of free downloads, how do both the label and the artist quantify success if units moved and financial success have given way to number of streams and the immediate realization that money spent far outweighs money earned? Our aim was to get an inside look at his thought process – as well as that of the label – in the days leading up to the release.
Monday – “Moving Day”
Now more than ever, releases are fine-tuned down to the very last moment. Songs are cut, verses are swapped out, and last minute beat switches completely change the dynamic of a record – whether that was the intended effect or not. Wiley touches on his process from his debut ‘Club Wiley’ to his latest.
Alex Wiley: It was very similar just in the sense of the stages we have—we were cutting it super close that time also. I feel like three days before Club Wiley came out I was probably in the same position, sitting in the studio putting in the final pieces on the project. It’s actually very similar, just that anxious feeling of putting out something I’m super excited about and proud of, and ready for people to hear.
There were a couple verses where I took that almost Hemingway-esque approach of blunt
sentences, but in opposition of that I was trying to be more abstract and poetic, where you’re not saying exactly what it is. It was more so the overall vibe of trying to write it better – whatever I’m doing, I want to execute it better. I did take that approach on a few songs, but that’s not necessarily fully what I’m trying to do. I do like the idea of veiling things with certain words and leaving things ambiguous. The mentality of trimming everything that doesn’t have a purpose, or is filler, I dig.
What I’ve shown throughout working on the project is just that whatever is most recent is gonna be my best stuff. Like the newest songs or pieces of material are good additions to what I have, that’s why I work so close to the date. The two or three songs I’ve added since I’ve been home are dope, and I can’t imagine the project without them. The 12 songs that formed Village Party two months ago, only about three or four of them are still on there.
That evening, Wiley would learn that his project had already begun to leak on the internet.
Alex Wiley: It was super weak. It just sucks cause it wasn’t the real reason, like it would be different if this was an album leak where it leaked after I submitted my masters, ’cause then at least people are hearing the actual album. With this, roughs were on there that shouldn’t be on there; songs that should be on there, aren’t. It’s missing whole pieces to songs; some aren’t even mixed, it’s weak as hell.
Tuesday “Mixed & Mastered”
Despite the leak, Wiley and co. pressed on in an attempt to showcase the very best piece of material possible. Tuesday night marked the first time in months when they all could say, “We’ve done everything we can.”
Alex Wiley: I don’t know what I’m going to do tomorrow cause I thought I was going to have to do stuff for this. And I’m not going to have to. Honestly man, I might sleep all day tomorrow. Cause I know for like the next three weeks I’m going to be super tired. Touring is mad tiring. I might just chill for a day. This is like the day before Christmas when I was six or something. That last day you just try to get it over quick as possible almost ’cause the next day is about to come. It’s about to be the day I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.
I’m just excited for people to hear what I’ve been doing. I’m really really excited for that first tweet. That first click of the mouse that puts it out. And then I’m just going to go walk away and go do something. The Internet man, it’s crazy. The Internet did this kind of. I don’t think an artist like me could exist without the internet. I just could not. There would be no way for me to do what I’m doing. Absolutely no way. No major label would sign me and give me a chance to do that shit.
Upon completion, Wiley tweeted out, “I wanna make someone feel the way I felt when I heard Kanye or Cudi for the 1st time.”
Alex Wiley: Those are the two most important artists to me. The way I felt listening to that, to me that’s the pinnacle of rap music, or just music in this time period. I think some of the most imaginative people in music are in rap right now. There’s something about the way it came off super new and progressive for music. It was to drive it forward and not try to ride a wave now, not try to be a super overnight blow up thing. But just something to progress music forward. That’s what I’m trying to do. This is the fucking Silicon Valley of rap, right here in Chicago.
There have been albums, but as far as a free rap project, it’s the most sonically ambitious and flat out risky project that I’ve ever heard. I’m very nervous about it.
Wednesday “The Machine”
For every artist looking to make a splash in a hip-hop pond already over-saturated by wannabees and never-were’s are independent labels looking to keep the underground movement alive and well. Alex Fruchter is the co-owner of Closed Sessions – the Chicago-based upstart – responsible for material from the likes of Action Bronson, L.E.P. Bogus Boys, Freddie Gibbs, Raekwon, DJ Babu, Vic Mensa, Rockie Fresh, Blu and more.
Alex Fruchter: Executing and making sure there are no careless mistakes. That’s all I can control. I can’t make anyone like this project. I can’t make anyone in the press give it a good review. But I can make sure the people see it, that Alex is happy with the final result, and that we give it our all. It’s weird, like today is the day before it drops and I don’t know what really to do with myself. I’ve done all these little steps throughout the past few months, I sent out the final advance to press and we did this really cool thing in which we were able to identify our most diehard fans and ensure that they get the project first, directly from us. But on my mind right now is just getting this project out and flipping that switch from internally working on it, to now being able to react to how it’s doing, analyzing our results and being able to capitalize on the new opportunities it may bring.
He expands on the notion of what success entails given that most material from new artists is given away for free.
Alex Fruchter: Does this release help push our label forward? Does this release represent the kind of music that Closed Sessions will offer the music world? Is this something that we are proud of? And in that sense, it’s already a win. I’ve seen Alex work so hard on the music, and not in the sense of we have to stay up late everyday and never leave the studio – but hard in the sense of digging deep, pushing himself with the music, and not holding anything back. That’s the best part.
We all have our eggs here. I’ve personally put all my savings into this record label. Michael Kolar (my partner at CS) has made incredible sacrifices. We have a team of people who all work for the cause from Andrew Zeiter to even Alex’s manager Jahmal. We are very much in it to win it. We have no investors, there’s no Wizard of Oz behind the curtain or someone coming to bail us out. Wiley is in the trenches with us. We’re all in it together.
Best case scenario is that in December, Village Party is on many year-end lists for the best mixtape or free album, however the fuck they label those things. Also, tomorrow Village Party is enjoyed by the fans, and represented well in the music blogs that best represent the culture, and Alex starts to get more opportunities to tour, do festivals and work with other musicians. We were sitting on the deck outside our office last night after we finished the final mastering and throwing scenarios at each other like, “I want to get a call from ?uestlove and fly with Wiley to Philly and work with The Roots.” “I want Action Bronson to send me a text like… The new tape? … The new tape…” That kind of shit. I also hope that people dig not only into the music, but the way in which we presented it and that gives more opportunities to Closed Sessions as an indie label. The worst case would be this pops up on some blogs at 12 p.m. and by 3 p.m. nobody cares about it anymore. It’s just another come and gone project. But we’ve worked for the last year with Alex to make sure that doesn’t happen.
Alex Wiley: I don’t have any expectations. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know what’s going to happen.
The day of the release brings with it two sources of anxiety: not only does a sophomore release need to build momentum, but over the course of the year, two close friends and emcees – Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa – have seen there careers taken to a completely new level. Having known Chance since they were five, and been high school classmates with Mensa, it’s hard to avoid comparisons.
Alex Wiley: Acid Rap definitely opened doors cause people saw what was possible independently with just people fucking with your music. Acid Rap opened doors for me personally in very direct ways. But as far as pressure, I don’t think there is pressure because this is the same format of a mixtape I guess as Acid Rap. I definitely felt the pressure with Club Wiley. My shit came out a month after Acid Rap. It was like, “Man!” There was a lot of fucking pressure on me to not drop something that sucked.
Alex Fruchter: I don’t know if it’s added pressure. Those are his real friends outside of the music, people he grew up with. So I think it’s more so like they all came up together, and had these goals of making it in the music world. Chance and Vic started that journey a little early, and I think Wiley just wants to fulfill that for himself. But it’s really important for people to understand that he has enough pressures to succeed without Chance or Vic doing anything. That’s a little footnote and more so I think from the Chicago community – it’s human nature for people to compare him and hold him to the Chance and Vic standard. But understand that Wiley’s pressures are his own, and he wants this outside of competition with his friends.
Alex Wiley: I’m more proud of myself because I issued myself a bunch of challenges for this project about how I can make it better than Club Wiley, and I think I hit a lot of them. Having my words be more meaningful and impactful on songs and verses, stuff like that. Also just making sure everything has a purpose; there were a lot of sounds on Club Wiley that I added that just didn’t work. For some songs that I thought didn’t work, my solution was to just add more things, when now I just make sure it works from jump, and anything I add it’s just ’cause I thought I needed it or wanted to do. I liked that Club Wiley was all over the place, but I knew I didn’t want to do that again.
If you already give a fuck, now you’ll just know more. ‘Cause there’s stuff on here that I’ve never said before from my own experiences, but what’s really cool if you already fuck with me is that you probably appreciate the fresh shit I put out, and this is really unlike anything I’ve done before. If you like my music, it’s cool cause it’s a new direction, but if you don’t, it’ll be cool because it’s a full, complete body of work. I’m excited for this to be the first impression of me for some people. Impressive impressions.
After being released, ‘Village Party’ made the rounds to most if not all of the blogs covering hip-hop releases and the album title was actually trending in Chicago on Twitter.
Alex Fruchter: We released the album around noonish and by 12:10 it was already on most major blogs. It was a much different release for me in terms of usually when we drop a project I need to spend the whole day emailing, calling, sharing the project to make sure it gets out. For this one, the anticipation was naturally high and we had spent so much time over the course of the last month doing all those things, that when it came out it was just kind of like, “It’s out.” So in that sense we really did just monitor what was happening and then just walked away a little bit.
Friday “The Results are In”
‘Village Party’ received over 51,000 plays in the first 24 hours and the SoundCloud player was shared on various web portals an additional 300 instances.
Alex Wiley: I woke up in my suite at the Wyndham Grand and I walked to my window, and I looked across the street. And the Trump Tower is directly across the river from there and they’re still putting the word “Trump” up, and right now, guess where it’s at? TRU is all that’s there. TRU is how I started my day. That was a good sign, I was like, “true.”
We’ve trended before, but this was the first time we didn’t ask anyone to hashtag anything or anything stupid like that. It just did on its own, which was cool. I couldn’t really have asked for a better reception so far. Like Club Wiley, I think this project will pick up steam in the coming months when people come back to it. I don’t really think it’s a first listen project. I think in order for people to pick up a lot of the stuff that I did, it will take coming back to it. I think it’s really cool to get a good first day reception knowing that it’s going to pick up steam in the coming months.
Alex Fruchter: There’s a desire for me to work with everyone I can. Like I hear a song that I like, and I want to yell and scream about it. That feeling never goes away. What I’ve learned over the last 12 months of only working at building a record label is that it’s just not possible. We can’t work every project, and we also can’t work on things that are not going to give us some kind of return.
- Photography: Andrew Zeiter