Careers in music are almost always volatile at best, and musical longevity is a characteristic that is hard to come by in the digital age. Such is the story of Chicago rapper Alex Wiley, who, despite a moderate amount of mainstream success, still falls short of the star status afforded to his fellow Chi-town artists Chance the Rapper and Vic Mensa. Wiley first burst out onto the scene with the release of his 2014 mixtape Village Party, which was spearheaded by the Hippie Sabotage assisted highlight single ‘Vibration’. He followed that up with his first full length LP Village Party 2: Heaven’s Gate in November of last year. While Village Party’s was an improvement upon the original overall; it was nevertheless again marked by a single Chance the Rapper assisted track: ‘Navigator Truck’.
Which brings us to Tangerine Dream, Wiley’s recently released EP that fittingly shares a name with the legendary 1960’s German electronic band. The mixtape is flush with electronic influence, ranging from reverbs to deep synths to distorted vocals; all supported by heavy use of 808s. The opening track, ‘Quest’, has Wiley rapping “I’m on the quest to enlightenment/ Don’t need no detour/ whatchu calling me for/ watchu calling me for?”over a sample of TV On The Radio’s smash hit ‘Will Do’. It’s a decent introduction but the song takes a dramatic turn about halfway through, with Wiley’s vocals slowed down over a simple guitar riff. While I understand the direction Wiley wants to take, the effort comes off as a little forced and trying too hard to be trippy.
The experimentalism continues with ‘Games’, a strange crossover between psychedelia and trap that is admittedly interesting, if not memorable. However, any banger-potential this song may have had is snuffed out by Wiley’s infuriating choice to end the song with an entire minute of philosophical quotes that have absolutely nothing to do with the track’s lyrical content. I’d maybe understand the addition if Wiley would rap about something beyond doing drugs and working hard, but the song is entirely devoid of meaning.
Tangerine Dream continues its mediocrity until well after its halfway point, but the spacey, jazzy, and at times risky production makes it bearable to listen to. Many of the beats would feel right at home on projects like Mac Miller’s 2013 Watching Movies With the Sounds Off, but are too often than not dragged down by the monotonous and cliche rapping. The cut ‘Chill’ is one of the few exceptions on this album, with a decent verse from newcomer Thurteen and Wiley making great use of the beautiful production by switching up his flow and cadence.
Tangerine Dream is conceptually sound, but Wiley’s poor execution of the introspective, psychedelic style that has worked for so many others makes it average sounding at best. Without a standout single present in his other works, Tangerine Dream seems like a step backwards for the Chicagoan emcee, whose technical skill still far outweighs his lackluster songwriting abilities. The rhymes throughout this EP were simply forgettable and the hooks were just as uninspired. I’m not entirely sure what Wiley means by the enlightenment he raps of on ‘Quest’, but for the sake of his career I hope his latest release is a short detour.