Raise the Flag: An Interview With Wiki

Donna-Claire speaks to the New York emcee about his latest album 14K Figaro reflecting his journey & patterns of destructive behaviour, rapping as a necessity, and more.
By    December 11, 2023

Image via Alice Plati

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Donna-Claire wants to know, what’s good potato music?

Over a decade ago, an Upper West Side high schooler who called himself Wiki raised his hand-drawn flag over Manhattan. He had scruffy hair and soon-to-be missing teeth, lost defending his street cred. His voice was nasally and his lyrics chronicled his life in New York. His group Ratking helped reshape the regional underground with their foundational debut album So It Goes. Connected by a love of hip-hop culture and a disdain for stop-and-frisk policing, these artists reimagined what New York rap could sound like – eschewing the more traditionalist approach that was cycling through in the early 2010s for a chaotic and carefree new sonic texture. The deserved hype had one consistent theme: here was New York’s next great rap hope.

“I write raps because I have to,” Wiki shares, calling in from LA the day after his show with MIKE and Alchemist in promotion of their recent collaborative album, Faith Is A Rock. His tone is self-assured. We are both taken aback as his typically light energy coalesces into something more weighty. “I was trying to think of a more eloquent way [to say that], but it’s really because that’s what I have. That’s the tool I’ve honed in my life.”

Wiki laughs when I tell him I’ve spent a week reading every feature published about him from Ratking to the present. He mulls over the idea of pressure. Of course, when you’re a kid growing up in NYC, enamored with the community of rap culture, the posse cuts and the fly shit, you want to put the whole city on your back. But Wiki says that he was never cocky about his growing position in the rap scene following the break up of Ratking.

“I wanna be a representation for the city,” he says. “I don’t have to be ‘the one’ but it’s like, I’m a f*cking representative of the city. One of them.”

With Ratking, Wiki found early community by finding common ground across New York and London artists, traveling and making lifelong friends. “At the time, Ratking was still in its own [world]—we really wanted to be like, ‘nah, this is hip-hop,’ but we were also experimental,” he says. “Because of that, I didn’t feel too much [pressure]. We were just doing our own thing. I didn’t feel like I was fully aligned with the rap scene; it was one foot in, one foot out. I was just having fun and trying to meet new people.”

As a celebrated solo artist, Wiki was immediately inventive and fun, a raucous rockstar-in-the-making, drinking and partying his way through mixtapes (Lil Me) and his debut album (No Mountains in Manhattan). Early Wiki material had the boastful glee of a young artist hitting first stride tearing up the scene with their potential. Things do burn up eventually. Wiki’s relationship with his first label, XL Recordings dissolved. But the heat of early career mistakes didn’t discourage the rapper. He founded Wikset Enterprise, his own label, and began unleashing a full clip of albums, firmly making him a pillar of the NYC rap scene. Wiki connected with other like-minded, underground artists like Navy Blue, DJ Lucas, MIKE, Papo2oo4, Subjxct 5, and Tony Seltzer. He unleashed caustic raps that were never too self-serious and bashed mics on his head – things that are now part of the essence of the now 30-year-old rapper.

Wiki’s 2015 album, Lil Me detailed living with moms and partying to destructive excess. His 2017 formal debut album, No Mountains in Manhattan, found him leaving the stoop, passing by a game of stick ball on the block, and exploring Manhattan via food destinations, hangout spots, and chilling at shorty’s crib. “Made For This,” with none other than kindred soul Ghostface Killah, affirms Wik as a vital rap artist who would shed blood for his craft. The cover art illustration of tiny people and tiny Wiki marching through the streets of the city waving a WikiFlag is similarly a moment of manifestation for Wiki’s limitless future.

“It’s hard to gauge [growth] sometimes,” Wik shares. “I go up and down, but it’s not always about growth. It’s about movement. It’s about simplifying, too. It’s certain ebbs and flows. I’m trying to focus on growth as a person. For so long of my life, I was focused on music. Music is life. It’s all one and the same. You can’t separate it. I was always so focused on that, and never taking care of myself. I’m trying to get myself right.”

The process of self-reflection was capped off by his latest release, 14K Figaro. Wiki and Tony Seltzer sat on the album for a year, honing in on each detail: writing, and thinking and thinking, and writing, and then laying down every element of a strong beat.

“With 14K, that was the last step of me reflecting,” Wiki explains. “That shit is a full reflection of my life. That’s why I love it, but it’s tough, too, because it’s a certain integral point of my life where I was really reflecting on my past. You can hear that. There’s moments where I’m seeing the light.”

During our conversation, Wiki references “the light” numerous times, citing the moment he turned 30 as a sort of re-commitment to himself and to making music with more pulp. “I was more scared before [14K Figaro], because I felt like I was treading water. Now, I’m looking at it like there’s no expectations,” he says.

“I’m just trying to make something dope and something I’m proud of—and also for the fans! I’m trying to tap in with the purpose of everything, but not overthink it. It’s a balance. You gotta figure out the purpose, and then express yourself freely. By expressing the shit you go through, that can inform the purpose or the message, and teach you lessons. Once you have a formula down so well, and you know how to do a verse, hook perfectly? I wanna break down the formula and figure out a new one. I wanna come at it in a fresh perspective, learning shit and challenging myself. That’s what makes it interesting and fun.”

The blessing of being a working artist for half your life, being a young OG in the ranks of Earl Sweatshirt, Chief Keef, and not too many others, humbles Wiki. When I point out he’s been in the game since a kid and has a lot of life left, he gets quiet. When I ask what the best part of being an artist for 15 years is, he gets excited.

“Most of all, I’d say it’s the fans and when you’ve really made a mark on people’s life,” he says. “The effect you can have on people you don’t even know through your music—that makes it worth it. Every time you’re like, ‘Damn, should I even do this anymore? Why do I even do this?’ You could be going through your own shit. Everyone goes through shit, feeling lonely or not loved, how everyone feels… but the fans, that shit is deep.”

When you first started rapping as a kid, what were you hoping to achieve? What was “making it” as a kid?

Wiki: When you’re young, you’re just… You’re very naive to the industry. At that time, success was just being able to travel and play shows, and make a little money. That was dope at the time. Then, it’s about getting older and figuring out how to sustain yourself as an artist.

I always looked at this as art, because this is what I was doing creatively. Now that I’m older, it’s really some—people can look a rap as “oh, you’re making all this money!” but I look at it as being an artist. Not in a pretentious way, like, “call me an artist,” but I’m literally a working artist. I don’t wanna get too lost in numbers or all the other shit.

Is there anything you’re still trying to prove now at 30?

Wiki: I’m in a pretty good place now, so I’m excited to see what is next. I’m excited to enter a new phase—I don’t know exactly where I’m going with it, but I wanna be open and see where that takes me. I have shit to prove to myself, but I’m more so excited.

You’ve spent half your life in the game basically. Does that realization feel like a blessing, a curse, both?

Wiki: It’s a blessing! It’s a dope thing. To have that peace of mind and purpose? Just the fact that I’m still here creating after all these years, that’s a blessing and I’m very grateful.

Year over year, how do you measure progress as an artist? I’m not talking sales, but rather, growth on the mic.

Wiki: I feel confident as an artist. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone. I just want to create. I see the light! I turned 30 and it’s like, “yo, I wanna do this!” I wanna get my life together, and it’s not negative. It’s a positive thing.

A lot of 14K Figaro is very reflective of your relationship to destructive behavior and growing up. You couldn’t make it 10 years ago.

Wiki: Exactly! I’m curious to see what I make next. I was sitting on that project for a year. Some of it, I’m like, “damn! That’s how I felt?” It’s dope to have that moment in time out there, and being able to get with Tony, that was a really special moment. We worked on it for so long and really honed it in.

It’s the best one.

Wiki: It’s an extension of No Mountains in a way—it’s really the whole picture. Half God was a moment in time. Half God came out at the perfect time, but 14K… It’s dope to be able to work with so many producers, but I’m also trying to work with multiple people and produce a bit myself to make the next project. I did the NAH project, the Navy Blue, the Subjxct5, Tony…

Do you ever get tired?

Wiki: You get a little battery in your back, a little boost of inspiration and you’re like, “I’m still here!” But it’s important to live your life and do the healthy shit: get out, exercise. I don’t feel like I work hard enough. I’m like, “I need to go harder.” That’s more being thoughtful with how I work, really planning and making the best possible product in terms of art.

What is the one perfect Wiki song?

Wiki: Damn…

I have the answer already.

Wiki: Okay, tell me.


Wiki: “Numb” is hard! I just performed that last night. I like “Triple Figaro.” I like the bars, those are some of the bars I’m most proud of.

When you write, do you ever sit back like, “hell yeah!”

Wiki: Yeah, because I still got it! It’s a process, but you have to think, and think, and think, because I’m trying to write some fly shit. Sometimes, it just comes to you, but sometimes you have to push. Sometimes, you’re just like, “that shit is hard.”

Do you have any music of yours that you don’t really vibe with anymore? Does that make touring hard, since people really love that record and you’re like, “f*ck”?

Wiki: Not really. There’s songs the fans want me to play that I don’t have prepared because I have so much music. There’s that, but I love the songs. I wish I could be like, “tell me what song you wanna hear!” and then play that shit. But there’s so much music, it’s tough.

Wiki Eras Tour?

Wiki: Yeah, right? ‘Cause there’s Lil Me shit. But I love it. There’s a weird period where I first put it out, and I’m like, over it, but once time passes… I’m like, “no, this shit is fire.” I listen to old shit and even if I’m thinking I’d have done it better, or I have better breath control or something, I still am like, loving the way I did it then. ‘Cause then you even hear the growth! You hear something and you’re like, “I used to rap crazy, let me take some of that back.”

Anything about hip-hop you wish would go back to the way it was when you were a kid?

Wiki: Within New York, the way there was so much community—that still exists—but the amount everyone was working back in the ‘90s and all these different teams working together. The community and all the clubs people would go to every weekend. That real homegrown thing… Things are all on the internet, and I like being face-to-face.

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