Review Summary: Wiki's debut album delivers the same sort of bars that we've known Wiki is capable of since 2011. Overall, a level of cohesiveness is missing from the project.
When Patrick Morales takes the stage at his August 2017 Boiler Room set he has a wild look in his eyes. On the Chinatown rooftop he is armed with one mic and he is the creator of his own universe. His fierce presence belies his five foot six frame and he rocks the crowd of trendy Brooklyn-ites. Wiki oozes a New York energy throughout the set. The Boiler Room appearance is in support of his most recent project No Mountains in Manhattan. The New York skyline that towers over the Chinatown rooftop is the perfect backdrop for the quintessentially New York emcee.
Wiki made a name for himself beginning in 2011 as a member of Ratking, a trio of producer and rapper Sporting Life and rapper MC Hak. The group was emerging in the world of underground hip-hop at the same time as Joey Badass’s Pro Era as well as Odd Future on the country’s opposite coast. Ratking sound peaked on its 2014 project So It Goes, but the group never experienced the wide success of their early 2010 contemporaries. Wiki left the group in 2015 and began working with Your Old Droog and Lil Ugly Mane on their collective The Secret Circle.
In Wiki’s solo career he has produced mixtapes such as Lil Me and a collaborative project with Your Old Droog titled What Happened to Fire. On No Mountains in Manhattan Wiki is maintaining a positive trajectory, but has by no means created an artistically cohesive project. The album bounces between teeth-chattering bars and boring attempts at pop-rap. Wiki’s strong suit is his ability to channel the grit of his particular New York street experience into rambling and diffuse stories. His lyrics are filled with homages to his hometown and he proudly reps the hearth of American hip hop. Whether he’s talking about ordering a chopped cheese or shouting out his local bodega, Wiki keeps his New York roots close. In his video for “Mayor,” one of the album’s best tracks, Wiki roams the streets of New York dapping up passersby and handing out “Wiki for Mayor” buttons. His affable grin is hard not to like.
Sparse beats accent songs at opportune moments. Wiki’s flow is not at all conventional but enjoys a harmonious marriage with the project’s production. On the grimey records of his former group, Ratking, Wiki drove a majority of the songs, but shared space with MC Hak. On Mountains in Manhattan Wiki takes center stage and struggles to fill 16 tracks with worthwhile lyrics. Wiki is a prolific rhymer, no doubt, but on tracks like “Chinatown Swing” he loses his train of thought and spins off into rhymes that have no central story or purpose.
On RATKING projects Wiki could also lean on Hak to pick up hooks and add texture to the tracks, but without Hak Wiki struggles to pull all of his songs together. The features from Ghostface Killa and Your Old Droog help fill out “Made for This” and “Litt 15.” The album loses its edge and menace when Wiki takes a more pop-rap approach with the features and his flows. “Pandora’s Box” features an EDM-style vocal hook from Evy Jane that strips the layer of New York mystique from Wiki’s image. An impressive and melodic hook comes together on “Jalo” without Wiki having to resort to tired pop trends.
Wiki’s entire style thrives on momentum and when he embraces this fact the project shines. One track that takes advantage of his endless flow is “Wiki New Written.” Over a smooth jazzy backtrack that is reminiscent of J-Dilla, Wiki spits a freestyle-esque stream of consciousness rap. The format fits Wiki perfectly and he is at his frenetic best on the track. On tracks such as “Face It” he builds well on his own energy and riffs into a flurry of wordplay. The difference here is that Wiki is telling a cohesive story as opposed to unloading his collection of rhymes onto the page. His struggle with alcoholism is well-documented on the project and comes through clearly here.
While the project has its weak point it by no means turned me off of Wiki’s work. Mountains in Manhattan is Wiki’s first official album and it shows ample room for growth. If Sporting Life can keep providing edgy, jazz-influenced beats there is no question that Wiki can continue unspooling dense and engaging verses. It will be interesting to see how Wiki develops and builds off of what feels like an incomplete debut album.