Over the last half-decade or so, Chicago’s hip-hop landscape has given birth to an intersection of acts that have primed the region as one of hip-hop’s reemerging holy lands. The work of Chief Keef, Young Chop and the drill scene eventually gave way to Mick Jenkins, No Name and Chance the Rapper’s more inspiring sonics, and ultimately shone a spotlight on a town once dominated by names like Common, Kanye and Twista.
Along with the musical diversity came an outgrowth of artists, taking inspiration not only from those names and styles, but also from the likes of groups like Do or Die and Crucial Conflict, or from the ever popular juke scene.
Tempering the up-tempo rhythms with equally uplifting bars and synths, Chicago based artist Alex Wiley released Synthia Part 1: Dial Tone on September 21, 2017. Produced entirely by Mike Gao, the album marks the duo’s second collaboration this year, following Village Party III: Stoner Symphony in January.
Where Wiley takes off is with his supreme symbiosis with his producer and technician, as Mike Gao’s meandering synthwork incorporates both mellow grooves as well as more frantic, chiptune-esque backdrops. On “Escape” Wiley intersperses the track’s bleeps and bloops with soothing hook vocals, singing “I’m on the move, I must escape (you know what’s up)/ I cannot stay too long in one place (you know what’s up.” Emblematic of the hook, bisecting his chilled-out presentation with a choppier, staccato flow for the main verse provides for solid engagement with the listener that becomes a mainstay throughout the tape.
At only 10 tracks, two of which are a 20 second intro/outro pair, Wiley and Gao can dive into their abstract and flowing style without overstaying their welcome. Keeping with the title, the tape’s entirety runs closer to an iconic 16-bit soundtrack than it does to a modern rap album, and to good effect. “Chill 4rill” could work equally as well as part of the Sonic Mania soundtrack as it does here, and Wiley’s fluctuating vocals keep ears engaged will trying to keep track of the beat’s moving parts. The only feature of the bunch, Rexx Life Raj, brings an undeniably soulful tinge to “How Many Times,” preferring his untouched vocals to Wiley’s tweaked and touched up delivery, again building on the active engagement with Gao’s compositions.
Since Village Party III, Alex Wiley and Mike Gao have kept their ball of cooperation rolling, ushering fans to their undeniably luscious creations. Synthia should have ears properly primed for the inevitable sequel, one that keeps the tradition of solo artist-producer albums alive and well.