A Ü T O/M Ö T O R
Chicago is prairie-flat and neatly laid out, but there are still plenty of places for ghosts to hide—corners haunted by acts of violence, blocks haunted by pre-gentrification ways of life now disappearing, an entire city carrying a staggering death count. On his long-awaited full-length project A Ü T O/M Ö T O R, the South Side–born rapper/producer/creative Vyle gives us a portrait of his hometown, rendered in grainy digital tones, where these spirits crowd the frame.
A Ü T O/M Ö T O R is a debut built on a lifetime of work, a glance in the rearview by an artist who’s stayed consistently ahead of the curve. Vyle came up in the vibrant Chicago club scene of the mid-aughts during a high moment driven by genre-crossing DIY parties, the high-tempo juke sound emanating out of the South Side, and the buoyant effect Kanye’s runaway success had on the city’s entire music culture. After a brief moment as a bloghouse-inspired rapper, Vyle moved behind the boards and began producing more serious work across multiple mediums (including a major move into digital art) for collaborators ranging from Rick Ross to the New Museum to fashion houses like Gucci. Just when he seemed poised for a break, Vyle’s mother passed away, knocking him off the path he’d been on and leaving a void in his life that demanded a reorientation of his art.
On A Ü T O/M Ö T O R, Vyle reckons with the loss of his mother by placing it in a larger landscape of grief, alongside other deaths both communal (his childhood neighborhood killed off by redevelopment) and deeply personal (his younger, more blissfully naïve self). It’s not a nostalgic album, but one that documents each loss with the clinical distance of a forensic photograph. Vyle’s lyrics are dense, fractal collages packed with hyperlocal references and images both mundane and deeply moving, suffused by a William Gibson–esque blend of technological minutiae and close observation: “Wireless hotspot / Geolocator off a proxy / Kenwood Liquor receipts littered as she fidgets through the car seat.”
Sonically, Vyle and a small group of collaborators (including Kanye producer Brodinski and Kelela producer P. Morris, as well as rappers Fat Tony, Cities Aviv, and members of Antipop Consortium) treat a spectrum of Chicago musical influences the same way, chopping soul samples into icy splinters, pixel-smearing the boom-bap beats that once defined the city’s underground sound, and slathering the entire production in industrial noise invoking the North Side legacy of Wax Trax!. For an accompanying immersive VR piece, Vyle uses photos, digital renderings, and Google Maps to create dreamlike, lo-res landscapes that are constructed partly out of hard data and partly out of subjective human experience—the same way we make memories.
Loss can be a powerful inspiration for fueling the creation of genre-defining rap albums, many of which have come out of Chicago. On A Ü T O/M Ö T O R, Vyle juxtaposes studio sessions, material possessions, and other trappings of the triumph-over-adversity narrative that underlies many of them with images of halogen-lit anxiety and spiritual coldness in a way that calls into question its own motivations. The ability of an artist to transmute loss into creation is one of the most powerful mysteries of the human spirit. But for some, it’s a price they’d rather not pay.