Taken from the Winter issue of Wonderland. Order your copy of the issue now.
“Oofie is some shit I’ve just been saying for the past year. It’s kind of like ‘ooof’, you know? Like how I just said it!”
I’m on the phone to Wiki, the gap-toothed New York rapper behind one of the year’s most innovative and exciting albums. The only problem is, I am seemingly unable to pronounce its name. “Um, oofye..?” I splutter. “Na na, oooofie. Like, if you had a fire plate of food and you’re mad hungry, it’s like ‘oof’, or if someone just busted their ass you’re like ‘ooofie, fuck.’ It’s one of those that can be negative or positive.” Finally, after a couple of attempts, I manage. “Exactly!” Wiki shrieks delightedly, clearly enjoying the whole thing. “Oofie!”
Wiki, née Patrick Morales, was born and raised on the Upper West Side of New York, to a family of Irish and Puerto Rican heritage. Growing up, he revelled in the rich versatility of the city and the cultures imbuing it, citing this diversity as “one of the most inspiring things for me. That’s part of [my] thing too, the mutt thing […] I like the ideas, the mixtures, the melting pot, and I think that represents itself in the people.” Having properly gotten into hip-hop at around 12, Wiki soon succumbed to a healthy diet of the New York rap you might expect a kid in the early 2000s to listen to: Biggie, Mobb Deep and — of course — Dipset. “They were a huge influence, and such a solid team,” he gushes. “It just seemed so natural and, like, not forced: it wasn’t this crew that had just been thrown together, everyone played their role perfectly.”
A fresh-faced Wiki was clearly paying close attention to the positive affect an organic camaraderie within a group can have and, in 2011, his own group – RATKING – was formed, alongside producer Sporting Life and fellow rapper Hak, and you can sense a similarly genuine connection when he discusses the inner workings of the trio: “Sport was the brains behind it, and then I was kinda the voice. I was this kid in the city, and Sport was a little bit older and on the production side. [He] was coming up with these ideas which were then getting checked through me in a way, so both parts were really important.” RATKING quickly made quite the stir in the New York underground scene, the trio each hailing from different areas of the city and bringing their own sounds to the table. “Uptown was where hip-hop was happening, and Downtown was all this other shit,” Wiki explains. “It definitely collided.” The result was a wave of sonic innovation, and a genre-defying sound that ranged from gritty hip-hop to London punk to West Coast stoner rap to techno hailing from the dancehalls of Berlin and Detroit. While New York was the certainly still the canvas, RATKING strived to push geographical boundaries in early projects like 2012’s “Wiki93” EP and their 2014 debut album So It Goes. The latter especially set out the trio’s transcendent manifesto, borrowing sounds ranging from the UK — in the shape of King Krule melancholy turn on “So Sick Stories” — to Princess Nokia (then known as Wavy Spice) and Wiki’s spirited declaration of their Puerto Rican heritage in “Puerto Rican Judo”. “You get a taste of everything when you grow up in New York,” Wiki says, and RATKING’s music is a true manifestation of this sentiment.
Having released a number of solo projects aside from RATKING — including EP 1993 and debut album No Mountains in Manhattan — Oofie marks a striking return to the soundscape of New York for the rapper that still calls the city home. “I feel like it’s a kinda subconscious thing,” Wiki muses, “it’s always in the sound – people tell me that it sounds like New York […] there are definitely New York references, but it’s not overthinking it. ” He is of course correct; the album isn’t just about New York, it is New York, right down to the busy sampling and relentless percussion deployed throughout. “NYOPxTONY”, for example, not only starts with a vocal sample of a subway train conductor, it also borrows its beat from the viral “Litefeet” dance, itself originating in the subway and instantly, virally recognisable to anyone from the city. “I wanted to get that vibe of New York on a train, which is why I included those little snippets and the little interludes, because you can hear the train, and you can hear New York,” Wiki concurs, the city characterising the whole album, all the characters and atmospheres you might encounter taking a stroll through the East Village, Harlem or Brooklyn laid out for us to hear.
Wiki’s ardent dedication to his hometown in Oofie does not totally resist his aforementioned knack for drawing global inspiration for his music. Having previously been signed to British label XL Recordings, the rapper has had a longstanding affinity for UK music, having worked with Sampha and Skepta as well as King Krule, the Tottenham rapper’s “That’s Not Me (USA Remix)” giving Wiki the chance to shine on what is now one of the most iconic instrumentals in grime history. “I think people feel, at least in New York City, like it’s a cool thing to be into UK shit,” he explains. “Which is a good thing. It’s not like ‘oh, what the fuck is that?’, it’s like ‘oh ye’. It’s almost niche, so it’s cool, but then it’s also becoming bigger and bigger and bigger.” The influence of the UK and grime in particular is noticeable at certain points throughout Oofie, and I ask Wiki about one song in particular — “4 Clove Club” — in which the ferocity and unpredictability of his flow stands out in particular. His voice fills with excitement as he remembers where I’m calling from: “No way man, you know that Giggs and Dave song “Peligro”? I wrote [the song] on that instrumental bro!” The poesy and imagination behind Wiki’s flow is an asset that sets him apart from the rest, “it’s low-key probably my strongest suit” he says, and his lyricism is immaculate throughout the project, his cadences and venomous lyrics permanently dancing with the beat to create a perfect tapestry of sound.
Despite some crossover, Wiki’s solo work has naturally tended to focus more on himself than is the case with RATKING — such is the nature of the beast when recording solo — and Oofie continues in this tradition, going even further than No Mountains in Manhattan in exploring and commenting on the rapper’s own existence. Despite having been around for some years now, at 26, Wiki’s career is still in its nascent stages, and the unsettling dichotomy of being simultaneously considered an up-and-comer and a veteran is expressed throughout the album. “Way That I Am” is a starkly honest consideration of his own position in the industry, the rapper posing the question: “Will I be successful or just the one with most potential?”, while “Grim” muses: “I shit you not, there will be another kid to take my spot,” before once again turning to the listener for an answer: “Is it too early for me?”
Wiki has clearly thought long and hard about the notion of success and what the word entails, and he takes a moment to think before sharing. “When you first come out, there’s that early hype, and shit’s happening,” he ruminates. “And it’s not that you plateau, but you just stick with your thing, in your underground lane. Sometimes I feel like so much new shit’s happening, and people forget about shit. Things move so quickly, and it’s hard to solidify yourself as much […] I’ve been through periods where I’m like ‘damn, do I even wanna do this shit?’”
As quickly as the doubtful tinge pervades Wiki’s voice, however, it is dispelled, the rapper swiftly rationalising as to his success. “It’s like, what do you consider success?” he meditates, again dwelling in the rhetorical. “I feel like I do get the respect, and that’s kind of what I’m talking about in [the next line of] ‘Way That I Am’.” The line in question U-turns just as Wiki has in our conversation, deftly flipping doubt into self-reassurance when stating: “Close to special, never knew the name, but influential”, and the rapper expounds on this notion of influence being more important than recognition. “I’m kind of saying that, even if I’m not successful, I’ll still be influential, and that’s not the worst thing. There’s always that artist that no one really knows, or that’s really underground, and it’s like, ‘oh you don’t know this dude?! That’s the dude that did it first!’ I think [those lyrics] are exploring that idea too.” Just as he seemingly settles on a resolution, however, does he change his mind again, his meandering thought process emblematic of the ever-questioning, analytical nature of the rapper. “I mean, I feel like I then put out my shit, and people fuck with it, and I’m like, ‘yeah alright, I have my place. But then, at the same time, you never wanna think about it like that, like, ‘oh I’m good I’ve made my imprint’ – fuck that. You’ve always got to be moving forward.”
Moving forward despite any obstacles is something Wiki has become pretty good at over the years. Fans have become accustomed to a self-deprecating, self-effacing brand of rap that contradicts the thematic stereotypes associated with the genre. “My unibrow? I’d rather shave my balls!” he declares on “Intro”, and he is passionate about embracing his true self. “I think that it’s really important to be yourself, and be confident in who you are. Rap is such a braggadocious, cocky thing, and I knew I needed to be the fuck who I was, so I never felt uncomfortable, and never felt like ‘damn, I’m in this place I don’t belong.’ I’m not the most cocky fucker, I’m not the most suave motherfucker in the world, so it’s cool to just be confident […] that’s always been a dope thing, and it has happened in hip-hop.”
He’s not wrong. Hip-hop has become a far more inclusive place, and this extends beyond men being able to be themselves; women have also finally been afforded the chance to shine, and this shift in dynamic is not lost on Wiki. “There’s definitely a lot of work to be done still, because it’s such an over-masculine, toxic masculinity type of place,” he rationalises. “But, it has become a way more open place I think. Female MCs are killing it so hard right now, the female MCs are nicer than the dude MCs. It’s almost like they needed to be nicer to get seen, and get respected, and it’s now at a point where female MCs are hella nice, and dude MCs are saying whatever the fuck. That’s cool, but take any female MC now, and their bars are on a certain level: that’s a fact. I think that’s dope to see, it’s ill.” What is more, it is not just success for female rappers, but the route to success, that has changed. “The door had to get kicked down, and [Missy] was a kind of sex icon rapper, which Nicki Minaj then took on.” He deliberates. “And there’s nothing wrong with doing that too! But I’m just saying that, now, it’s not like they need to do that. It’s nice to see all these different types of female MCs now; it’s not just like one type-cast – it’s anyone. Anyone can be any kind of woman they are.”
You’d expect someone so clearly in touch with themselves to have thought about the future, and how perception of them and their art might be shaped in future years, and Wiki, perhaps inevitably, does not disappoint.
“Legacy is an interesting one, because once you start thinking about it too much, you feel almost egotistical. Even going back to that line – is it about being successful, or is it about being influential… What’s more important? In history, some of the dopest people weren’t even recognised, you know? But when I think about my legacy, I think about how I wanna just keep doing this music shit, be as good as possible and do as best I can, but I also want to do a lot more. I want to step out of music, and explore other realms, and just be an artist on a broader level. I think that all comes with growing and learning more. Reading more. I kind of want to bring more to the world than just laying down records, but with all the music I do make, I try to make it meaningful, and not just do it just for the sake of doing it. I don’t know, trying to impact something, or trying to give someone another perspective on something… At least.”