Image via m.oodyblu
According to the late, great music journalist, POW vet, and close friend of mine, Lucas Foster, there should only be two tangible epochs of Soundcloud-born rap music: pre-and post-WiFiGawd.
The first time Foster reviewed WiFi was back in 2017 for a POW Rap-Up. He was writing about WiFi’s cloud-trap anthem, “I Love It,” and waxing analytic about the contrived “voice as an instrument” fetish that was gripping hip-hop forums around that time. However trite that line of inquiry felt, Foster made clear there is nothing hackneyed about WiFi’s voice — the smokey, percussive baritone is one of his most defining features. And just as Foster stood mesmerized by the Big Dawg’s (as he’s also known) opium vocals and baroque phonk-laden mixtape tread back in 2016-17, I remain the same today — just as stunned (but not as high) by WiFi’s latest drop, Chain of Command.
The POW Recordings album is a varied mix of traditional WiFi tread and trap beats, sublimated by a stylish blend of soulful synth lines and funky vocal samples. It’s unsurprisingly both creative and fresh, as we’ve come to expect with every drop from the Hugo Boss and Gucci shoes-clad D.C. native who has consistently been ahead of the curve. The production line-up features some of the same key players we’ve come to expect out of WiFi’s corner, with some exceptions. Since their 2018 duo debut, Heat Check, Tony Seltzer has provided WiFi with a seemingly unending war chest of heat — and Chain is no different. Tapping in for “GOD OF WAR” and “FLYING LOTUS,” Tony lays down the quintessential Seltzer drip — a thick, oozing bassline, accompanied by a thin, graceful layer of horn and synth. While “GOD OF WAR” is a boisterous hood anthem, “FLYING LOTUS” is a more hypnotic, sinister joint where WiFi floats on about his hipster bitch bumping FlyLo.
A number of tracks on Chain were also produced by WiFi’s homie, AMAL. “We made them shits together, just listening to like a whole bunch of funk samples that was the vibe we was goin’ for. I just wanted to make some real raw shit,” the Big Dawg says of his work with AMAL on the new release.
Among the tracks he produced are “4 MY SKATERS,” “KAWASAKI,” “SLIDE THROUGH” and the album’s “INTRO,” a relaxing, piano-laden beat of 808 hi-hats and a distant voice in the background rapping on a mega phone. When the beat drops on the intro, punching WiFi in, it transforms the song into an entirely different atmosphere and opens the door for the rest of the jazz-infused heavy vocals on the album. The other named producers — besides the man, WiFi, himself on the “OUTRO” — is the Texas native, Tyris White, and Foisey, a producer who can play the synth like Roy Ayers.
Chain is a departure from the tape-deck fuzz and codeine syrup stains of Sergio Summer, in favor of a lighter, jazzier touch. Throughout WiFi’s vast discography, between bars about running up Macy’s for some drip, or trapping off a Nokia flip phone while styling a FUBU windbreaker, he’s left an indelible imprint on the scope of contemporary hip-hop. As Foster once said, WiFi is “a singular artist, a rapper who applies the values and traditions of hip-hop’s Golden Age to making music that pushes rap into the future.” And that hasn’t changed. Maybe the venue’s a bit different; maybe the sound’s less MPC and more FL; maybe the drip’s a bit less SilverTabs and Timbs and a bit more Balenciaga and distressed Amari; but the ethic, for WiFi, remains the same. Though the sound may switch up from time-to-time, we know what his artistic values are: “If I’m feelin’ that shit, Imma just hop in, like, please punch me in, I wanna get whatever I got going.”
In anticipation of the release of his new album, I “sat down” with WiFi, via the new-normal medium of Zoom, to talk Chain of Command, POW Records, hijacking college kids’ house parties, Pete Rock’s brother, and his unending cascade of music. — Walker Armstrong
Chain of Command is dropping soon through the POW label. How was that process of working on the album?
WiFi: I mean recording this shit, I was just listening to a whole bunch of rap music — old rap music — that’s all I do just to catch any type of feelin’. I just look for the beats and do me. All I do is just tap into some new styles every time, but keep it in my own world, so this shit don’t get washed out — just always tryin’ to get some new shit.
You get out to LA at all when you were recording this?
WiFi: I don’t think I’ve recorded anything in LA. From that time when I recorded it until now I definitely was in LA, but I didn’t record anything out there. I record everything at home.
Is that your usual process? You just have a home studio right there?
WiFi: Yeah, I usually do this. I either record it at home and then take it to the studio and re-record it there — because, know what I’m saying, just like in the crib just chillin’ and smokin’, I just get the best vibes. I might make some shit here, go to the studio, make some more songs. So, you know, it really depends.
How did you connect with Jeff and POW in the first place?
WiFi: Damn you know what’s up, man. Lucas, Lucas Foster. He was the first one to put me on that shit. He wrote an article sayin’ I was one of the best rappers, and I was like, “Damn what the fuck is this?” And I checked his shit out… Good people. You know, Lucas was the first one who put me on that shit. And I was just cool with them ever since like 2016.
As you know, obviously, Lucas passed away recently. Did his loss have any affect on you, personally?
WiFi: For sure, for sure. It just made me take heed of all moments. I mean, I done lost hella people, bro. So like, for me that’s just another strike. Always taking all moments, you know? You gotta be grateful for everything you got — that’s a given though. Where I come from, that’s how it is. You gotta be ready for that kinda shit all the time. [But Lucas and I got to link up] three times, maybe three times. Just talkin’ about music, he pulled up to a few shows.
You looking forward to the vinyl? Did you ever think you’d be making records?
WiFi: Most definitely, I always wanted to do that. That’s the goal, for real. Like physical music. Something you can hold on to — just longevity in my eyes. That’s my first vinyl. I’m really excited.
Did you listen to vinyl coming up?
WiFi: Of course, that’s the first shit I ever touched, bro. Like, that’s all I did was listen to vinyls in my crib. My peoples had a whole bunch of shit, like hella shit, so that’s all I did. They used to just let me play that shit, and I’d scratch that shit — used to scratch that shit, used to be into that shit heavy.
Did you ever get into, you know, being a turntablist and scratching records like that?
WiFi: I wanted to! But I didn’t get into shit like that, I just used to do that shit for fun. But that’s the first time I’ve ever learned how to record some shit. I would fuck with the records and put a cassette tape in the shit, and then record what I was doing on a regular shit to the cassette tape. I was like, “What the fuck? Like, okay, I really did that.” But nah, I was really just fucking around on some creative shit — just fucking around.
What are some records that you had a connection with? Like some shit that’s been memorable for you.
WiFi: The 3 Feet High and Rising! That’s the De La [Soul] joint. My people took me to the De La show when they came to DC. Mo’fuckin’ passed me to the stage, and I had the album — and they passed me up there, and I got the joint signed by all three of them n***as. That was some ill shit. Then, Criminal Minded, I got that shit signed by KRS. And then, I gotta think, I got this Pete Rock joint. I got that joint as a gift from one of my old heads — he was actually Pete Rock’s brother. So, when he gave me the joint, I was like, “This is some real shit right here.”
No way. Pete Rock’s brother gave you a record?
WiFi: He was my teacher at school. He was like my homie. He showed me hella rap shit. He showed me like a whole bunch of rap shit. He used to like go on tour and shit, and then come back to the school! And he and my pops was real cool. So, I just got to see a lot of real hip hop shit. That was like, third or fourth grade.
Who were some of the producers on Chain of Command? We got Tony Seltzer and shit, but I saw a couple others, right?
WiFi: Yes. One of my homies, Amal, he’s one of the main producers on there, I think he maybe did three joints. We made them shits together, just listening to like a whole bunch of funk samples that was the vibe we was goin’ for. I just wanted to make some real raw shit. So, that was some in-house production right there. Then there’s Tyris White, he’s another. I don’t even wanna call his shit funk becuase he made a whole bunch of shit — like jazz and all types of shit. And he’s from somewhere in Texas, I don’t want to get it wrong, but somewhere in Texas.
And he makes some fire beats. … Oh, and there’s another joint on there — I was leaning towards that Foisey joint, Foisey did a joint on there. … That’s it for the most part, just a lot of homies. But that’s how my project be though, I don’t really branch out and work with people who I don’t already fuck with. And I did a joint on there! I did the outro on that joint. I just wanted to show motherfuckers that I got this beat shit too. But motherfuckers know that.
That’s funny, I got that track in my notes right here. I was gonna say, that outro track is hella soulful. And I was wondering what inspired that? Was that purposeful?
WiFi: Yeah, that was on purpose, bro. On some, like, I’m gonna do this joint too!
I saw [Foster], in one of his articles, he mentioned that you don’t write your music down. Is that true?
WiFi: It depends, bro. Writing for me is a very serious process. Most of my music isn’t written down like that. If I’m feelin’ that shit, Imma just hop in, like, please punch me in, I wanna get whatever I got going, just, off my chest. Definitely a lot of my songs are written, bro. And definitely a lot of them shits is briefed out. It’s about 50-50. But it’s 50-50 because there’s times where I feel like the beat so good that I gotta write this to make this shit super perfect. So, definitely bounce from writing into freestyle a lot though.
How has that formula changed over the years?
WiFi: The formula never changes. It’s just what I do within it. I might fuck with different producers and I might do different types of art, and it’s all about the final touches. Rap shit is set in stone.
It’d be hard to sum up the WiFiGawd sound in a few words right.
WiFi: Pretty much, bro. It’s unique bro. But I mean that’s my style. I got some for everybody: the old heads, the ladies, the youngsters, the hustlers — whatever, bro. Doctors!
You came up in a pretty unique time in music, right? The internet, SoundCloud, all that shit was kind of new still. You think that the time to get big on SoundCloud is gone? Are we just getting started?
WiFi: Nah, bro. We just gettin’ started. To be honest, it’s always been about the youth. The youth control whatever’s going on in music. That will never not be a thing this is rap music, the youth always goin’ to be runin’ this shit. And there’s definitely a wave of youth, of kids, runnin’ shit on Soundcloud. The rap wave will never die out.
I’ve always wanted to ask this question. You mentioned skateboarding, you know, here and there throughout your music. What’s that about? Do you skate?
WiFi: Fuck no I don’t skateboard, bro! I fuck with skateboarding! I be saying, “I WISH I could trey flip,” and, “In the crib watchin’ 411.” Like, I don’t skateboard but I definitely got homies that was real skaters. And I appreciate this that shit like, as an artform. So, I used to watch all the old skate videos. They just have tight-ass songs behind the skate videos. You know, the rap shit! So, I just always like to talk about skating, that shit tight, bruh.
You have any specific skaters you fuck with?
WiFi: Just my mans, bro! I fuck with them! My homies, bro!
Where did you grow up?
WiFi: Washington, D.C. Uptown, Northwest.
What was it like comin’ up?
WiFi: Wild! Shit was wild, bro. It was like some real city-life shit. Skipping school, doing crazy shit with your homies. It was like some movie shit, like, I can’t even explain that shit. It was wild. We used to smoke weed, fuckin’ skip school. But for fun? Like get clothes and shit — get fly. That’s what we used to do for fun — just get fly. We used to play basketball and shit. Go to parties! Most of the time, that was what we was on. Like, me personally, I used to throw like hella parties. And go to Go-Gos! I used to be going to Go-Gos in the seventh grade.
Did you fuck with school?
WiFi: Nah, I don’t fuck with school, bruh. That was some bullshit, bruh. Maybe if I went to an art school or some shit.
Just Pete Rock’s brother?
WiFi: Man, that was way back though. That was like the fourth and fifth grade! But middle school and high school and shit, nah.
When did you start making and releasing music?
WiFi: Like 12th or 11th grade. I probably dropped a few songs on Soundcloud, but them shits probably had only 200 or 300 plays.
What about when you started going by WiFiGawd? And where did that name come from?
WiFi: That was probably like the 12th grade. I just had a whole bunch of devices. Like back in the day, I just had like two or three iphones, ipads, and shit. That was my shit. That was that WIFI shit. I just made that shit — that was some trapped-out shit.
What were you using to make music back then?
WiFi: Garageband. Garageband with a Snowball mic. Or with like headphones — like iPhone headphones, like the joints with the little microphones on the headphones.
You were using the mic on the headphones…
WiFi: Yes, like lo-fi shit. There are songs on YouTube and shit where I was just using shit like that.
When you released FUBU 05, was that your first full mixtape?
WiFi: Nah, that was like the first full joint that I really kept up. I wanted people to think that was my first full mixtape. But I did a couple joints before that — I can’t even remember the names of them shits, for real.
Can the die-hard WiFi fans find that shit?
Did you go by WiFi back then?
WiFi: Yeah. It was on Soundcloud when I had like 500 followers and shit. People did used to fuck with them joints. But the thing is that I would drop it and then delete it. And then people would still have it and shit.
You would drop your shit and then delete it? Why?
WiFi: Because that was the way! Like, I got some new shit — fuck this old shit. I always did that shit. Like, fuck the old shit, I got some new shit. I deleted probably more songs than was probably on my Soundcloud.
And so then what happened between that time — trappin’ off some hijacked iPhone headphones spitting into Garageband — to FUBU 05? Because that seems like a pretty big jump in terms of production quality.
WiFi: Nah, it wasn’t. That was the same era. I was still rapping off headphones when I made that. That’s why people fuck with that shit becuase of the way it sounds — it sounds like lofi shit. Like the song “Juggapacks,” I remember I made that shit, and I told my mans just like turn that shit all the way up until that master and shit is just peeking — like so when that shit plays it might break somebody’s headphones! That was just some lo-fi rap.
When was your first studio studio experience?
WiFi: A couple of songs. Once I started recording with one of my homies who was an engineer. He did record a lot of FUBU 05, lowkey. So, I would say that album was the time I started recording more clean. But it still wasn’t like a studio. We were just a home studio with an engineer who could make my sound. I wanted it gritty, but I wanted my vocals to still be clean. But in 2017, I got with Tony Seltzer. And we started recording with him in the studios. He had my sound crazy — that was the best I ever sounded in my opinion. He had the formula with the 808s and the beats, that was perfect in my opinion. And still, in my opinion [with Tony] that’s my favorite sound.
When was your first show?
WiFi: Wow, it was like Richmond, Virginia — that was my first show. I had a homie who went to VCU. And I was like, “Bro, let me come perform at one of y’all house parties.” And he was like “Bet.” I only had a couple songs, so I made hella songs to go perform and shit. I wanna find the footage of that shit! My homie was there and he has the footage of that shit. I was going dumb, bro! On some, like, this is my first show I’m gonna go stupid. And we just did a bunch of shows on that campus. We just go to anybody’s party and take that shit over. Just take the mic, like, this is our performance! On some ‘90s shit.