Kids grow up fast in New York City. Pre-teens ride the train alone and commute between school and the park and home. You will learn to spot scammers, junkies, tourists and police from miles away. From the moment you learn to speak, you are exposed to languages from all over the world. The streets are more than just a thoroughfare for cars and trucks, they’re a fire hydrant water park, a street cart restaurant, a living room for old men playing dominoes, a nightclub with perreo, nutcrackers, and no cover. A New Yorker can live several lives before he ever turns 18.
Few rappers reflect this spirit as well as Patrick Morales, the 27-year-old Irish and Puerto Rican MC better known as Wiki. His latest album, half god, is an account of what it’s like to grow up in New York: the way it shapes you, hardens you, ages prematurely. Produced entirely by Navy Blue – the skateboarder/model became a prolific producer/MC born Sage Elsesser – the record captures the varied tempos of city life in colorful vignettes. A rippling guitar run is the soundtrack to a contemplative smoking session on “Roof”; the stuttering soul samples on “Can’t Do This Alone” stroll through the city streets with Wiki and Navy Blue; hi-hats crack and snare click ‘The Business’, while Wiki spits vitriol at the gentrifiers who turn his house into something unrecognizable.
Gentrification looms like a ghost all over the album. Born on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and living on the Lower East Side, Wiki has watched the city’s grit wash away slowly, pushing its quirky characters and storefronts forward in favor of chain stores and bottomless mimosas. Near his downtown apartment, where Chinatown and the LES meet, Abuelitas push shopping carts past old Chinese men smoking cigarettes on sidewalks, and young Asian children walk to school to the beat of car radios blasting Latin music. But intruders threaten the atmosphere, and Wiki’s anger permeates much of half god. Everyone understands that New York attracts people everywhere; Wiki just can’t understand why the most privileged of them are so selfish. In ‘New Truths’ he berates schoolchildren who cannot empathize with the less fortunate. On “The Business” he chides NIMBY transplants: “What I can’t understand and get through is/After all the education you’ve done, you don’t know what a community is?”
Wiki, an old soul of 27, may have emerged as a hard-partying garbage bag, but he’s clearly softened and become wise in the decade since that first Ratking EP. In the years since he went solo, his influences have become more focused, sharpening his pen against anyone who doesn’t respect his idea of hip-hop or his hometown. on half god, months of pandemic isolation led him to even deeper introspection, given the role acting has on both his wallet and his mental health, and what kind of legacy he might be leaving to his hypothetical children. Being cooped up inside drove him a little crazy, but also confirmed the human need to connect. Perhaps the most interesting sign of his maturity is his willingness to be emotionally vulnerable. For a long time he avoided promiscuous boasting in favor of monogamous raps; on “Never Fall Off” he takes it a step further, narrating the joys of a budding courtship with a staggering seriousness not often found on rap records.
His sharp tongue and self-reflection put him in good company among his peers, several of whom seem and feel right at home on half god. Wiki and Earl Sweatshirt – Elsesser’s childhood friend and frequent collaborator – vibrate at the same frequency on ‘All I Need’. Wiki’s latest solo album, phew, was already feeling spiritually attuned to Earl’s 2019 LP Some rap songs, and in their mid-twenties, the couple already feels like older statesmen. Lots of beats on half god feeling like they could have appeared on one of MIKE’s last few releases, which were also produced by Navy Blue. And few people embody New York more than Queens rapper and durag legend Remy Banks, who gives supreme confidence and gravitas to the Daniel Dumile nod “Gas Face,” which inspires Wiki’s morbid musings about how much more popular he’d be if he were dead. : “Is that the only time you can find me in your mind? / To really know I was a fly, gosh / Post old pics on IG / Then draw me / My corpse / Even if there’s a lot of money to love to earn me.”
Wiki’s acumen and skill as an MC has never been questioned, and so on half god, he finally seems to believe it himself. He is less concerned with straining his chops than with painting pictures and telling stories; he is wise enough to really know himself and confident enough to reveal it. “Is my fate sealed, is it final? / Or can I appeal / A second try / Does it heal me when I feel the medicine? / What’s real and what’s relevant?” he raps on ‘Home’. Without insecure boasting, we have the clearest picture of himself. But the most remarkable thing about half god is perhaps how well Navy Blue’s beats fit Wiki’s style, tone and spirit; the hypnotic loops distort and come back into focus next to stream-of-consciousness streams, simple but refined.
Wiki has always used his great talent to paint cityscapes with words, but with Elsesser’s production they become transporting. From the first track, sirens whirl around piano loops and cymbal crescendos, and street noise weaves between beats and bars, triggering the senses. You can almost smell the meat on the grill as Wiki’s akhi hooks up his spicy chicken sandwich, or feel the wind over his roof as people march down the street like ants. New York City has long been a character in rap. But half god is the story of how that character has shaped our protagonist, a young man immersed and in love with his mind, loosely holding on to an ever-evolving community in which he sees his own reflection.
Buying: Rough Trade
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