Will Bryant sat in the crowded cafeteria at a dirty table, with the overwhelming sounds of casual conversation, dishes clanking and food spilling all around.
“What I do best is rap,” he said almost immediately, utmost confidence on his face.
If you’re from the greater Atlanta area or the city itself, you may be privy to the emerging movement of underground hip-hop artists who are trying to “bring lyricism back to ATL” instead of the repetitive, catchy radio hits that dominate the city. If you have not heard him, then Wiley from ATL should definitely be on your radar.
The eighteen-year-old Mercer freshman arrived on campus with a jazz-inspired rap EP under his belt, a new single featuring Chance the Rapper’s brother, Taylor Bennett, and plans for making a rap album with some major collaborations in the near future. But Bryant didn’t start as a rapper.
“I started out as a writer first and foremost,” he said, “but I’ve actually never written poetry.”
Bryant described his process as working in metaphors and layering and mixing songs, stating that he rarely ever sits down and writes an entire song all at once. This process can be noted in several songs included in his EP, such as “Gold” or “Sarasota,” which blend a cool instrumental tone with raw lyrics about relationships, parents and Atlanta itself.
When asked about his influences and start in music, Will responded that almost every inspiration comes from his father or the city he grew up in.
“[My dad] went to Mercer and he was in a band,” Bryant said, beaming, “He would play guitar around the house and write songs, so I grew up listening to the Rolling Stones and Allman Brothers.”
Bryant said his dad did not listen to rap, but the musical influences from his childhood definitely shaped his interest in the art form.
“He used to get this Atlanta-based magazine called Paste Magazine, and they would give you demo tapes of new artists in the back,” he said. “That was when I got the idea of how rap music was supposed to make you feel.”
Little did Bryant know, his roots at Mercer University went even further than his father’s attendance. The creator and former owner of Paste Magazine, Tim Reagan-Porter, holds his office in the Center for Collaborative Journalism building as the center’s director. When asked what he thought of this Bryant said, “Well, he indirectly started my career.”
Such inspirations and small connections give “Wiley from ATL” an unpretentious and rooted vibe as his serious subject matter connects with more uplifting beats. His Atlanta-based lyricism can be traced to his self-proclaimed “concrete backyard.” Growing up in different parts of the city and seeing the economic disparity, Bryant said he was inspired by the people of Atlanta.
“I want people in Atlanta to know me first. (Wiley from ATL) is so that I’m always tied to Atlanta,” he said.
He admitted to living the suburban lifestyle for a large part of his life and made it clear that he didn’t want to pretend to be something that he wasn’t, but he stated that Atlanta isn’t just a place to live. It’s a way of life.
As far as his new home at Mercer, Bryant said he’d love to play shows here and is excited about his possible audience.
“I want people to feel good after leaving my concert or listening to my music,” Bryant said.
For more information about Will Bryant’s Music (Wiley from ATL), follow his Instagram and Twitter at @wileyatl or listen to his latest single “Beautiful Day” featuring Taylor Bennett at