Trenches to Riches: The Rapid Rise Of Wifigawd

Lucas Foster breaks down Wifigawd's excellent 2017.
By    January 4, 2018

Lucas Foster knows that games are won in the trenches.

The first thing you notice about Wifigawd is the name. It’s a relic of a different era of Soundcloud rap­­—before xxxtentacion and Lil Uzi Vert attracted a legion of white teens and record labels—a time in 2012 and 2013 when being an internet dude was still weird and everyone in Basedworld was christened with a God name.

The name can seem strange to people who weren’t there, but it shouldn’t distract from his decidedly non-trivial music. I’m sure that Wifi is forever based, but his musical output this year has been anything but ballads about flip phone Nokia shawty’s or fucking a million girls. Instead, he’s released a series of serious street raps over forward thinking tread beats and ultra-modern Plug canvases that blend the more esoteric corners of post-Goth Money Soundcloud rap with straight up trap music.

His impressive body of work has gone clinically underappreciated on year end lists. He’s primarily stayed slept-on because his style has the unfortunate tendency to always be a few months ahead of Soundcloud trends and very subtle in expression in a way that takes some adjustment to fully appreciate. Every time I listen to him it takes a few days to hear exactly how and why the new thing he’s doing is hitting my ear. His most obvious redeeming feature, though, is that he can rap his ass off.

What Wifigawd proved this year is that he is a tread technician—his rhymes matching seamlessly with the Soundcloud zeitgeist thanks to his use of a new flow on every song that melts effortlessly into whatever beat he made or chose to use. He was right on time to the Working on Dying party with peers like Black Kray and Five Finger Posse, having begun working with Oogie Mane and company in earnest last year after the release of his excellent 2016 mixtape Fubu 05. The work he put in immediately following dropping that tape of sing song flows and velvety melodies was a violent turn down the darkest and most aggressive lanes of the chic high bpm subgenre of tread music. Those bedroom sessions eventually became my 2017 album of the year, Wifi Season.

Wifi Season is first and foremost about mood. The album isn’t just dark. The forward thinking production matched with the nihilistic embrace of all that makes street rap good sounds like the Soundcloud rap that would be playing in a Phillip K. Dick novel. Released at the end of December 2016, this sort of dystopian sci-fi rap set the tone for such a dystopian year. I asked Wifi what inspired such a bleak mood and he responded.

“When I was making Wifi Season I was in Philadelphia and DC. Being home in DC puts me in a darker mode for music because of what I grew up with and the setting around me while creating it. I wouldn’t classify it as dark but more so grungy and aggressive. I love to make it clear to folks about what I’m goin’ thru and feel ‘cuz somebody goin’ relate.”

What makes Wifi Season excellent is the sound of his vocals sublimating into the texture of those grungy and aggressive beats. What’s more mind-boggling than just the sound is that Wifi reportedly never writes, yet his percussive style of hard-hitting raps seems to slink between every kick drum in a way that sounds more part of his producer’s drum pads than hasty freestyle rap. From the frantic energy of “Foreign” to the hypnotic and psychedelic landscape of “2 Grams,” he delivers rhymes that match his producer’s moods like a receiver who’s been running the same fade routes with his QB for a decade.

While Wifi Season is an exploration of the more run down parts of his DC hood, by March Wifi began exploring a much more iced out sort of subject matter and sound while staying married to his own distinctive brand of street rap. The Big Dawg tapes tell you why Wifi considers himself one. When asked why these two projects were posted on his label boss H Street Rap’s page he told me, “The Big Dawg series is strictly a treat to my fans who really support me. I pretty much make music everyday but I can’t drop all the songs back to back, so I hold a few of my favorite songs at the moment then I come up with a Big Dawg tape. I drop them on H Street page so my Soundcloud doesn’t become overcrowded.”

In this context, it makes sense that both tapes are filled with Plug beats and B-sides similar to the leather-smooth bounce of the title track. It’s true highlights, however, are two of the sneakiest all-world bangers released this year. “On My Own” and “Throw Dat” are change of pace, piano-loop and clap driven slappers that complete the collection on the first Big Dawg tape. Both are collaborations with Jelani Kwesi and both see Wifi at his most sentimental, and offer his most quotable lyrics: “At night I see some crazy shit but n****s know I’m good/ I’m trapping and I’m lazy bitch come pull up to my hood.”

Released in March and November respectively, if another artist released these homages to getting money and icing himself out, they would have a respectable pairing of releases for the year, and some would even say a cohesive body of work. For Wifi, these are simple afterthoughts to the banging A-side singles that compose both Wifi Season and Trenches to Riches. He emphasized to me how each one of his tapes has a different theme, different sound, and plays with different trends, but it isn’t a necessary reminder if you just listen to both.

On that note, I’d be a fool not to tell you about how his collaboration tape with Oogie Mane, Trenches to Riches, is another cohesive and ultra-modern release. There’s little need to contextualize a collaboration mixtape that matches one of the game’s best experimental producers and a rapper who raps so on-beat as to be comparable to another snare drum. The July mixtape isn’t the hard hitting, evil vibe of Wifi Season, it’s most similar to Chxpo’s collaboration tape with Oogie earlier this year, 9000 Paths of Madness Episode 2, but with a better rapper and thrown through a filter.

The quiet (for street rap), reverb-y mix cloaks the heavy and dynamic beats in a warm blanket of fuzz. It’s a creative choice similar to the faux-analog sounds in a lot of indie bedroom pop records released since 2010 (ironically, this is indie bedroom pop as well, in a literal sense if not stylistic). It’s a smart trick, with this sound the 30 minute ode to the come up sounds haunting, regretful, and desperate. The songs are quick to remind you he’s got street money without sounding like tired braggadacio.

The next tape Wifi released this year wasn’t Wifi at all. With the 4.0 EP he rolled out another fresh and distinctive sound with a new alternate ego of “UPTSOULJAH.” The tape is very cohesive, very clean, and at the bleeding edge of modern rap’s future.

The adoption of this new patronymic would be obvious to any hardcore fan, but I’ll let WIFI explain: “So I didn’t technically change my name, I just have my alter ego Uptsouljah. Upt stands for uptown DC we’re I’m from. The Souljah means warrior of jah. Growing up Rasta I always include that in my music somehow. So together it’s uptsouljah, that also means Imma ride or die for my city. Imma uptown Souljah.”

This ethos is incorporated throughout 4.0, a grouping of post-drill bangers with beats stripped down to electronic crunches of synths and clap drums. The tape’s lead single and hottest collab, “Scope” with Black Kray, is the track I would recommend for anyone trying to understand why Wifi stays ahead of everyone else in his lane, beside, perhaps, Kray. The hook is more than eight bars and has three entirely different sounding flows where his DC drawl is dragged into perfect alignment with the sparse beat like a perc dissolving under your tongue. Introducing yourself before a Black Kray feature is a tall order, and here Wifi stands like a center in the paint.

When I ask him what he has in store for the new year, Wifi gives me the response I had hoped for: “Just be ready for more tapes and the new styles and trends I start every time I drop music.” With the development of a new alternate moniker and his decisive turn to another new and distinctive blend of electronic sounds—at a time when many are looking for their own style in a crowded shark tank of plug beats and Nü Metal—I can safely project that he should continue moving up from the depths of the underground and into the Soundcloud streams of everyone who cares about good rap.