XXL magazine is preparing to roll out its eighth annual “Freshman issue,” and earlier this week it opened up the polls for readers to vote for an MC to join the batch of rappers the editorial staff already selected for the cover. Regardless of my own reservations about the pomp and circumstance around the buildup to the XXL list and its eventual release, the issue remains a big milestone and goal for countless up-and-coming rappers. (The issue also offers a macrosnapshot of an increasingly fractured national scene, which isn’t an easy feat to pull off.) Chicago was well represented on last year’s cover (four out of the 12 artists are from here) and this year seven locals are on the readers’ ballot for the coveted final spot: Johnny May Cash, Dreezy, Lil Herb, Spenzo, Tink, Mick Jenkins, and Alex Wiley.
Given the strength of the talent from Chicago—and the fact that some of the rappers on the ballot may have already been previously selected by the XXL staff—it wouldn’t be a surprise if more than one of the seven artists listed landed on the cover. Many of them deserve it. As far as campaigning goes, Alex Wiley’s got an edge thanks to the timing: just last week he dropped One Singular Flame Emoji EP, which keeps the MC in the eyes of a culture geared toward everything new and now.
The EP also showcases Wiley’s dynamic, ambitious drive. He takes chances on each new release—not quite knowing what you’ll get from him is to be expected, but it’s typically luxuriant, spirited, and unusual. On One Singular Flame Emoji Wiley opens with the somber, faux-religiousness of “Squadliness” and eventually makes his way to the late-afternoon R&B haze of “Spark Something,” on which he busts out his sultry crooning for the chorus. The ferocious “Claire” also has some R&B tangled up in its DNA: the mean, minimal percussion resembles Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me A River.” That element is only a fragment of “Claire,” part of a mosaic of music that few but Wiley could pull off. Take a listen to the EP below.