Every city has its OGs. You feel it no matter where you are; embedded in the cultural fabric of each concrete jungle are characters, personalities and throw-away everyday occurrences that contribute to the spirit of the neighbourhood.
Not only is NYC rapper Wiki one of these characters, he’s also the story-teller. From the early-days as the charismatic figure-head of New York trio Ratking to his latest LP – the Navy Blue produced ‘Half God’ – he has always paid attention to the detail, drinking in the beautiful, sad and tragic subtleties of life and pouring them into his lyrics.
A couple of weeks after his mini-Irish tour opening for slowthai, Clash caught up with the Big Apple’s favourite gap-toothed rapper to chat about insightful conversations with Earl Sweatshirt, the Manhattan Special and keeping it real.
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First things first, how was Belfast and Dublin? Was it cool coming here with your Irish roots?
Yeah! Belfast was sick. I was just there for the show, I didn’t get around the city too much, but it was a dope crowd. Openings in general, even if it’s an act that makes sense, people can be weird sometimes when it isn’t your crowd. Out there, Belfast and Dublin, I felt a lot of love.
My mum is Irish-American. You get that connection, the way people are over here, you see parts of yourself and your family and shit. Even though it’s a different version, some of that culture definitely traces back.
I was reading your interview with Rolling Stone and you mentioned a conversation with Earl when you noticed that he was truly happy, truly confident. Inner-peace felt like it had been fulfilled. Where do you feel you’re at now that the album is finished, in comparison to beforehand?
In terms of the project itself, I’m definitely happy with it. We’re in a freelance world, right? Money comes, money goes. You gotta keep it up. I’m happy with how the album was perceived, the rollout, the videos… It’s interesting because it’s probably the smoothest it’s ever felt. Writing it and the personal process I was going through is one thing, everyone was on the same page and trying to make it work.
That being said, I’m still working on myself too. It’s some storybook shit, y’know? Happily ever after? It ain’t like that. There was a lot of growth, but there’s still growth to be made. There’s that pressure too, like, what am I going to do next? I’m trying to not let that fog my shit too much. I just want to stick to the feeling and emotion of it all, because that’s what I feel like got me there in the first place – not overthinking it.
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You talk about gentrification on the album and have done in the past. From reading your interviews I get the impression that you feel you have an important part to play in the culture of the city – is that fair? Do you feel a kind of duty to keep the real NYC spirit alive amongst modern problems?
Oh yeah, for sure! Everyone has that pride in their city, New York is just a big example of it. It has that rep. Any big city I go to people are repping their shit. It’s important to keep it authentic, because in big cities things are constantly changing and new people are moving in. It’s inevitable, but it’s all about keeping your piece of authenticity alive. Not in a toxic way, it’s not like anything can never change, but it’s important to hold onto those roots and hold onto what makes the city what it is to you.
That goes into hip-hop in general. Even making this record it was like, you don’t need to be the biggest person in the world. You can just do you and still be influential. You can still put your stamp down and push the culture along, you’re adding to it. I think that’s very important, it’s about your heart being in the right place.
Are there any spots in the city that you enjoy going to and writing? A lot of your lyrics are a social commentary on what is happening around you, is there a place you can go to that particularly inspires?
There’s a few spots. Obviously the roof is one I’ve written about before, but in general the park is good, there’s always something going on. It’s cool because you’re still in the city, but you get a little bit of nature, there’s kids coming out of school, people are playing sports and shit. Just regular neighbourhood type things. I like to be outside when I write for sure, now that the weather is getting nice again I’m ready to be inspired by all of that. Even the seasons are inspiring. When New York hits Spring it’s hella nice.
What’s something cool about NYC that only a true New Yorker would know?
The Manhattan Special. When I quit drinking for a little bit last Summer, I got on my coffee wave. They got this stuff at the Deli called the Manhattan Special, it’s some old Italian-American shit, it’s basically coffee soda. It’s hella sweet. It’s an acquired taste, but I was sipping that. Anytime someone would get a beer I’d get one of those. Those are tight! And you can only get them in the five boroughs, that’s some real OG shit.
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Navy Blue produced the latest record, and has worked with a lot of the artists who also feature on there such as MIKE. What was your collaborative experience like, and how important is working with friends to capture that classic, nostalgic essence?
Totally! With Navy it was very straight-forward. I was very open to his suggestions, and he was coming at it from the same angle because it was my record, so we both left ourselves open and it worked. It was nice, you realise you don’t need to overthink everything. This can be this, the next thing can be the next thing… We don’t need to showcase every part of me on this record, y’know what I’m saying? Let the art be art.
I used to want to do everything, this time I was more at peace with that.
I read that every time you rap you feel like you’re proving yourself, despite your success. What’s next for Wiki? Do you feel like you’ve proven yourself now, will you ever feel like you have proven yourself?
It’s tough to say. Maybe that is a thing that’s unique to hip-hop. I’m not sure if other songwriters sit down to do something and think ‘I need to prove myself’. That feels like a rap thing. Even when you’re doing a personal song you try your best to make it the illest version of what it is. That’s an important part of it.
It can be proving yourself in different ways. I have so much music that I’m sitting on. I’ve been writing a lot and need to cut it down a bit. It’s not all about flexing about how long you can rap, I want to make the best song. I want to get to a place where it’s like, I’m not thinking about every line and trying to make you feel some crazy shit, it’s just a feeling within itself.
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Words: Andrew Moore
Photography: Jacob Consenstein
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Link to the source article – https://www.clashmusic.com/features/its-about-your-heart-being-in-the-right-place-wiki-interviewed