Wiki couldn’t possibly tell you what bodega has the best bacon, egg and cheese in New York City.
He almost seemed offended when I asked him the question, but his answer was straightforward and charming: “I like the shitty ones the best. I don’t like a nice fancy one; you gotta have the American cheese right on the top, the egg just fried with the shitty bacon. Can’t be nothing extra at all. I don’t know what deli has it, though. It’s such a regular thing, that you can’t just be like, 'That’s the one.'”
An answer fit equally for cats from around the way as it is for the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce.
It’s the kind of confessional endorsement that propels a song like “Mayor,” the second single from his newly-released proper debut, No Mountains In Manhattan. On it, Wiki—born Patrick Morales—plays the role of a New York City ambassador who’s anything but weary (“Anyone can talk to / Anyone can walk through / My block too, ask me / Any question y’all can harass me”), a young Puerto Rican and Irish kid obsessed with Cam’ron who upped his flows in order to become one of his city’s most heralded voices.
In the video for “Mayor,” he’s on the campaign trail handing out stickers to Penn Station commuters, sipping liquor on brownstones and dapping anyone within reach. This city is his whole world.
“NY is where all this started, and the more international it gets, the more proud I am that I’m from NY. This shit started in the Bronx, that’s crazy. It’s not just an industry; it’s a culture and it’s influenced everything. I wanna represent the city, but I wanna try to do it of my own accord. I like all the different things that are coming outta the city, whether it’s more underground shit or Young M.A. or something.”
Wiki’s blunt observational eye and rugged nasal flows served him well as a former member of Ratking, but the Harlem group—composed of Wiki, fellow vocalist Hak and producer Sporting Life—was often little more than a means to an end for the larger progressive New York sound that they helped to pioneer.
A 2016 interview with Hak telegraphed the group’s sudden breakup and seemed to hint that bad blood ended the group’s reign, but Wiki believes it's more of a respective creative stall as opposed to hard feelings.
“Looking in from the outside, I get it, but on an internal level, you know when it’s not working and you know when you’re not happy and not having fun doing it no more. You just gotta move on to do what’s best for you, ya know? For me, I wanna be able to pick the art, I wanna pick the beats; I wanna be able to work with other producers. So I just wanna grow and shit. I’m happy for Ratking because that was a good basis and a way to lay the groundwork and build a little community behind it, but I was ready to do my own shit.”
The primer for this outlook was 2015's Lil Me, a solo mixtape boasting a bevy of outside influences from Madlib and skywlkr to Skepta and King Krule. While Hak and Sporting Life were both listed in the credits, the spotlight was focused on Wiki’s stories of simple New York living and unglamorous tour trucks. No Mountains In Manhattan is the documentary to Lil Me’s diary entry, his panoramic first step off of Pride Rock. “I was just tryna get a bunch of shit off my chest and tell a more concise story than Lil Me; more specific to what’s going on. NMIM couldn’t be in any other order. The peak has its peak and it goes down on some mountain shit,” he told me.
And that’s just one of the interpretations of the album’s title. Wiki first heard the title while watching Harvey Keitel and Amy Robinson’s argument in the movie Mean Streets, which he and longtime friend Aaron Bondaroff more or less recreate at the end of the opening track, “Islander.” Bondaroff recalls how the buildings in the city’s skyline look like mountains on the title track “NMIM,” lovingly rendered in watercolors on the project’s cover by Arvid Logan.
Given the personal nature of this album, the peaks and valleys represent life as a 20-something and the molehills that Wiki (and all of us) turn into mountains that need to be overcome. He’s turnt up and dunking bottles of piss in the trash on “Pretty Bull” and sealed in his apartment tripping over empty malt liquor bottles the next morning on “Litt 15.” He lashes out at an ex on “Elaine” only to realize that hiding his phone did more harm than good as he and guest vocalist Evy Jane survey the crumbling relationship from both sides on “Pandora’s Box.” The summer sun shines over the new love he relishes on “Baby Girl.” There’s a subtle narrative throughout No Mountains In Manhattan—far different than the singular vignettes on Lil Me—which speaks to his growth as an MC over the last year-and-a-half.
Wiki’s even taken to producing some of his own songs: the blustery drums and ominous violin of “Elaine” are formidable, but it’s the sunny tropical sample driving “Nutcrackers” where he truly shines behind the boards. “I made that beat hella years ago on a laptop with my boy Alon,” Wiki remembers. “It sounded crazy and sounded like shit, but the idea and the sample was cool.” Producer and XL Recordings engineer Alex Epton helped touch up the final product, an ode to summer days spent sipping on the titular drinks with tunes blasting in the park. It’s packed to the brim with joy and energy and a killer triplet flow on the second verse, and while it’s an early fan favorite, Wiki admits he was afraid it would be “too cheesy.”
Especially considering the other heavy-hitting producers he’s got on here, Wiki impressed. Up-and-comer Tony Seltzer has six production credits that range from tropical synths to mournful piano with only a thumping low end tying them all together, Sporting Life tosses up a banger steeped in echoing horns for “Chinatown Swing,” Kaytranada adds grit to his sunny synths and polyrhythms for “Baby Girl” and Earl Sweatshirt offers up a rich loop for Wiki’s corner store stream-of-consciousness on “Wik New Written.”
The different musical flavors all have the unmistakable gravel of New York City slathered on top, also thanks in no small part to the album's guest features. Wiki cited Ghostface’s feature on the boisterous “Made For This” as “a dream come true,” saying that Supreme Clientele was a huge influence on the sound and narrative direction of the album. Your Old Droog’s verse on “Litt 15” also pushed him to his creative peak, since “no bullshit, he’s one of the best MCs.”
The two even did a show together in Brooklyn this past April with legendary producer/DJ Edan to promote their joint EP, What Happened To Fire: “We was doin’ hip-hop for real for real. Edan was fuckin’ scratching with vinyl and rapping all at the same time, it was bananas. We had skits and we did a whole sandwich routine where we were rapping about cold cuts; we brought out sandwiches on stage. We’re gonna do it again; that’s the most I’ve ever rehearsed for a show.”
Wiki is an MC steeped in New York traditionalism with the bars to back it up but he has another foot firmly planted in the booming adventurousness of modern rap. He’s also a 23-year-old musician dealing with the trappings of fame, a new relationship, his new group Secret Circle with Antwon and Lil Ugly Mane, and figuring out where he’s gonna cop his next lox and bagel.
No Mountains In Manhattan is the product of his hustle to the apex of the mountain, young New York Simba finally ready and willing to practice his yerp.