When I last saw Wiki perform in Philadelphia, he was in a small bar opening for the British electronic duo Mount Kimbie. A couple years before that, his group Ratking toured with Animal Collective. Needless to say, his place in the rap landscape has long been underground. “I represent the weirdos, for sure,”he told DJ Booth in 2019. “Every type of weirdo. Anyone that feels like an outcast in any way, I’m drawn to those types of people.”
Having recently worked with everyone from Philly’s experimental drummer-producer NAH to Britain’s Micachu, the sentiment rings true, but his path as a solo artist hasn’t always seemed clear. Now, with Half God, Wiki has found a seamless match in Sage Elsesser (aka Navy Blue), who produced the entire album.
Despite Sage hailing from LA, what Half God feels like is a return to form. On Instagram, Wik posted“@sageelsesser thank you for believing in me and still seeing my potential after all these years, and not just saying it acting upon it and making this record with me. You helped me fall in love with the process again when I was at my lowest.” We can assume, then, that Wiki was going through some things during COVID quarantine. While I won’t speculate on the specifics, it’s clear that working with Sage energized the young veteran.
Single “Can’t Do This Alone” lays out the background: “Sage gave me what I need to continue to tell / Bad or good, everything I’ve been through,” Wiki raps on a verse that starts with the story of his birth, a la Biggie’s “Respect”. The video depicts the two as great friends, and it’s likely to put a smile on your face.
It’s worth noting that Navy Blue has really been on a roll. His production style is informed by Madlib, Alchemist and J Dilla – three artists he grew up on who all share an outstanding talent for flipping esoteric samples. No slouch, he’s released three self-produced rap albums in the past two years, each one worth the time of any hip-hop fan. I’m tempted to say he’s perfected his craft here, but as a rising musical talent at the age of 24, there is likely better to come from him.
The pairing of Navy and Wiki leads to some real gems. “Never Fall Off” is the best hip-hop love song I have heard since Kanye’s “White Dress”. And I don’t mean love of hip-hop – the way Wiki rhymes to his girlfriend here is genuinely touching. With a hazy guitar loop to complete the romantic atmosphere, it’s perhaps my favorite track on this album. The pair then go full-tilt noir rap with “Drug Supplier”, on which Wik proves an excellent storyteller.
You can’t review a Wiki project without mentioning New York, and the video for “Roof” is an essential rumination on watching the city from above. Lyrically, it’s a snapshot of life during pandemic: “Got the Benjamins off unemployment, hope it’ll last / Do I really want shows to come back? / I don’t know / That’s the only time I feel real, the times when I rap”. “The Business” is a complaint against yuppies and out-of-towners spoiling the vibe in the city, and closer “Grape Soda” is a beautiful meditation on the city’s simple summer pleasures: “The heat rise and let the fire hydrant spray over / The street, seeps, leaves the concrete a deep color / Damn it’s hot, cools us down before the day’s over.”
Where Wiki’s last album Oofie jumped around in styles with different beatmakers, Half God feels like one complete vision. With the marriage of a producer on a hot streak and a rapper who sounds revitalized, it’s a welcome addition to both artists’ catalogs.