“In the city all alone, thousand people all around” —Wiki, “3 Stories”
I don’t know what home looks like, but I have a decent sketch of it in my head. Home might look like a cozy place by the train into Philly, where I wake up early Sunday for pour-over coffee. Home might look a little industrial, with towers of books toppling over onto the floor. There’s a bird and there’s a cat. Maybe. Every day I get a little closer to dropping a pin and declaring myself arrived. But I know exactly what home sounds like. I don’t always know where I am, or where I am going, but I know what it will all sound like.
Home sounds like a peaceful place where the jazz never stops and my roommates think I'm crazy for waking up with the sun to sift through discographies. Home sounds like a place where Lil Baby comes on after Big L, but not before Noname and The Fugees. For the past two years, especially, home sounds like New York emcee Wiki, like his 2015 mixtape Lil Me. Home sounds like the playful jeers of “WikiFlag” and “Livin With My Moms,” and the fucking New York core of each snarling inflection, punchline, and Wik’s naturally scourging delivery.
Home sounds like my childhood spent in South Brooklyn, sounds like walking to the Russian deli with the grandma, past the pick-up games and the flea market built next to the bus stop. Home sounds like the rattle of her broken, rolling folding cart on the uneven sidewalk. Home sounds like my grandmother getting into arguments with people standing in her way.
Home sounds like saxophone breaks and mealy accents, sounds like that weird caviar-themed bodega they put up next to the park where I landed my first ollie and boardslid my first ledge. Home sounds like the trusty, warm crackle and riffing of “Seedy Motherfucker,” and how it sounds identical to the steady rhythm of a good handball game. Home sounds exactly like the boom of “Cherry Tree,” how it mimics my childlike awe at the height and plenty of the brownstone buildings. Home sounds like an ivory tower of the simple things, like Wiki delivers on the hook of “Ioneedmuch”: “As long as my guys all good got a little boo, lotta brew, and a blunt I don't / give a fuck / That's about it / I don't need much.”
Wiki’s spirit on Lil Me is the sum of my childhood. Really, it’s the ease of it all. The great thing about being young is how blithe our pleasures can be, and how far we remain from the demands of everyday adult life. Home is an understood and promised thing—or, it should be. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt at home, coming home. Mostly, I feel at service and depressed. Because my grandmother’s health crumbled to a fine powder, it’s been a long time since I’ve gone to Brooklyn because it’s Brooklyn, and not because we need to file insurance forms, go to a hospital, and get into a dispute with a home-care agency. South Brooklyn days aren’t what they used to be. Paperwork will do that to a place.
Yet, with Wiki’s streaming re-release of his 2015 mixtape Lil Me, I get to once again relish the sounds of my childhood. I will sing the praises of his 2017 album No Mountains in Manhattan until my vocal cords evaporate, but the raggedy and off-kilter quality of Lil Me will always have a particular place in my heart. For one, the tape is so dedicated. Not to place, but to Wiki and all the art weirdos of New York and beyond. It performs the defining function of a self-titled debut, but something about the impersonality of Lil Me, as opposed to, say, Wiki, gives the title and the project a universality. Lil Me is for everybody, and isn’t that the spirit of giving?
The holidays have never been easy for me, but the wintry bells of “God Bless Me” take me right back to green-red lit up nights in the lobby of my cousin’s apartment building. The very building I would quietly steal from—ornaments for the Russian New Year’s tree, Hanukkah window stick-ons, other assorted chachkies—while I put off venturing off into the cold. My one cousin’s birthday is in December, so our holidays started early and often overlapped. We would huddle up in their apartment with the table damn near blocking the door into their unit, and eat the traditional Russian Jewish foods while the outside character of the city bled in through the window the way “3 Stories” wafts.
Over a Kaytranada-produced beat, Wiki declares “In the city all alone, thousand people all around,” and captures the magic of Manhattan, Brooklyn, what have you, during the holidays. This may be the loneliest time of the year, but at least we are all lonely together. The hook of the title track (“If it ain't y'all then the city know me / In the train, in the park, on the ave, in the street”) does much of the same. Seated at the table with my cousins and the rest of my small family, I never felt quite attached, but never felt quite outcast. I simply was this floating thing orbiting what might appear to be a familial scene, wondering how many other people lived in this building and spent their nights feeling particularly alone despite their present company. Somehow, that was enough.
There is no cohesive narrative to Lil Me, outside of Wiki and his superb rap ability. But we can make meaning out of this, too. Consider Lil Me an ode to the unfinished and unassuming, an ode to the unknown and finally, an ode to an ever-changing sense of home. On the title track, Wik spits: “It's a great wide world, it's just little old me,” declaring that in the vast expanse of solitudes we will come across in our lives, we will always have ourselves. We will always be able to set up shop on ourselves, be our own homes, just as long as we know what home sounds like. Thankfully, I never have to guess. Little old me always has her home, just a play away.