Status Ain't Hood

Wiki’s Great Quarter-Life Crisis Rap Album

“I shit you not,” Wiki admits to himself and to the world halfway through his new album Oofie. “There will be another kid to take my spot.” He says this like he’s some old gunslinger watching death creep up over the horizon. He is not that. Wiki is 26 years old. And yet he’s right. Wiki is not a kid, and his difficult-to-define place within the rap ecosystem is under constant threat. That’s what happens when you’ve been rapping for the better part of a decade, when you’ve grown up in public. Once you’re old enough to rent a car, you’re in danger of being made redundant. In a lot of ways, Oofie is about that.

Wiki was a Manhattan high school kid when he signed his first record deal. Ratking, Wiki’s teenage street-urchin rap trio, had a rangy punk energy that made them exciting to the kind of people who use phrases like “rangy punk energy.” They linked up with XL Recordings, the British boutique label that didn’t exactly have a foothold in the rap universe, and they became labelmates with Adele. Ratking only lasted one album, but Wiki kept working, carving out a space for his distinctive snaggletoothed party-kid yammer. Over the years, he’s grown as a rapper. He’s more confident, more commanding. But he’s more stressed, too. With good reason.

Last week, Wiki released Oofie, his first album since parting ways with XL. On Oofie, Wiki does a whole lot of reflecting. He was still a virgin when Ratking released their first EP. He dropped out of high school when Ratking signed, even though he got good grades; he just couldn’t wait to be on. He knows that his high school days were difficult, and he’s annoyed with himself for feeling nostalgic about those times, but he misses them anyway. (Talking to himself: “You was uptown, school was in Brooklyn, explain to me why you miss that shit.”) And while he’s watched his young-hyena years slip away, he’s also watched his city change irrevocably: “We knew the delis that sold you brew but now all them delis is closed, too / Along with all the spots that we grew up and grew close to.”

Wiki was fun. That was always part of the deal. He was a tiny loudmouth with an outsized sense of confidence and a powerfully nasal honk of an accent, like one of the kids from Kids. His great rap gifts were his voice and his willingness to throw his voice at beats. Oofie is an introspective and sometimes heavy-hearted album, but Wiki is still fun. He still has that voice, and he still throws that voice at beats. He still tells great drunken-knucklehead stories: Getting banned from MOMA for fucking (in a bathroom, I’m guessing?), getting arrested in Stockholm for punching out a nightclub window when they played DMX. He still flexes in cool, surprising ways: “Tell me to shave my unibrow, I’d rather shave my balls.” He still finds interesting ways to stack up words: “On another planet, dammit / Baptize Christians / Make ‘em Wiccan, like they wicked witches.”

But Oofie finds a whole new level because it does all that old fun stuff while showing up a complete portrait of a guy trying to contend with his own arrested development and take stock of his life. There are moments on Oofie where Wiki clearly and openly struggles with the idea of being part of rap’s crowded middle class: “Reviews strong, not enough views on the songs / Bar level on like 10 thou / Motherfucker, yeah, I been here for a while.” There are moments where he seems completely at sea, where he can’t stop focusing on what’s gone: “I was on one back then when I was so young, I was so dumb / Everything in front of me, now it seem like everything done.” It’s real shit.

I like how there’s no glamor in the life that Wiki describes. A couple of years ago in this space, I praised Wiki as an exemplar of New York dirtbag-rap. That was probably too reductive, but Wiki’s willingness to be gross and normal is one of the best things about him. He keeps that going on Oofie: “I cough a lung up on my only shoes, lonely dude,” “Woke up, wipe the eye boogers, feeling fresh / My cat knocked all the books off of my desk.”

Musically, Oofie is rooted in classic New York boom-bap, but it’s not consumed with the idea of lineage, the way so much New York rap music is. It’s got hazy textures, bits and pieces from club music or from heady, psychedelic electronic music. One of the primary producers is Alex Epton, who, back when he was known as XXXChange, crafted sharp and dance-inflected beats for Spank Rock. Another is Roofeeo, who used to play drums in the Death Set and who was a touring member of TV On The Radio. Sporting Life, Wiki’s old Ratking bandmate, is still in the mix, as is Tony Seltzer, whose staggered splat is perfect for Wiki’s voice. (The song might not have fit the overall arc of the album, but it seems crazy that the early single “Fee Fi Fo Fum,” maybe the best thing Wiki has ever done, isn’t on Oofie.)

Wiki has a sound, an identity, and a point of view. He doesn’t sound like anyone else, and he seems totally at peace with that. There’s plenty of anxiety on Oofie, and it makes sense that Wiki would be stressed out about his place within the rap universe. But his ability to express that anxiety — to deal with ambient worries in public, in plain language — means he’s no danger of disappearing into the ether.

There’s an art to making personal, insular rap music without shutting the rest of the world out. For me, Earl Sweatshirt’s recent music — beautifully and intricately written, but self-consciously dazed and skronky and alienating — errs on the wrong side of this divide. Wiki, on the other hand, walks it expertly. Oofie sounds like what’s going on inside one guy’s head, and it makes that sound like a cool place to be. That’s not easy. Wiki pulled it off. No kid is taking his spot anytime soon.

FURIOUS FIVE

1. Stunna 4 Vegas – “Up The Smoke” (Feat. Offset)
Right now, the energy around DaBaby and his whole North Carolina contingent is so strong that it makes Offset sound like he is, once again, excited about life. So here’s a welcome reminder that Offset is a great rapper and that his constant presence does not have to be oppressive.

2. Trouble – “Ain’t My Fault” (Feat. Boosie Badazz)
Silkk The Shocker’s 1998 smash “It Ain’t My Fault” is a perfect song. Trouble and Boosie remember. And Boosie, in particular, rips into those jittery Beats By The Pound kick-drum patterns with a vengeful fury.

3. Westside Gunn, Conway The Machine, & Benny The Butcher – “Chef Dreads”
The Griselda Records crew signed with Shady two and a half years ago. They’ve kept cranking out music since then, and they’re only finally just getting ready to release their Shady debut. Sure. Fine. But if that means they’re all competing to see who can rap the hardest, most breathless shit — and if they’re continuing to stay away from generic Eminem striver-rap production — then this could work out great for everyone involved.

4. Kasher Quon & Teejayx6 – “Beavis And Butthead”
God bless this absurdity. These guys are just yes, and-ing each other, tag-teaming bars to push each new punchline to a different level of ridiculousness. Your Lonely Island could never.

5. Tha God Fahim – “Quintuple Black”
This towering lope of a beat would’ve snapped your neck in 1996, and it will snap your neck now.

IT WAS ALL GOOD JUST A WEEK AGO