Rap Geniuses of the Month: Kembe X / Alex Wiley

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-Alex Wiley (left) and Kembe X

During his interview for January’s Rap Genius of the Month feature, sage hip-hop blogger Big Ghostfase ran through a list of who he believed are the most gifted youngsters in hip-hop; emcees who he thinks are likely to upend the genre’s most recent trend towards presenting less masculine traits such as wimpy vulnerability and lovelorn self-loathing, or as Big Ghostfase referred to it, the Spa Rap Movement.

Most of Ghost’s selections were fairly familiar to the informed rap fan (Kendrick Lamar and the Black Hippy crew, ASAP Rocky, The Cool Kids) but there was one teenage rhyme spitter that he really wanted us to check out. “My lil bro far as this game go…Kembe X. When yall see that arrogant ass muthafucka’s name in lights on the marquee someday…remember who told y'all niggas,‬” he said.

Upon reading Ghostfase’s gleaming endorsement, I go ahead and download the 17-year-old Chi-Town MC’s first project— a free, self-released mixtape titled Self Rule— and am floored by the young man’s multifaceted flows and keen sense for selecting the right beats to accompany his voice. What’s more, Kembe’s lyrics bring something for everyone: his bars ranging from blunted trash-talk (“I be as high as a fucking Cubs fan on crack”) to earnest sentiments about the human condition (“Tell me about the blues when you dealin with a death and shit/ tryna find a smile, seems the world is in a deficit”). For someone who isn’t even old enough to drink yet, his variability is pretty damn impressive.

Watch: Kembe X: “Sawbuck”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUxMKZEnxv0

Kembe X’s close compadre and rapping ally is 18-year-old Alex Wiley, whose frenzied, double-time delivery help make Self Rule’s “Don’t Quit (Smoking And Shit)” one of the tape’s most thrilling moments. Unlike his pal Kembe, Wiley isn’t aspiring to put any deep philosophies about life within his lyrics; he’s more interested in playfully delivering clever punchlines that show off his insouciant lifestyle: “Smokin with Kembe, another blunt pearled by the sensei/ and my niggas gon get Kentucky Fried, like it ain’t a fuckin Wednesday.” When paired with Kembe, Wiley’s breathless machine-gun flows provide an excellent complement and contrast to Kembe’s languid and soulful delivery.

Kembe X and Alex Wiley are members of a crew called the Village, a tight-knit Chicago collective made up of producers, rappers, and friends. Rap Genius caught up with the duo to hear their thoughts about working together, key influences, and the future of the Village.


—Beginnings—

Kembe X: I’ve been writing since I was in grade school, on that depressed little kid shit, and that just kind of stuck with me. It’s funny that I ended up writing raps seriously—I had gone a good six to eight months without listening to rap at all. When I started listening to that shit again it was like Chip Tha Ripper and Big Sean and all these niggas that I felt I could rap just as good as. You know, cause when I left (rapping) there was guys like Kanye West and Jay-Z and shit. And all these niggas was rapping about their clothes. And I was like, “Well, I can rap about that.” And I started listening to that shit, and the beats was pretty dope, so I just started listening to their beats and jotting down rhymes.

In 2009, I dropped out of high school at age 15 right before Thanksgiving break. So I just had all day to just write raps and jerk off and shit. I started rapping when I was 16 and thought that it took the average nigga three to five years to start eating for real. I don’t gotta be 24 like the majority of these niggas. So I thought that if I started when I was 16 that I’ll be (successful when I turn) 19 or 20, and it’s actually been moving faster than I thought it would.

Alex Wiley: I started last February— that was the first time I tried to rap. I rapped for maybe two months, and then I took a four or five month break. I didn’t start rapping again until September. The first verse I did where people were like “damn, I think this kid might be able to rap” was on “Don’t Quit (Smoking And Shit)” from Kembe’s tape. Before that, I was decent, but that was my first really good verse. So after that me and Kembe started making way more music.

—Influences—

Kembe X: They (my rhymes) was wack at first, but when things started getting pretty decent I started to grow out of that and how those types of raps are really immature. I started listening to shit like Nas and Reasonable Doubt by Jay-Z and Talib Kweli and that real conscious shit, too. And I really just stuck with Nas, Kanye and Jay and I just started comparing my raps to theirs. It became an everyday routine.

Alex Wiley: Lyrically, I kind of do my own thing, cause I don’t think there’s any other rap like that. Our whole mantra is to not give a fuck and just do whatever we feel like doing in the moment. Flow-wise, 100 Miles & Running by Wale was one of my favorite tapes. I don’t even remember where I got the inclination to rap fast. I remember hearing Kendrick Lamar’s “Rigamortus”—that was really cool. I heard this Vic Mensa verse when I saw him and his band Kids These Days perform this Crucial Conflict song “Hay”. The flow he used on that song was similar to the flow I used on “Don’t Quit”.

Crucial Conflict’s “Hay” was a key influence on Wiley’s rapping style…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EDyp7E4Lj74

—Writing Rhymes Together—

Kembe X: I don’t think we’ve ever worked together on something that didn’t come together naturally. Usually our songs come together where I’ll be we’ll be at his crib or my house sitting in the living room or in the basement just watching TV and spitting bars. Or we’ll be telling jokes and shit and that will be a song — the song will come out of the joke.

Alex Wiley: Depending on how his all works out, we (me and Kembe) might just end up being a duo. I don’t see any purpose in me doing any solo music—the collaborative process is way more fun.

We’re different in so many ways, but we were close friends before either of us was rapping. We’re hella on the same page. If we both do a joke track, our humor is going to be really similar because we were hella friends. It’ll be like, we’ll hear the same beat and he’ll flow completely different and talk about completely different things, but when it comes together, our styles mesh well cause they just balance each other out.

Listen: Kembe X and Alex Wiley: “Tell They Ass Wassup”

—The Village—

Kembe X: The Village is me, Alex Wiley, Monster Mike, Isaiah Rashad and a few other people who aren’t as consistent. Isaiah is actually out of Chattanooga and he’s definitely (as good as me and Alex) and Mike’s not wack. I’m from the suburbs, Alex is from the nice part of the city, Mike is from the hood. With the beef that me and Alex have been getting, we’ve been realizing more and more that that we wanna put more people on (songs). But for the most part, it appears like me and Alex are the main niggas.

Alex Wiley: There’s about to be a wave coming up, cause we’re all making moves at the same time, and we’re all coming up at the same general level. I mean, some of us are further along than others , but nobody is that much further along, you know? We’re all on the same boat where people know who we are. We’re not on yet, but we’re all getting there steadily. It’s gonna be really really cool to watch, and I’m just glad that I’m a part of it, you know?