Initially, I was planning on writing about Rex Orange County’s new emotionally powerful song “New House.” I even had a whole introductory paragraph already written talking about the similarities between Rex Orange County and Syracuse University, mentioning how important “orange” is to both and analyzing which is better: the Newhouse School or “New House” by Rex. As I was writing, however, I received a blessing from a higher power: a new project from Alex Wiley. The sequel to 2016’s Tangerine Dream was finally here and I was fully ready to postpone studying for my upcoming managerial accounting midterm to give it a listen.
If you are unfamiliar with the golden god that is Alex Wiley, here’s a quick synopsis. Wiley is a versatile rapper from Chicago with a malleable voice truly different than any other I’ve ever heard. His ability to switch from smoothly riding the beat to rapping his face off to seemingly outrace the beat (like on “Lay Low” off Village Party III) is unparalleled. I do not understand how this man is able to breathe while performing.
Some of his album introductions, like “Quest” and “Squadliness,” are definitely on the weirder side, but they are the type of weirdness that makes you want to hear more. “Quest” seems like more of a half-finished idea than a full track, but it sounds somewhat beautiful and is a perfect introduction to an eccentric album. “Squadliness” sounds like a strange and industrial collaboration between medieval monks and AWOLNATION. It is saved, however, by the chorus which contains one of my favorite quotes of all time: “Squadliness is next to godliness.” It’s an absurd yet incredibly relatable line. I always trust Wiley to know where he’s going.
The 29-minute Tangerine Dream II is one of Wiley’s most chill projects yet. It is incredibly cohesive, with each track segueing smoothly into the next one. Despite the short run-time, the album is full of highlights. The second track, “Quest II,” is extremely different from the aforementioned “Quest.” This song sounds a lot more like a finished product, with a fully fleshed out song structure. He is very comfortable, with a vocal delivery that sounds as if he’s going for a solitary walk as he sings and raps his thoughts. His transition from singing to rapping is seamless. The fifth track, “Very Close,” is a pretty chilling track with live instrumentation prominently featured in the beat. Wiley reservedly sings on the hook and raps his verse with the same delicate precision used by a concert pianist. These tracks are great but pale in comparison to the album’s highlight.
On first listen, nothing drew my attention more than “All in the Way.” Five listens later, and that feeling did not change. Clocking in at just under three minutes, “All in the Way” is one of those songs that you can play on repeat for hours on end.
On “All in the Way,” Wiley puts the listener on an inescapable haze over a wavy beat. The chorus is very catchy without being at all overbearing. It reminds me of an early Kid Cudi hook. He repeats his phrase twice every time the chorus comes, first without the snap on every second and fourth beat, then with the snap. Wiley’s verse is relatively short and laid-back, yet it’s still impressive. He’s rapping quickly yet casually and fully articulating his words. The way he emphasizes the last syllable of many of his bars bears some resemblance to Kendrick Lamar’s verse on “Blessed” by ScHoolboy Q. When he says he’s “moving a strong pace, I can do this all day,” you feel compelled to believe him.
Frequent collaborator Calez performs the second verse and completely shattered my expectations. On Wiley’s prior projects, I found Calez’s verses to often be one of the weaker links. Here, he knocked it out of the park. Over Wiley’s trademark monk-like chats, Calez comes through with the charisma of a more veteran MC like Jay-Z or Pusha T. While Wiley rides the beat more closely, Calez’s delivery suits his role perfectly.
What began as an attempt to procrastinate from studying transformed into a reminder of how much I love Alex Wiley. As he has done throughout his discography, Wiley continues to find the sweet spot. “All in the Way” has quickly become one of my favorite songs of 2019, if not my favorite.
COVER PHOTO: Genius