Review Summary: or: how to be fruitful in the big apple
It is not personal history or context that should be considered important when it comes to Wiki, but setting. Such is the self-contained universe of No Mountains in Manhattan
, which slinks and stumbles drunk around the smoggy, bruised streets of New York. It’s fitting that an album like this -- which elucidates first-world problems underneath a harsh light -- has been born and raised at the epicentre of the first world. And so, aptly, it studies the underside of every New York City stone, setting flags down on every bustling street corner.
To say that the relationship between the rapper and his city is symbiotic would be to overlook how often the two are discordant, at odds. The love is there, but the town can at times seem aloof, unsympathetic, and it boxes Wiki (and people like Wiki) up in messy, claustrophobic apartments. The dynamic is felt and perpetuated throughout this record, which -- to me -- seems to all take place in the same twenty-four hours. A day in the life, if you will, where live shows lead into disputes lead into reappraisals of self.
It goes like this:
In the morning, the Mayor
gets up, steps out onto the street, and buys a bagel. He is listening to Islander
, which feels like it was written precisely for the moment you first greet the world outside your apartment. A sample of uh, a piccolo" sways to and fro while the major delivers his rhymes with a weathered snark. Then the beat switches up, and the theme of the day is laid out: “there ain’t no fucken mountains in Manhattan”
. Except there is -- evident in the quintessentially New York skyline, the same buildings that will either welcome starry eyes or rip them straight out of their sockets.
In the afternoon, the Mayor
meets up with an Old Droog, and the two share a demo version of a song called Litt 15
. A tourist walks by and hears the music. Taking into account where he is, even the tourist can surmise that the sound exemplifies and encapsulates the city. It’s in no small part to the instrumental, which is laid-back yet immediate, replete with jazz lounge piano chords that resonate across a half-asleep, syncopated beat. The old droog, a seasoned veteran, gifts a verse that feels undeniably like a reflection and, with the interplay between him and the mayor, the afternoon begins to feel appropriately like a time for rumination. In the calmness and the reflection, the tourist strolls off, humming the tune to himself as he walks.
Until the sun well and truly buries itself under the horizon, the mayor sits on a bench in Central Park, preparing for his rap show and leaning into the city as his muse. He etches out lyrics like “I want the city better than the level it was at”
as a means of jumping off into his own problems. “I been fiending far too long”
he follows up; this dynamic is tough, unforgiving even, but the two entities will invariably be there to support each other where and when it matters.
Then it’s late at night and, having just performed for the townspeople, Wiki has relinquished his position as municipal leader. He is tired and he is miserable and he is angry. His record player is spinning Elaine
-- a reminder that interacting with the community selflessly doesn’t necessarily translate to treating the people you love the same way. Before he even leaves the house tomorrow morning, he’ll spin Pandora’s Box
and such an aftermath will sober him right up, with its recollection of other rappers and ex relationships and both of those things at the same time.
Wiki’s voice shines through on No Mountains In Manhattan
because he takes an unfiltered approach in his attempts to find a panacea to, or at least temper, the impassioned disjunct between the city and its denizens; the kind of angle only a local could take. It is a detailed rap album, because it’s constantly reacting to the world around it, looking for momentary solutions to momentary problems under subway seats and street vendors. When Wiki raps: ”they hand you a bottle for you to sip it”
it’s an examination of self and not the city; a desperate attempt to elucidate how to make life -- in this town or another -- worth experiencing. Because it’s not the city that doesn’t sleep, it’s the people.