Since the Internet turned the industry upside down more than a decade ago, “making it” in music has been largely relative.
Enter Alex Wiley. The Hyde Park native whose highly anticipated debut project, “Club Wiley,” was released Tuesday as a mixtape, threatens to eclipse the buzz surrrounding more established hip-hop artists.
A performance and release party Thursday at Lincoln Hall points to a road less traveled for the 19-year-old Wiley, who, aside from a joint EP with fellow Chicago MC Kembe X, has released very little music to date.
With the proliferation of free mixtapes, artists can pump music into the public spectrum like never before and are largely judged on how often they do so. Though Wiley’s very much an Internet kid, as his Twitter account can attest, his music has been surprisingly scarce online.
The slow yet steady stream of singles preceding “Club Wiley” is the strategy of local record label Closed Sessions. Wiley is the label’s first signee, and aside from compilation albums, it will be its first full solo project.
“We asked him to take a chance and join our label, and we also took a chance on Alex in putting our time, resources, and reputation into a fairly unknown artist,” said Closed Session co-owner Alex Fruchter. “I couldn’t be happier with where we are at and how far Alex has come. He has believed in our us since Day 1, and we have felt the same. I think this album will be a great addition to Chicago hip-hop music.”
In January, Wiley hosted a listening party at the local clothing boutique Jugrnaut that drew so many fans they spilled out to the sidewalk. In February, he hosted a sold-out show at Reggie’s Rock Club in the south Loop. All without an album or solo mixtape.
“To be 100 percent honest, I don’t really know how all this has happened; a lot of it was me just knowing people,” Wiley said. “It was kind of a perfect storm: a little bit of this and that came together to create a following.”
“Club Wiley,” which features hip-hop veterans and locals alike such as Action Bronson, Freddie Gibbs, Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa, is poised to make noise for its crafty rhyme schemes and large-production hooks.
Despite the pressure of releasing a debut project for both himself and a record label among a sea of budding local talent, Wiley is very much at ease.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure, I feel like I have heights to live up to,” he said. “I want to do this for me but also for all the people who have invested time, money and energy. I do feel obligated to live up to my potential.”