Wiki on quarantine in New York and the “classic essence” of new album Half God
In the latest episode of The FADER Interview podcast, Jordan Darville talks to NYC rapper Wiki about his new music and the changing face of the city he calls home.
Wiki on quarantine in New York and the “classic essence” of new album <i>Half God</i>

The FADER Interview is a podcast series in which the world’s most exciting musicians talk with the staff of The FADER about their latest projects. We’ll hear from emerging pop artists on the verge of mainstream breakthroughs, underground rappers pushing boundaries, and icons from across the world who laid the foundations for today’s thriving scenes. Listen to this week’s episode of the podcast below, read a full transcript of this week’s episode after the jump, and subscribe to The FADER Interview wherever you listen to podcasts.

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In 2012, Patrick Morales, the rapper known as Wiki shared his first song, Wiki Speaks. He was 18 years old and sounded like a Dick Tracy villain weaned on classic underground rap from his hometown of New York city. The track took off online and soon Wiki and his group Ratking formed with fellow vocalist Hak and produced with Sporting Life with the toast of NYC hip-hop. They signed to XL Recordings, taught the world and even covered the FADER all on the strength of their sound, that once experimental and is grimy and timeless as a park bench covered in pigeon shit.

Then in 2016, the group disbanded and Wiki was left to continue finding his voice solo. After dropping No Mountains in Manhattan in 2017 and leaving XL Recordings, Wiki formed his own label, Wikset Enterprise for 2019's LP Oofie.

2021 has already seen the release of Telephone Booth, an energetic and underrated LP with producer NAH that pushes the boundaries of Wiki's sound. On October one, he will share Half God a new album produced entirely by Navy Blue, a fast rising young artist from Los Angeles. The latest tracks find Wiki comfortably balancing his reflective streak with braggadocio, building compelling music around his passions and fears. With Navy Blue's dusty sampled loops as companions, Wiki has all the hallmarks of a rapper who's determined to reintroduce himself. A few days before the album's release the FADER's Jordan Darville spoke with Wiki about songwriting, gentrification, and coming into his own as an artist.

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The FADER: Listening to this album front to back, it feels like you're making an effort to reintroduce yourself. Each different side of yourself as a rapper, you sound very invested in, and that you have a certain degree of clarity in who you are and the different facets that you excel at that perhaps isn't present on previous projects.

Wiki: Yeah, I feel that. I mean, it's a little bit more honed in in terms of like ... I feel like I'm a great writer, I'm a great rapper, so I'm not going to put out something that's bad. But it's like, is it the most refined version of what ... You know what I'm saying? And what I mean bad, I mean, maybe you think it's bad, but I'm saying, it's not going to be a whack flow. It's not going to be like ... It's going to be like, all right, this is good. But what is that level you want to get where it's really fully refined? With hiphop, I think, and rap, it can be such a free thing, an open thing where you have that skillset, you just go with it and do it.

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But to take that time and really refine it, but then kind of in an organic way at the same time, it's something you can't really .... It's why I feel like in hip hop, it'll be like, whoa! You'll hear an album and you'll be like this, "Oh, he's on right now. She's in her bag right now." You know what I mean? It's just kind of like this feeling in this moment, but at the same time, don't get it twisted. It's also about people. It's like the work put in and the time and effort to really hone it down and cut off all the fat and all that.

Sounds like you had a certain structure in mind for this particular project before you went in it. Is that fair to say, or did it come to you as you were working on it?

The structure itself, I would say, kind of came together as we made it, but it's more the fact that we did it with Navy Blue and that was the plan from the jump. So that alone gave the structure it needed in terms of, well, one, the production is all coming from one person so it's like living in the same world. But then once you have that, it's like gives it a nice cohesiveness already. You know what I mean? So then as a writer, I can kind of just be a little bit more free in terms of what I want to write about and then when those chances come to like, "Oh, this can work towards this theme and work towards that theme, and then it builds upon each other."

I feel like in the beginning of an album process, you're more making music. And then from that you're like, "What do we need now? Kind of thing. Then, more ideas sprout out of that. You know what I mean? So I think the structure and the cohesiveness, a lot of it comes from just the fact that one, we did it in a short amount of time so we were just really focused on it. And in terms of writing, I wrote most of it in a month. Also, just being, working with Sage [Elsesser/Navy Blue] and meeting up with him, that whole process just gave it the structure that I think it needed and that some of my previous projects don't have, I feel like.

Talk a little bit more about coming into Navy Blue's world. The style of the production on the album, it doesn't stick to one tone necessarily. There are psychedelic moments, there are soulful moments. He has a vast range as a producer. There's definitely a cohesiveness that comes with working with one producer. So talk a little bit more about working with him specifically and how it came together.

That's the thing, it's not just that simple as if it was like, "Oh, just work with one producer." It also has to do with Navy Blue himself. The first one we did was the Earl [Sweatshirt] one. And then besides that, we also did early, we did "Roof."

There was this certain classic essence, the type of joints I fell in love with hip hop in the first place kind of thing. It brought me back to that a little bit in a nostalgic way. But then at the same time, not in like, "Oh, we're just doing old type joints." You know what I mean? But it's like, there was this certain, it's not even about it sounding, "Oh, it's more like ..." I don't know. It's just certain classic feeling like just one of those jams, like some De La type thing or some Fugees type. It just like brought me back to that. And I felt like, damn, this is what people been wanting to hear me rap on my whole life. This is the type of joints I grew up rapping on in a way, but then like a little bit more.

I'm not the best with musical language so it's hard for me to understand exactly what it is. But there's certain shit you hear and you're like, "All right, cool. That's like an old type beat. Cool. That sounds cool." But then there's certain things where it's like has that essence, but it's not just mimicking it. You know what I mean? But it's still has that certain element to it that brings that nostalgia back. For me, a lot of those beats brought that to me and it kind of like just brought it out of me.

I was listening to "Still Here." You've always had a specific capacity for melody, which is very unique to you, but it was on that song specifically where I was like, "Oh shit, this is like a very New York rap style melody that he's doing." It wasn't a direct reference to a specific song. I don't believe. But it was something that I found very unique to the region that you were channeling. And like you said, it's something that I've definitely felt throughout the career that you've certainly had the capacity to do, but perhaps not something you've dipped your toes in until now.

What melody within rap is such a big part of what I do especially my influences. I've always been like I want to come out and do the hook like this or really tap in a little bit more. I felt the confidence to do it on this joint. But in the past you hear, the influences, there's Mos Def, there's Lauryn Hill. These people that are, they're not a singer rapper. They're a rapper, first and foremost, but they could sing. You get what I mean? You'll hear it in his raps. You know what I mean? But it's not like this R&B dude who raps. You get what I'm saying?

So to me, I always look towards that because I'm a musical guy and I love the melodies. And even with the beats, I always love when, I love hard beats. That's just the drums. But I like when there's something nice to get the feeling out of it and get the melody at it. But for this record, I've just felt a lot more confident in myself and that goes into trying some more of those things out, like in terms of just singing and going for it. Even what I was talking about, I liked the point you made about how I never really thought about that singing in that way that is like a very New York, that certain era of hip pop, where it was like, whether it's like De La or I was saying The Fugees, stuff like that. And that shit too, I feel like still here is a song where it's not me just flexing like I'm nice. It's like I'm writing... I wrote a song, but the bars are still up there. That's a Lauryn Hill-type joint to me, with the way she can make a song, and it's not just for the sake of rapping for you. It's like, I'm telling you some shit right now, or I'm telling you a story, or I'm writing a song. And to me that's dope. It's honing it really down to the highest degree, the highest level, but without losing the essence of hip hop, whatsoever.

Yeah, I feel like on previous releases, especially starting with Oofie, you started to get more and more reflective about your place in hip-hop, especially. And I think on this album, you found a balance between the soul searching, but really barring up and creating the hardest lyrics that you can.

I was talking to someone earlier in the year when I actually first was in LA. That's when I first made the Earl one, and that was what started the whole snowball effect that turned into the record. When I was out there, I remember someone telling me, they were like, "Oh, Wik, everyone knows you're nice. You don't need to flex. You need to simplify more." And I'm like, "Nah, I come from hip-hop. I'm a rapper, this is my..." And more and more, I'm like, "No, I want to flex. I want to be the best MC I can be." I'm not trying to dumb down my shit. If you hear this record, it's like those things. Even with the God, to me, it's like get getting my confidence up and being like, "Nah, what's up?"

Like even my friend was saying, like "Wikispeaks," he's like, "Bro, "Wik Da God" reminds me of "Wikispeaks." That's like on one of my first songs. So he was like, "Dude, it reminds me of "Wikispeaks." You just like getting it off and you hear it and it's just like nonstop bars." And I was like, it's kind of ill because "Wikispeaks" I'm like self deprecating. I'm like, I'm a piece of shit. It's like that teenage angst and I'm through that. I'm getting it all off. But then "Wik Da God," it's kind of the other side of the coin. And it's like from a more positive perspective of like, "Oh wait, I found myself and it's like, what's up? Now I'm here." But then same sentiment, like I'm getting it the fuck off.

Yeah, I have that as my like centerpiece of the album. That's kind of the song that I really wanted to hear from you. You getting in your bag in that degree.

It's like what Jay-Z said, like we needed to hit the the ants with the sledge hammer. Like, you know what I'm saying? Like it has to be unfucked with. Like no one's saying nothing of that. It's sick. Like I've been, I got to play that record. Navy brought me out to play a couple songs and I did like the ones that were out. But then I played that record and it was like, you know what I mean? It was like nice to just come out and rap that shit because I haven't rapped in like two years live and then it was like one of those ones like everyone was just like, "Oh, shit." Like once that hook hits the like bread and with like the faces are getting scrunched, you know what I mean?

Something that I really have followed throughout your career and really appreciated is just how specific you get when you rap about sex and love. You can get self deprecating. You can get emotional in a way that I feel like a lot of rappers don't. You really like bring the listener into the specifics of what the relationship or the sexual encounter are. Is that more difficult for you to write, just getting into such a raw and intimate part of your life?

For me, honestly, that's like I could just do that. I would just write like shorty joints, not like shorty joints, but like here's the thing it's like writing for me is my way to like, it's kind of what I said on "Promised." I said the only way I could be honest, the only place I could keep my promise. To me, it's like, that's the place on record where it's like, I can get as deep. And I love that and I feel you it's like something that people are like, "Wait, why would you put yourself out there like that?" But I'm like, "Bro, this is the place to put yourself out there. This is where it's like, it's your art at the end of the day." So it's like, I love like getting tapped into my emotions and getting deep.

I love that too. Like the specifics of sex, too, because it's like, it can be weird. Sex can be weird. Sex can be awkward. Sex can be, you know what I mean? It can be whatever. And I think like by talking about it, it makes people ... you know how many people think that they're like the one person that? It just like puts you, it's like, "Yeah, this is some real shit." It's just relatable. It's like sometimes you the king of the world and you're like, "Damn, I'm going." And sometimes you're not. You know when someone's talking about some real sex or some real thing, them things where it's not just like, "Ah, I just put dick up in the ribs," or whatever. You know the ones where it's like, "Oh wait, this is some real shit." So I like that because I think it connects to people and like you said, it draws them in. And to me, it's like a movie or some shit. It's like you got to keep the rawness in, too.

Another rapper who did that to perfection was DMX.

Exactly, I was going to say DMX.

Of course, he passed away earlier this year as well as MF Doom. And I know both of those rappers influenced you heavily. I was wondering if their passing changed how reflective you got on the record. Because as we discussed, there's definitely a shift on Half God in the way that you approach reflecting on your life and your career. And I was wondering if the passing of those two artists influenced that at all?

It definitely influenced it. I think that it was a mix of that and just pandemic and quarantine and everything going on. Doom especially, too, because it was like we found out on New Years and it was like this weird time and it was a weird time in my life. I remember I was at my homie's office, Cliff. I was with a bunch of creative kids and I was like, "Yo, this is like, we got to do this." Like in the spirit of Doom, that's like perfect example of it never got corrupted, what Doom did. It never got fucked with. It just remained true. And I think that's so important. But then at the same time it's so influential and so iconic. And to me, that's something that's important that some people can be, "Oh, I just do art for whatever." I'm like, "No, there's certain thing in hip-hop, you want to lay down your shit." You want to prove yourself or you want to create your lane or whatever. So it's like, I think Doom like did that in the illest way.

And then also the influence on world building, just that idea of creating his own world and his own story. It's like what Wu Tang did. And I do that all the time with the imagery, and it's like being a little kid. You're using your imagination and you're fucking just going for it. And then with DMX, it's certain things there. It's like, that's the last of a certain type of like ... and I miss that type of MC where it's like even the most gangster rapper or whatever, then like once the industry gets them they're like this nice guy. Everyone has to be like the friendly guy, media guy. It's like when was this raw emotion, that raw, like I'm literally selling the most records, but I'm not the friendly guy.

And you know him, like we said, he'd be crying on the record. He'll be like the way he brought his emotion into his music was something that is so influential to me. But then also I think to a lot of artists, because DMX was so off court, it was like when he was doing it could be like, "Whoa, that's weird or that's so off." It's like, no one's questioning that. So it's like, he kind of lets you know.

Did quarantine help or hurt in terms of you getting your life together?

It definitely helped. It was a horrible time and obviously so many people were affected by it. But in terms of mentally, for me specifically, I had that time to figure out my life. And also I got to get my health together a little bit more and that helps with your mental. It all connects, and I think that helped. I chilled out on drinking. That helped with clearing my head too and really being able to hone in on writing. I think it definitely helped. So overall, it was something I needed, whether it was quarantine or not, just a break to figure out what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go. And honestly, I owe a lot to Navy too, because he really ... and I was in a place where I didn't feel inspired. And I was just like, "I don't even know why I'm doing this. I'm just doing this because I do this and this is all I know how to do."

But when I was out in LA, he made sure I pulled up to Al's crib studio. It was like, pull up, pull up. He made sure we got the record off with Earl. I can be a little bit not so confident. So I'm like, "Oh yeah, they're doing their thing. They're killing it. But they don't mess with me." But then he always showed me love and showed me respect and to have that mutual respect is so important. And it's just like, just to not have any ego in the room. He's always been like, "Yo, this is your record. I'm trying to make it your record." It's been really helpful for me and it's helped my confidence and just even that. That whole process, I feel like that's so important. It's just about being confident in who you are and they're like, "If you're confident in who you are, no matter what you do, you're not going to feel weird and insecure about it and then you can follow your path and make your art and you're not overthinking it." But then actually that's the funniest part, because then that's the stuff that connects the most and that's the best stuff you'll make, as long as you don't get caught up in it.

I wanted to know if there're certain hurdles that you've faced in key moments in your career? You've got the disillusion of Ratking when it was at its peak, the Secret Circle breaking up and then of course Oofie dropping just before COVID, had these hurdles taught you anything about your career and how you approach it?

Yeah, I think that and dealing with labels and everything that I've been through has taught me so much. I think whether it's the dependability on people, you know what I mean? At the end of the day, you need to be able to hold yourself down and that's based on holding relationships down too, if I can't make the whole record myself in my bedroom, then I need to facilitate certain things and that's really important. I'll be talking to my youngers, my homies, trying to put them on sometimes that same sentiment. I'm like, bro, you got to like learn how to play the game a little bit. Learn how to be respectable and create relationships where you're helping people out and you're not just trying to get stuff with people.

To me, I'm just looking towards the future and I'm happy that I had that time. I used to think of it at like, my peak when it was like you come out depressed. Oh my peak is up. I ran that up but then I realized like, dude, this is a whole new chapter. Like this could be my first rep. To me this is like my first album but it's obviously not. You know when people say that "This is my first album." I'm not sure to be on some dumb like, "Oh this is my first album I'm recreating." I know there's other Wiki, but at least in this chapter, You never heard none of my music before cool. Start with this record. Great. I used to be like, no, they need to hear this and they don't know about this.

I don't care. They can discover that on their own time. You know what I mean? I'm happy to have the Droog record that's only on SoundCloud that people can hear. Whatever, you know what I mean? It's cool. But this is my new thing and all that stuff before was just school to me. I'm blessed to have been able to not have pop. Now I look at it the opposite. I'm like, thank God I didn't flare up in that time and become so, you know what I mean? You know like that shit when you're young or even 23, whatever, if I had, and I know in myself at that time too I would've probably gone nuts and it wouldn't have been good.

So it's like, I'm happy I got to have that time to grow and learn. So also for anyone I was listening, it's like, bro, obviously be able to sustain yourself, don't be delusional but at the same time, your time is never done. You know what I mean? I even said like, Jay dropped when he was 26 or something. Imagine if Hov dropped when he was rapping all quick and crazy, it would have been weird. You know what I mean? It's like he honed it in and look where he's at. It's like you never really know. You know.

I love everything that you said about how you view your catalog and how this album is to a certain degree a starting point for you, but I really do want to talk about Telephonebooth, which for me made me appreciate this album more because it's so different. It's a much more experimental record in terms of the beat selection, the rhythms that you're using and your flows are different than what you choose to do on Half God. So talk to me a little bit about creating that record and whether or not what you did there informed Half God.

Yeah. I think for me that was the element of where I was like, I've freed myself from the idea of all right, I need to prove myself on every record and I was like, all right I'm going to make some cool shit with my friend that sent me some dope beats that are weird. With him [NAH] he was like, "Oh, everything needs to stay the length that I sent them." So I was like, I had that weird restriction, I had to only write a short amount, short joints and it kind of was like what I said that first step of all right. But I wasn't really fully invested as much as I was on Half God maybe.

With Oofie was more like I'm throwing this together. I got a lot of those stuff sitting around, but it wasn't like Telephonebooth, was like a piece of art. Not everything has to be for everybody. You know what I mean? It's important because even now I'm starting to feel like now that the role it is coming with Half God I'm like, shit what's next? Let me not get into that zone, let me be like, whatever cool idea because I have a bunch of ideas. Let me execute an idea and then figure it out and then whatever comes next, you know what I mean? I like those things in people's careers that's like, there can be a period of dope art and then there can be a period where there's an album that really stands out.

Yeah. So I think Telephonebooth was that starting period for me that I needed and it was really important for me and it was like, once the Sage start stuff started coming in I remember everyone was like, "Oh, Telephonebooth is sick," and I'd be like, "Yeah, yeah. But y'all don't know." I don't know. You know what I mean? Because I knew what was coming, but it was definitely important that project for me and I think I'm happy I got to do that before I have got to. It kind of threw him a curve ball a little bit too. You know what I mean? Now they really don't know what to expect.

You spoke about world-building previously and on Half God you have a song, "The Business, which gets really literal with the specifics of gentrification and how it builds that world. Talk to me a little bit about why it was important for you to address that on this record, especially one with so many references and inspirations drawn from New York City.

Yeah. I think this was probably the longest period I was in the city since high school or something just cause of touring, literally. You know what I mean? I hadn't been in New York that long for so long so I really felt like I was back. Then I was in this period where I was in an apartment that the neighbors' kind of scapegoated me and my roommate and it was like a whole thing. You know, it's like very basic, just go knock on my door and be like, "Yo, what's up turn it down." So that I'll turn it down and then I won't realize that I'm disturbing you and it won't be a whole weird complaint thing. You know what I'm saying? Whatever. But just that idea, that lack of community I'm like, bro, like I'm right down the hall.

So that had a lot to do with it but then at the same time, once I kind of started rapping. It's like you have an idea, a spark and once you start writing with it, it's just goes from there and I was like, oh, this beat has the perfect. That's probably the most left field beat on the record I would say. That and maybe like "Ego Depth" or something, but it's like, I don't know that beat is hard. So the point is I just thought it was important to talk about it and I think especially there was this period in quarantine where everyone left, it made it feel even more when everyone came back.

So I feel like that was a big part about it because it was like when everyone left, it was kind of nice in a way because it was all locals pretty much. Not only locals and that's the other thing, let me make this clear, I don't got no problem with out of towners and that's what I sit on the end of the skit on the end. It's about the way you approach it and it's about realizing that this is where people live at the same time and this is people's community. Yeah, and there're certain traditions and certain things that are in the neighborhood that it's like you can't come and just expect it to be your thing. You know what I mean? It's just like how if I go move into some random town somewhere I can't just be going nuts. I need to like be like, what's good with this town. You know what I'm saying? You know what I mean? And that's all I mean, because I feel like a lot of people feel like, oh, it's the city. So it's just like, they can run around, whatever. But the whole point is like, when that came back, it was so much. Once New York kind of started opening up again, it was so hectic. And everyone was like, "We're back in the city, New York's back." It was mad funny. That whole New York's back. Everyone was like, "Oh, shit, nah, nope." Like New York's not back. This is bad. You know what I mean? It was like the total opposite thing. And then all of a sudden the city got crazy. It's been really turned up, the crimes going up, whatever.

So there's a lot going on. It's just high energy. But to me this record, it's really personal. But then about New York, especially in this time, specifically in the way people were like, oh, so it's like what New York was at this time or [Ratking album] Wiki 93 shows what it's like growing up in the city at this time. I feel like this is very specific to this time in New York.

And then the last thing is, I think it's like kind of an ode to hip-hop. There's a lot of references to so many different things. It's kind of a nod to all the influences and the culture in general. But I think the whole record, but I'm saying I had to have that thing. And then once I started writing it, of course my head thinks, "Oh, is this like corny? Like the gentrification song?" You know? It's been done, dope for sure. Because I know some Cudi records where they do it ill, but it's like, it can go towards that way, where you're getting preachy.

But for me I was like, it's a jam, it's a bop. And it's like a certain feeling. And it's like, every time I play that for a New Yorker, like bro, their face, they're like, whoa. And that speaks to anyone that lives anywhere in any city where that's happening, you know what I mean? They can relate to that on their level. I think it was important for the record to have that piece.

And finally, I wanted to ask you about the title of the album, Half God. It sounded like a reference to the melting pot living in New York City and the different cultures and experiences that one has in such a vibrant place. So I was wondering if it was a reference to that or if it was something else?

That is like definitely a big part of it. And I think with the titles... I'm not the best with the titles, actually. I'm going to have to say where it's due. Like the homie, Theo, and it's because I said "half God on the record, but I'm not even talking about myself. I was talking about on "New Truths. I'm talking about my kids. I'm like, all of them will be half God like Hercules.

Once he said, he was like, 'half God that's hard.' Then you know, it's like, you hear that and you're like, "that's sick." And then you start thinking about what does that mean? You know what I mean? And that was one of the later ones I realized. But then someone's like half God, it's kind of like the mut, like you're the mut, like half God.

And then it's also like what you were saying, that mix. But then it's also like that duality in general. Even on the cover, there's like one of the things on the cover, it's like a statue of Herc- I just drew a statue of Hercules. I just looked the shit up on Google images. And it's like, Hercules is all drunk. I think he's like drunk. And he's like holding his dick and all. And it's like this basically half god or demi god. But he's a human too, right? It's Hercules. We still know his name today, but he was drunk and holding his little, fucking shriveled up schmeat because he was like, probably off too much shits. You know what I'm saying? So it's like, I think that's real, you know what I mean?

So I don't know. That's a big part about it too. But I like that the first thing you thought it was that New York... I hate when it's like a title, it's like "New York, New York." It's like, how do you find something that's like, it is New York, but it's not. It's definitely hip-hop, too. There's a certain classic hip-hopness to the title, which is like, the album is hip.

That's the other thing. The album is me going back to my roots of like what I love, you know? And that's what I mean too. It's an ode and at the end of the day, I give it up for the culture and I'm a missionary. It's not even a missionary. Cause I don't even need to convert people. It's just like people that know, I'm not really like the Catholics with it. You know, I'm more like Jewish with it. You know, they don't really be trying to get all the people involved. They just do their thing. Keep it the chosen ones. No, I'm fucking with you.

But whatever, you know what I'm saying? So realizing that's what it's about. And that's what I give it up to at the end of the day. It's not about me at the end of the day. It's about the culture. And it's like, how can I play my role to hold it down in the culture? And it's about the community, because the community's a direct connect to the culture and that's what makes hip -hop hip-hop and not some other genre. So it's like, that's what I care about. And that's what I'm trying to figure out what to keep doing in my life. As long as I got that, I feel like the music will be all right.

All right, we'll leave it there. Wiki, thank you so much for this conversation.

Take care. Have a good one.

Wiki on quarantine in New York and the “classic essence” of new album Half God