When greeted with the scraggly, typically ungroomed image and missing teeth of Patrick “Wiki” Morales, most people wouldn’t assume that the rapper hails from a “well off, upper-middle class” family from the Upper West Side of Manhattan, although it’s definitely not a fact that he’s ever shied away from. If you’ve seen any of his videos, one thing that does jump out immediately and is non-debatable is how straight up New York and 100% hip hop the lyricist is — unlike a large portion of artists out there, it’s really fucking difficult to question his authenticity. Everything about Wiki seems to embody that very essence at the heart of what has always made NYC hip hop so great, and it’s not because he’s a cookie-cutter throwback to another era, but rather the opposite. From the first moment that I ever heard one of his verses, which most likely came on the title-track from the album, So It Goes, by his Harlem-based crew, Ratking — it’s hard to remember what was first, since it sent me down a rabbithole tearing through every related video that I could find with him on it — I knew that I was hearing something unique, a voice that would prove instantly identifiable with a cadence that felt both methodical, yet completely organic, and fueled by an urgency and drive to deliver something gritty and unfiltered. There’s a purity that’s born from making no attempt at polish or purification, an unpasteurized vision with the bacteria still floating in it; a raw slab of meat cut fresh and slapped down on a steel table with bare hands and grime under the nails. Whatever he was delivering came from him alone, paired with a confidence that would be enough. I either believe you or I don’t, and this kid was raw and affecting straight out the gate.
Given that brief irrelevant piece of trivia about his background, someone could easily speculate that, perhaps, Morales stemmed from a home where he was somewhat neglected by an affluent high society family and was left to his own devices, wherein he escaped to the streets to find connections among the “riff raff,” but… seriously, what kind of dead end garbage is that anyway? That sort of need to form some greater Kid Rock-style narrative only matters to those hung up on image and flash, things that are the exact antithesis of what Wiki and Ratking exude and represent to me as a fan of their work. Plus, his song “Livin’ With My Moms” and the corresponding video, which co-stars his inspiration for the track, pretty much kills the idea of an overly strained relationship, or lack of support from his family, dead on arrival. A more accurate assumption is that the Puerto Rican / Irish emcee simply found his identity in the artform / culture, naturally embodying what already embodied him. He’s from New York and understands its history of hip hop, both intellectually and emotionally; the genuine nature of his entire persona, aesthetic, and sound a direct reflection of the energy and ethos that birthed a movement in 1970s Bronx. Back then, the Puerto Rican nationalist gang — and music outfit — the Ghetto Brothers, led by the late Benjy Melendez, laid the foundation for hip hop when they began bringing their ravaged community together through block parties, where they would jack electricity from street lamps and welcome rival gangs to cross territories to party with one another. From graffiti to music, what the culture has always provided is a voice to a community of individuals who didn’t have one. Nameless figures compressed under the weight of a towering metropolis that worked to consistently remind them that nothing within it belonged to them pushed back, claimed a name, carved their space, and reminded anyone that may have been confused about it — the city included — that the city and themselves not only belonged to each other, but were of each other. Everything was theirs if claimed it.
New York remains a reoccurring theme in Wiki‘s music, as does the awareness that change, while often unpleasant, has always existed as a necessity. The city that he lives in is a different one than that which he grew up in, as much as that one was a different version than when the artform first found its legs within it. His individual experiences are different, as are everyone’s, thus, to remain authentic, different content in his lyrics should be expected. Another reoccurring theme is the idea of being split between worlds and finding one’s identity as someone with a hybrid of characteristics that will never be reduced or defined by anything too simplistic. This theme pops up in references to being a “mutt” like on the Ratking tracks “Arnold Palmer” where he spits, “Yeah, I’m mixed, bitch, sip that iced tea and lemonade,” or Remove Ya, which begins with an audio sample taken from an extremely unsettling investigative video by The Nation about New York City‘s controversial stop and frisk policy, which involves a cop harassing and brutalizing a young man, while answering the question of why he’s being arresting with, “For being a fucking mutt! You know that?!” As a Puerto Rican and Jewish man myself, it’s a subject that I greatly connect to and appreciate seeing represented; my own identity forged equally by a lack of outside identity and defined culture, as much as wherever they might intersect. It’s a messy fucking stew with a lot in it, so it’s hard to pin down an artist that represents and ladles it up so fully other than by stating that he comes across as remarkably genuine and true to his own individuality; something that, in itself, has become unique in not only rap, but the greater art world at large. Humans are complex and too many have reduced extremely complex subject matter into a backdrop for delivering an incredibly basic and one-dimensional product. Some enjoy the polish and gravitate toward rap music that provides that shiny content and imagery. Others, like myself, have always found the grime more compelling.
In honor of the city that made him who he is, Wiki just announced what he’s referring to as the 5 Borough Tour which will involve him “performing for five consecutive nights at secret locations“ “staged in each of New York City’s five boroughs” and “featur[ing] a special guest notable to the night’s borough.”
Along with this announcement comes a brand new video titled “Pretty Bull.” Historically, I’ve never been a big fan of singles — I’m an albums guy — but in the Youtube/internet age, the ability to drop a single out of the blue that may or may not be connected to a larger project has changed all that, because it’s operating within a refreshingly different context. For example, it’s been at least a good decade-and-a-half since Queens emcee and former Def Jux artist, Despot, first began discussing the release of a solo album, which we’ve still yet to see come to fruition, yet in 2015, he still put out one of the greatest videos that I saw that year (or any year) with “House Of Bricks.” Despot, who will hopefully show up for the Queens borough stop, recently appeared as a guest on the track, “Satellite,” off a 7-inch release by Secret Circle — a transcontinental indie supergroup formed by Wiki, Antwon (San Jose), and Richmond underground cult rap legend, Lil Ugly Mane — so, while we continue to wait impatiently for the signal that the full-length Secret Circle debut is finally available, a new Wiki track to tide us over is appreciated.
Directed by Ben Solomon, the new video features the Manhattan rapper “surrounded by friends for a party at the local bodega” and, as the press release states, “reflects his standing amongst the youth of the city, inviting everyone in the neighborhood out, from the goonies, weirdos, skaters, graffiti writers and everyone in between.” It’s a visceral experience that looks as if it could be an outtake from the film, KIDS, celebrating the type of youthful escapism among peers that can help rejuvenate one’s soul in the sweaty evenings of the summer months. It’s a simple concept that represents a larger feeling.
Of the track itself, Wiki offers the following insight:
“Back in the day a club ‘The Tunnel’ in Midtown would host different nights for different scenes, they would have crazy techno nights, gay nights, and rap nights all back to back. The track’s for today’s scene and generation where we’re all out together having a good time”
Check out the video below and, if you’re in NYC next month, keep your ears to the ground for locations and make sure to catch as many of these borough shows as you can squeeze yourself into.
You can sign up for updates at http://wikset.nyc/index-pretty-bull.html