Image via Alice Plati
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Over a decade ago, an Upper West Side high schooler who called himself Wiki raised his hand-drawn flag over Manhattan. He had scruffy hair and soon-to-be missing teeth, lost defending his street cred. His voice was nasally and his lyrics chronicled his life in New York. His group Ratking helped reshape the regional underground with their foundational debut album So It Goes. Connected by a love of hip-hop culture and a disdain for stop-and-frisk policing, these artists reimagined what New York rap could sound like – eschewing the more traditionalist approach that was cycling through in the early 2010s for a chaotic and carefree new sonic texture. The deserved hype had one consistent theme: here was New York’s next great rap hope.
“I write raps because I have to,” Wiki shares, calling in from LA the day after his show with MIKE and Alchemist in promotion of their recent collaborative album, Faith Is A Rock. His tone is self-assured. We are both taken aback as his typically light energy coalesces into something more weighty. “I was trying to think of a more eloquent way [to say that], but it’s really because that’s what I have. That’s the tool I’ve honed in my life.”
Wiki laughs when I tell him I’ve spent a week reading every feature published about him from Ratking to the present. He mulls over the idea of pressure. Of course, when you’re a kid growing up in NYC, enamored with the community of rap culture, the posse cuts and the fly shit, you want to put the whole city on your back. But Wiki says that he was never cocky about his growing position in the rap scene following the break up of Ratking.
“I wanna be a representation for the city,” he says. “I don’t have to be ‘the one’ but it’s like, I’m a f*cking representative of the city. One of them.”
With Ratking, Wiki found early community by finding common ground across New York and London artists, traveling and making lifelong friends. “At the time, Ratking was still in its own [world]—we really wanted to be like, ‘nah, this is hip-hop,’ but we were also experimental,” he says. “Because of that, I didn’t feel too much [pressure]. We were just doing our own thing. I didn’t feel like I was fully aligned with the rap scene; it was one foot in, one foot out. I was just having fun and trying to meet new people.”
As a celebrated solo artist, Wiki was immediately inventive and fun, a raucous rockstar-in-the-making, drinking and partying his way through mixtapes (Lil Me) and his debut album (No Mountains in Manhattan). Early Wiki material had the boastful glee of a young artist hitting first stride tearing up the scene with their potential. Things do burn up eventually. Wiki’s relationship with his first label, XL Recordings dissolved. But the heat of early career mistakes didn’t discourage the rapper. He founded Wikset Enterprise, his own label, and began unleashing a full clip of albums, firmly making him a pillar of the NYC rap scene. Wiki connected with other like-minded, underground artists like Navy Blue, DJ Lucas, MIKE, Papo2oo4, Subjxct 5, and Tony Seltzer. He unleashed caustic raps that were never too self-serious and bashed mics on his head – things that are now part of the essence of the now 30-year-old rapper.
Wiki’s 2015 album, Lil Me detailed living with moms and partying to destructive excess. His 2017 formal debut album, No Mountains in Manhattan, found him leaving the stoop, passing by a game of stick ball on the block, and exploring Manhattan via food destinations, hangout spots, and chilling at shorty’s crib. “Made For This,” with none other than kindred soul Ghostface Killah, affirms Wik as a vital rap artist who would shed blood for his craft. The cover art illustration of tiny people and tiny Wiki marching through the streets of the city waving a WikiFlag is similarly a moment of manifestation for Wiki’s limitless future.
“It’s hard to gauge [growth] sometimes,” Wik shares. “I go up and down, but it’s not always about growth. It’s about movement. It’s about simplifying, too. It’s certain ebbs and flows. I’m trying to focus on growth as a person. For so long of my life, I was focused on music. Music is life. It’s all one and the same. You can’t separate it. I was always so focused on that, and never taking care of myself. I’m trying to get myself right.”
The process of self-reflection was capped off by his latest release, 14K Figaro. Wiki and Tony Seltzer sat on the album for a year, honing in on each detail: writing, and thinking and thinking, and writing, and then laying down every element of a strong beat.
“With 14K, that was the last step of me reflecting,” Wiki explains. “That shit is a full reflection of my life. That’s why I love it, but it’s tough, too, because it’s a certain integral point of my life where I was really reflecting on my past. You can hear that. There’s moments where I’m seeing the light.”
During our conversation, Wiki references “the light” numerous times, citing the moment he turned 30 as a sort of re-commitment to himself and to making music with more pulp. “I was more scared before [14K Figaro], because I felt like I was treading water. Now, I’m looking at it like there’s no expectations,” he says.
“I’m just trying to make something dope and something I’m proud of—and also for the fans! I’m trying to tap in with the purpose of everything, but not overthink it. It’s a balance. You gotta figure out the purpose, and then express yourself freely. By expressing the shit you go through, that can inform the purpose or the message, and teach you lessons. Once you have a formula down so well, and you know how to do a verse, hook perfectly? I wanna break down the formula and figure out a new one. I wanna come at it in a fresh perspective, learning shit and challenging myself. That’s what makes it interesting and fun.”
The blessing of being a working artist for half your life, being a young OG in the ranks of Earl Sweatshirt, Chief Keef, and not too many others, humbles Wiki. When I point out he’s been in the game since a kid and has a lot of life left, he gets quiet. When I ask what the best part of being an artist for 15 years is, he gets excited.
“Most of all, I’d say it’s the fans and when you’ve really made a mark on people’s life,” he says. “The effect you can have on people you don’t even know through your music—that makes it worth it. Every time you’re like, ‘Damn, should I even do this anymore? Why do I even do this?’ You could be going through your own shit. Everyone goes through shit, feeling lonely or not loved, how everyone feels… but the fans, that shit is deep.”