Will Hagle wanted this shit since like seventh grade.
Back when Mike Jones self-proclaimed his hotness, that distant year following the one for which Ruben Studdard apologized, Wiki would’ve been in junior high. Back then he was Patrick Morales—an upper west side kid whose adolescence hit around the same time Gray’s Papaya started selling recession specials. A lot has changed in Manhattan since then, but a few things remain the same: you can still buy the reduced-price two hotdog combo on 72nd street/Amsterdam, and there are still no fucking mountains. Wiki, as altered and aged as the city in which he was raised, also remains rapping.
Half a decade removed from So It Goes, Ratking’s explosive encapsulation of mid-10s East Coast energy, Wiki has reemerged with OOFiE, a definitive new solo album that proves sticking around and steadily improving one’s crafts can pay Wall Street-style dividends, even if the money and appreciation doesn’t add up.
Two back-to-back back-half tracks, “Way That I Am” and “Back Then”, speak directly to the themes of nostalgia, aging, and acceptance that seep in some form into every song on OOFiE. In the former, Wiki speaks on what seems to be plaguing his mind lately: his relative lack of critical and commercial recognition despite his consistently strong output. He raps, “Will I be successful, or just the one with the most potential? Close to special, never knew the name, but influential / When the game gets suspenseful the rain gets torrential / I just gotta maintain.” On “Back Then,” Wiki explores his younger years. He weighs the past against his present, which doesn’t quite match up with what he once thought his future would be.
On both tracks, and throughout the album, Wiki talks about these concepts with a matured, more enlightened perspective than he did even on 2017’s No Mountains In Manhattan, or any of his previous work. OOFiE finds Wiki confronting the reality of his life and career from all angles, never deviating from the inevitable truth that lies at core of his complex, multi-layered identity as a half-Puerto Rican half-Caucasian Catholic upper west sider who rode the subway all the way to Brooklyn for school: the fact that he just wants to rap, and he does it better than most people who attempt the same seemingly impossible feat of doing what they enjoy doing for a living.
Alongside Lil Ugly Mane and Denzel Curry’s grimmer verses, Wiki’s verse on “Grim” sounds like a lighthearted ode to living fast and dying young. After asking questions like “Is it too early for me?” and “Will there be a jury for me?”, Wiki ends his verse by stating, “Either way, slurping 40s out in purgatory.” In the hook, paradoxically, is where he digs deeper, repeating, “Thinking you’re the one, you’re gonna end up done / When that grim reaper comes could be chillin by the pool.” In thinking about death, Wiki acknowledges that perceiving himself as a relative failure in the music industry will ultimately be worthless.
Like any human who recognizes and acknowledges the mental traps that lure us away from becoming content with the present, Wiki doesn’t necessarily apply the psychological wisdom to which he alludes. OOFiE doesn’t find Wiki abandoning his uncertainties or even straying too far from his more fun-loving, drinking, smoking, always-out-in-the-city existence. He does, however, air out all the most honest, interesting aspects of his psyche across each of the glitchy, meandering beats.
What Wiki does best on OOFiE is discuss his current existence in a realistic manner. Most people fantasize about the past being better than it was, or the future turning out in some absurdly self-beneficial way. On “Back Then,” unlike “Grim,” it’s the hook that’s misleadingly nostalgic, with Wiki gleefully reminiscing on his past. In his verse, he cuts into his fantasies, saying, “Laughin, cuz everything is better now, not back then / It was better, how? / You never got ass then, you was always sad then, you was always late to your classes.”
In his novel Exit West, about two young lovers from an unknown Middle Eastern city in the midst of civil war, who flee around the world through a series of magical doors, Mosin Hamid reflects on many of the same concepts that Wiki deals with on OOFiE. Late in the book, he describes the significantly-aged protagonists as they reflect upon their shared past, which ultimately resulted in separation, writing, “[their] memories took on potential, which is of course how our greatest nostalgias are born.”
This sentence represents the dangers of fantasizing about potential, and how they can distract from reality. Wiki has been brimming with potential for years now: from junior high, to getting signed and motivating an entire musical underground within the nation’s biggest city, to his present, still-underappreciated status.
OOFiE is filled with commentary on the passage of time, but it’s also Wiki’s declaration that his only choice is to continue as he has been doing, while he grows up, and waits to see how it all shakes out. “I played this game too long,” Wiki says on “Pesto.” On the standout track “Downfall,” he elaborates, “I was fucking rapping in the damn playground / first EP I was still a virgin, laid the damn thing down / I refuse to lay down, refuse to lie down / Gotta get my weight up, I’m 25 now.”
In an industry that overvalues developing artists and either undervalues or outright dismisses those same artists once they actually have developed, Wiki is essentially middle aged. Or, to put it the way Hamid puts it in Exit West, he is what we all are: “We are all migrants through time.” He’s older but he’s still rapping, lucky enough not to have succumbed to the death, incarceration, or other tragedies that force the early retirement of would-be career artists. He has developed, and he does deserve the credit that he seeks. Yet OOFiE succeeds most because it acknowledges that such a subjective concept as success might never be attainable. Ask Mike Jones now about whether or not he’s hot. Who is he, anyways?