Album cover via Wiki/Instagram
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Donna-Claire has been hypnotized by this new MIKE x Wiki x Alchemist album.
Maybe this one was destined to be catnip for me. I have been searching for the feeling. Well, here it is. Faith Is A Rock is pegged as—and plays out like—a piece of contemporary New York rap history. The new collaborative album from indie rap favorites Wiki and MIKE, curated by none other than The Alchemist, scratches a particular itch in my brain that dates back to learning to skateboard in the park next to my late grandmother’s apartment in South Brooklyn. Some more history: one of my first CDs was Black on Both Sides. I convinced the department heads at my college to let me write a 50 page paper on Big L instead of taking English capstone courses. Despite my grandmother living in a particularly Russian immigrant-heavy part of Brooklyn, and despite the stores only carrying TV guides in our native language, quintessential boom bap beats spilled out of these establishments day after day, mixed with the fuzz of Russian talk radio. This stuff speaks to people.
It makes sense that MIKE, who has over 10 projects under his belt at 24, cresting with Beware of the Monkey, and Wiki, who is approaching his 30th year on earth with a deep solo catalog of NYC rap staples from Lil Me to Half God, would come together to keep the faith alive. Early written features on MIKE callout influences from MF DOOM to Earl Sweatshirt and the writing of author Ta-Nehisi Coates, recent features on Wiki position him as bucking self-destruction, maturing, and coming into his own as a leader in the New York rap space. Together with Al, the rappers gel into a promise of a musical aura not easily moved. Faith Is A Rock is named for the sheer density of God’s will, and in my reading, the unshakeable will of three artists who cannot bend to the changing tides of the world and music culture.
Faith Is A Rock was predated by a brief EP featuring the trio, which first felt like a sweet one-off and now is obviously read as a precursor to some heat. The timing is nice, sure: it’s chilly now. When I wake up at 5AM, there is no light to speak of until 6AM, when our hydroponic garden lights turn on. I wait for the sun to crest over the rowhomes on our block. I listen to single “Mayor’s A Cop,” and I think about the implications of dog whistling pieces about the death of rap’s morality. I can’t subscribe to the idea that all of rap has lost its way. As a cultural touchpoint, hip-hop is too broad and effusive to be pinned down and scolded by concerned critics. And I get it, we critique because we care, and we’re worried. I do wonder: What does it mean when the genre of bards and everymen is sold to the highest crypto-bro bidder?
I try not to worry about these things too much. But I am Jewish, so I actually was chosen by Yahweh to worry and complain myself into stomach-aching tizzies. Anyway. Faith Is A Rock features the bellow of MIKE’s pensive deliveries matched with Wiki’s own fractal bars. It’s texturally rich thanks to Al’s ear. It’s also an incredibly aware album. “Thug Anthem” features the rappers’ honest reflections as the last real ones standing, giving “you a peek of life, something subtle ‘bout the semantics.” There’s a song on here named for the rap festival, Scribble Jam, which made me smile. “Scribble Jam” the tune pays homage to the lost annual gathering of knotty emcees. Faith Is A Rock the album plays as indebted to these vagrant writers of old.
With records that interact with history while trying to make their own, there is always the worry the music will feel like a thing out of time in a bad way. But lineage is truth, and on Faith Is A Rock, Wiki and MIKE speak as though their tongues have been burnt to the end of saving rap’s life altogether. They ate the coals, they saw the flames, they know where this is going and they’ve got to do something about it. For its understated quality, the album feels possessed by a higher purpose. And it rips, folks. It really goes. It’s an album delivered with sagely precision. MIKE’s wisdom and Wiki’s sobering wit braid and scale every beat. They appear unstoppable. Their themes of endurance and rap integrity an inextinguishable infestation of hope unto a landscape that has been robbed of natural resources.
On “Pray For Him,” Wiki raps, “Ain’t tryna play God, but what I put in all this pain for?” after suggesting he can’t be anyone’s savior. There’s a tension between that line and this one. There’s a tension between Wiki’s calling as an artist and his stature in the scene. As he and MIKE go back-and-forth trading quips, a secondary meaning reveals itself. Faith Is A Rock is fun. It has to be. This is not finger-wagging, obligatory, “I’ve got to say something about this” music. This is the byproduct of two dedicated rappers working through their quiet—sometimes very loud—woes. Mike ends his portion of the song with, “Hardly handling the fame so I can’t panic when the hate start.” It’s an honest admission of fear as much as it is a bid to prove authenticity. Everything is about the real here. The tangible truth. The faith.
Faith Is A Rock is a solid album with crispy production and meditative lasers of rap performance. It is also an illustration of the depth of hip-hop when there is an independent infrastructure in place. This album makes me think of the art we have preserved and, more keenly, the art we have lost to the grind of profit. The record rises above the tension of making money to make salient points about the life and times of being a New Yorker under the current late-capitalist regime. And, okay, I won’t bore you with the idea of being post-currency two columns in a row, but I will say: the brain space afforded to artists when they don’t have to worry about vanity metrics and glossy measures of success does result in more lasting cultural productions. It just does.
And, fine, I’m willing to admit this album makes me miss my grandmother. She wasn’t much for my music, but when I played Wiki in her apartment while we played checkers, she seemed to get on with the production. She watched Russian pop concerts on TV every weekend. She loved telenovelas dubbed in Russian so much she burnt meals to not miss scenes. She once chased me with a skewer of fruit because she lived through war and wanted to make sure I got my vitamins. She had a hard life. She immigrated at 55. She lost all her memories and her grip on reality. She died alone. And yet she is here, in my everything. That’s another one of life’s tangible truths. The faith.