Every rapper likes to rep their city, but when I hear that I get to meet up with Wiki in his home city of New York for an interview, I’m genuinely hyped and request that he picks the spot, knowing he’ll show me something authentically New York. The 26-year-old MC carries the essence of his city throughout everything he does, effortlessly and unapologetically. You can hear the NYC twang when he raps, the references in his lyrics, the influences he wears on his sleeve (no really, check his t-shirt), and even in his ad-libs—Yerrrr!
We meet with Wik outside Joe Jr diner on the corner of 3rd Ave and E 16th street and it does not disappoint. It’s a humble, slightly grimy, classic New York diner with nothing but character (and a couple of Manhattan misfits filling its booths). During our interview we are interrupted a few times, once by an old lady who told me she was, “Not dead yet” after I accidentally bumped my chair into hers (my bad), and later by the wait staff coming to take Wiki’s order—he opts for eggs over easy, bacon, toast, and potato hash. I order black coffee because, New York. At one point in our conversation, Wiki makes mention of Coney Island in passing and a dude two booths away joins in, telling us he was born and raised there. It’s such a simple interaction but it has the sort of vibrance that feels—to my lil tourist ass—a bit like something I had only experienced through watching TV sitcoms.
Trying not to expose myself as an overexcited and totally jet-lagged tourist, I get to chatting with Wiki about his new music, starting his own record label, and what it is about UK Rap that resonates with him.
Do you wanna tell me about this diner a little bit, why did you choose this spot?
Oh yeah, it’s called Joe Jr. It’s just like a regular diner really, it’s on 16th street, my friend lives around here so we just be coming here sometimes when we’re trying to get something to eat.
What do you usually order here?
I usually do like, a burger, or I’ll just get like eggs, bacon, toast, hash browns. Breakfast shit.
Nice segue into talking about your new song ‘Eggs’. Can you tell me a little bit about that track?
It’s kind of just a rap song, it’s not too deep. It’s just about kind of what I’ve been up to, it’s about me, my character. But it’s also about trying to keep it going, keep putting shit out. Life and the cycle. That kind of thing.
It feels like a bit of a throwback to MF Doom’s Mm.. Food project. Obviously with the food title but also you’ve got the Madlib production there too.
Oh yeah, for sure. That’s definitely a big influence on me from back in the day. Yeah, the song is just chill, it’s totally that vibe.
How did you get linked up with Madlib, have you worked with him in the past?
I had a beat from him on Lil Me on the intro but besides that, nah. My manager had actually worked with him on the Freddie Gibbs joint so that was a more official link than before, instead of just getting beat packs sent or whatever.
What’s your favourite Madlib project?
Shit, it’s hard to say. Probably the Madvillain project, their first joint together. [Madvillainy] That’s what got me into it, because I was into Doom before. Yeah, for me personally that’s what got me into Madlib.
How do you like your eggs?
I like them over easy. Poached, scrambled, I don’t care. I’m not like so into eggs. I just called the song ‘Eggs’ cos it’s like, “Eggs gettin’ scrambled, eggs gettin’ poached”. But you get what I mean, it’s just like life. Just the regular shit.
Has your approach to writing changed much since No Mountains in Manhattan?
A little bit, I tried not to overthink shit on this one. It’s conceptual but not overly conceptual, I feel like on No Mountains I was going mad hard and it was almost like… I don’t know, I just wanted to have fun with it. I don’t think the writing process was that different but maybe my outlook was, you feel me?
And this new music is being released via your own label right?
Yeah, Wikset Enterprise.
What inspired you to start up your own label?
Well, I left XL [Recordings] and from there I figured I wanted to do it myself, at least try it out. It’s like, if you do it yourself, you’re gonna learn how to do it at least. The wrong way or the right way, you’ll at least get a perspective of how to do it so then if I go back into it I know what the fuck I’m talking about. Just to be able to make your own bread from your music. Like yeah, you get a little bit of money up front signing a deal but after you put the album out you ain’t got nothing to do with it really. If it’s like, an investment into your own shit—naturally you’re going to go harder with it, you know?
Has that forced you to sort of up your business skills? I know you said you were doing emails this morning and stuff like that.
I’m so bad at emails, facts. I gotta be more on my shit. Like, I’ve got Amit [manager], but still that’s like one person. I just gotta be focused. I think it’s good though, it’s almost more inspiring. I’m hype to work on new shit cos before it was like ok what have I gotta do today? Just write raps, you know. You gotta be on your hustle with this. I’m into it, I started drinking coffee and all that. I used to just drink tea because coffee made my stomach hurt but recently I’ve been like, “Damn, I’m a lazy motherfucker, do I have to take Adderall or some shit?” Maybe I don’t need to do that. [Laughs] Maybe I can get focused in other ways.
Do you have plans to sign up other artists or is it more a platform for you to release your own music?
I’m down to sign other artists but to me you’ve gotta master your shit first. I don’t wanna get someone in a situation where I can’t even figure out my shit, you know? I’m like the tester. If everything goes well then for sure, I’ve got some people I’d be interested in but I would want to do them right. At this point, I would never give someone advice to sign to Wikset Enterprise.
It’s a good goal to work towards.
Exactly, that’s what’s tight these days too. You can start a label, anything. If you wanna make a magazine, just make the name, make the socials, and figure out how to put it out. But like, that’s legit then. You feel what I’m saying?
Let’s go back to music. This year you dropped ‘Elixir’ with Jesse James Solomon and Obongjayar. How did you get linked up with those guys?
Jesse has been the homie for years, I know him through King Krule and all them. When we were on XL, they brought us out to London which kind of created the connection. I felt like I related to the kids in the UK a lot, it was kind of like a parallel to New York.
What about UK music and culture resonates with you?
Well, that was around the time that I was getting into UK rap and shit, grime and stuff. Sporting Life put me onto that shit but once I got into it I was like, “Yo this shit’s fire!” Since the birth of it was later than American rap, it’s got that hip-hop vibe from the 90s that we didn’t have anymore because it’s already been tapped by the industry, you feel me? So when you look back on those grime videos from the 2000s it’s so hard, them all in a cypher going crazy and barring up you’re like, “Yo this is that energy.” You can see that they’re creating it as they go, creating a language, creating a style. It’s in that process where it’s exciting and new.
At the same time, all the UK homies I met weren’t strictly like, grime rappers. On another end they were just creative, they were into different shit and had open minds—Jesse especially too. He’s nice and smooth, but it’s mad London, unquestionably. That’s something that drew me too, that shit where you can tell where it’s at geographically. Like, If I’m listening to a dope LA rapper I wanna hear it in his voice, in his references. Authenticity is important, regardless of where it’s from. Do you know DJ Lucas?
Yeah. He’s from Massachusetts right?
Yeah he’s from Western Massachusetts, that comes through in his music, he reps it. Even the most random places, you know?
I can hear you doing a track with Slowthai, do you fuck with his music?
Oh yeah, for sure. People be saying that. I got a joint with him though. [Laughs] I don’t even know if I should be saying this, it could be blowing something up. But it might be a good look. Whatever. My boy Vinny Fanta, Slowthai and him are cool. Slowthai brought him out to the UK and I actually jumped on a track for his mixtape that’s coming out, so it’s me, Vinnny, and Slowthai. The shit is fire.
I saw you have a new track with Sport, do you guys still get together to make music or was that like a rare reunion sort of thing?
It’s more rare, just because we’re both sort of doing our own thing. When we can get together and make shit happen it’s always cool, and we have plans together for the future, it’s not like we’re never going to work together or nothing. I was happy to do that track though.
What’s the likelihood of there being another Ratking project?
It’s probably going to happen someday, I don’t know. Like, it’ll definitely happen because why not, but I mean someday.
It’s not a priority right now huh.
[Laughs] I didn’t mean that in a bad way, you’re just doing your own thing right now.
Nah I know what you mean it’s just like, yeah. Exactly.
Are we going to see you back in Australia anytime soon?
Yeah, I think I’m back in like February or some shit? Definitely next year though.
Okay, last question. What would 2019 Wiki tell 2009 Wiki?
I was young, I was in high school. I was young.
You were still trying to rap though right?
Oh yeah for sure. I think I would just be like, don’t give up but it’s not gonna be no overnight shit. You’re nice but you gotta work at it and try to always find the love and passion in what you do, even if it’s in a way that you wouldn’t expect, just try to love what you do.
Check out Wiki’s new album OOFIE below and for more follow him here.