Kids grow up fast in New York City. Pre-teens ride the trains alone, shuttling between school and the park and home. You learn to spot scammers, junkies, tourists, and cops from a mile away. From the time you learn to speak, you’re exposed to languages from around the world. The streets are more than just a thoroughfare for cars and trucks, they’re a fire hydrant water park, a street cart restaurant, a living room for old men playing dominoes, a nightclub with perreo, nutcrackers, and no cover. A New Yorker can live several lifetimes before they ever turn 18.
Few rappers reflect this spirit quite like Patrick Morales, the 27-year-old Irish and Puerto Rican MC better known as Wiki. His latest album, Half God, is a record about what it’s like to come of age in New York: the way it shapes, hardens, prematurely ages you. Produced in its entirety by Navy Blue—the skateboarder/model turned prolific producer/MC born Sage Elsesser—the record captures the varied tempos of city life in colorful vignettes. A warbling guitar loop soundtracks a contemplative smoke session on “Roof”; the stuttering soul samples on “Can’t Do This Alone” stroll with Wiki and Navy Blue through city streets; hi-hats crunch and snares snap on “The Business,” as Wiki spews vitriol at the gentrifiers changing his home into something unrecognizable.
Gentrification looms like a specter over the entire album. Born on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and living on the Lower East Side, Wiki has watched the city’s grit be slowly washed away, its quirky characters and storefronts pushed out in favor of chain stores and bottomless mimosas. Near his downtown apartment, where Chinatown and the LES meet, abuelitas push grocery carts past old Chinese men smoking cigarettes on stoops, and young Asian kids walk to school to the tune of car stereos blasting Latin music. But interlopers threaten the vibe, and Wiki’s anger permeates much of Half God. Everyone understands New York attracts people from everywhere; Wiki just can’t understand why the most privileged of them are so selfish. On “New Truths,” he rails against college kids unable to empathize with the less fortunate. On “The Business,” he chastises NIMBY transplants: “What I can’t understand and get through to me is/After all the schooling you did, don’t know what community is?”
An old soul at 27, Wiki may have come up as a hard-partying dirtbag, but he’s clearly mellowed out and wised up in the decade since that first Ratking EP. In the years since he went solo, his influences have become more focused, his pen sharpened against anyone disrespecting his idea of hip-hop, or his hometown. On Half God, months of pandemic isolation lead him to even deeper introspection, considering the role that performing has on both his wallet and his mental health, and what kind of legacy he might leave to his hypothetical children. Being cooped up inside drove him a little nuts, but also confirmed the human need to connect. Perhaps the most interesting sign of his maturity is a willingness to be emotionally vulnerable. He long avoided promiscuous boasts in favor of monogamy raps; on “Never Fall Off” he takes it one step further, narrating the joys of a budding courtship with a giddy earnestness not often found on rap records.