Wiki explores internal conflict and moments of beauty in “Half God”

Wiki is — and has always been — a New Yorker’s New Yorker, and he wants you to know it. An NYC rap hero, Wiki was one-third of the legendary rap group Ratking, and after its dissolution, he went to work releasing five solo albums. His prolific career is still eclipsed by his influence, serving as a foundational figure for the recent East Coast rap movement and inspiration for LA’s rap collective Odd Future, featuring the likes of Frank Ocean, Earl Sweatshirt — a frequent collaborator of Wiki’s — and Tyler, The Creator. 

Wiki’s newest project, “Half God,” reads more like a collab album than a solo album. The album is produced solely by Navy Blue, and the two’s musical signatures are all over the project in tandem. There is no “Half God” without Navy Blue. 

The production sets the scene for the album, both auditorily and thematically. Nearly every song on the hour-length album is based on a single, few-second-long sample loop, most often continuing for three to four minutes. Each sample grabs you and drags you into the song — this isn’t study music. The samples are incredibly evocative, and their repetition gives each song laser focus. 

This production both raises the stakes for Wiki and allows him to show off his pen game. Since each song relies almost entirely on the verses for any dynamism or change, Wiki needs to hit a perfect flow on every track. Showing unbelievable alacrity and skill, he does it. Wiki comments on the style in “New Truths,” towards the end of the album, saying  “Yo, what are the reviews gonna say on this one?/ We already knew he could rap?/ What? He overdoing it?/ Like somehow it’s bad I mastered my craft.” 

Wiki’s read is astute — the length and density of the album can be overwhelming. Especially when the album is composed of back-to-back contradictions. On “Can’t Do This Alone,” Wiki says that the rap game is his spouse, and takes the place of romance in his life, rapping, “And I don’t need a stage, do it on the block, on the street/ Paid the price properly, stay practicing monogamy/ Married to the game, that’s all I can see.” The song which immediately follows this admission, however, is one dedicated to his girlfriend and how badly he wants to marry her. 

Another example. Wiki raps about his success and skill on “Wiki the God,” which is immediately followed by “Ego Death,” a song where he unravels his identities as a rapper, young person, and New Yorker discovering that he needs his people, his fellow “Nuyoricans.” Independent moxie and dependence on others both run in parallel through the album, reaching into the other topics Wiki decides to treat. 

These contradictions, however, are navigated with self awareness and intent. He knows that he is just 27 and doesn’t have it all figured out. He leans into conflict and contradiction because he is more committed to artistic honesty than easy comprehension. 

Wiki ensures he stays within his own life and perspective, even when he approaches the political and spiritual. On “The Business,” Wiki delivers a blindly powerful treatise against the gentrification of New York, but he makes sure to let us know that it is his home that’s being lost. On the very last track of the album, “Grape Soda,” Wiki gives the most powerful summary of the album’s disposition; “Summer hit and there’s more bikes outside than the Tour De France/ But they’re motor bikes, more advanced that are soaring by/ Cops stop, wanna catch em, but they can’t/ Ain’t gon’ try/ For a split second there/ All their control deprived/ Shows me a sign/ That there’s more to life/ Not every God given sign you get is on a hike/ On a mountain top shown by some sort of light.”

Wiki brings us into his world, picking out moments from his life for us to inhabit and get lost in, and it wouldn’t be possible without some of the best production and flow of 2021. The three best songs, “All I Need,” “Gas Face,” and “Roof,” each drive deep into the strength of the production. Earl Sweatshirt’s verse on “All I Need” is one of his best since 2018’s “Some Rap Songs,” and Remy Banks’ verse on “Gas Face” is powerful and understated. Wiki, in all three songs, relies on his skill as a storyteller and philosopher, zoning in to one concept — his love for his rooftop, for example — and trying to implant his understanding within the listener. 

All of this makes “Half God” one of the most rewarding albums of the year. Each song is immediately impactful, while dense enough to deserve constant revisiting. Set aside an hour and let “Half God” wash over you. And maybe another for a second listen. 

 

4.5/5 Big Oles

graham10@stolaf.edu

 

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