There’s a scene in Martin Scorsese’s 1973 crime classic, Mean Streets, where its protagonist Charlie, an Italian New Yorker working his way up in the mafia, is strolling on the beach with his lover Teresa. He’s reeling off a list of the things he hates. After he gets it off his chest, Teresa asks: “Charlie, what do you like?” He answers: “Spaghetti and clam sauce, mountains, Francis of Assisi, chicken with lemon and garlic, and John Wayne.” She looks at him earnestly, taps his chest and reminds him, “There aren’t any mountains in Manhattan.”
When Patrick “Wiki” Morales caught the phrase, slumped in front of the TV one evening, he was suddenly filled with excitement and scribbled it down. It was the perfect title for his debut album: a chronicle of the pressures bestowed on a young man trying to make it in the rap game, New York City, and life in general. Unlike Teresa, Wiki believes that the island he grew up on is home to plenty of mountains; he’s climbed plenty of them in his 23 years. “The obstacles we go through, those are the mountains,” he squawks. “There are mountains in Manhattan! Growing up, being a young adult, I think that’s a big theme.”
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In March last year, when XL Recordings opened a new studio in New York, Wiki – who returns to the label as a solo artist following the disbandment of his group, RATKING – set out to create a body of work with a cohesive vision. An early reference was Ghostface Killah’s second solo album ‘Supreme Clientele’, released in 2000. “That shit is like New York as fuck, but it’s different,” Wiki enthuses. The description could just as accurately be applied to his own music: an amalgamation of grimy bass, expertly mined samples, autobiographical lyricism and bold delivery.
Since he burst out of the gate declaring himself a ‘Piece Of Shit’, Wiki has stood apart from both the lean-drenched sounds of New York teens raised on Southern rap, and the sample-heavy boom bap of nostalgia fetishists. Wiki’s sound reflects the city, but you could never accuse him of being too sentimental. “That’s been a tough thing to do,” he admits. “You don’t want to disconnect from [the traditional New York sound]; that’s what I grew up on. But I love all types of music. I’m always trying to make my version.” Through Wiki’s filter, influence transforms into something entirely new. ‘Pretty Bull’, for example, is Wiki’s answer to a New York street banger like Young M.A’s ‘Ooouuu’.
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The aesthetic of early grime has also offered a strong source of inspiration for Wiki, who finds salvation in watching snapshots of the UK’s younger scene on YouTube. “It reminds me of some old New York shit. They would have the every-team baseball hat on; it has this connection to Dipset, which is one of my biggest influences,” he explains. “It wasn’t this multi-million dollar industry; it’s real life kids coming together and making beats, rapping just to do it.”
To Wiki it’s the local things that mean the most. He cites being featured as a cartoon in The New Yorker and his recent five-day ‘5 Borough’ tour amongst his biggest achievements, and isn’t in the pursuit of excess that many of his peers are. “I need what I need,” he states. “I’m not trying to be extra.”
Over five years as a professional rapper, Wiki’s grounded, Downtown aesthetic has served him well. It’s what makes ‘No Mountains In Manhattan’ feel more like you’re in conversation with a friend, rather than an internationally revered artist. “Everything that is different about you, you shouldn’t hide that. You should embrace it because that is going to make you stand out. The things that you would think are your weakness could be your strength.”
He pauses, before adding a brief disclaimer: “I’m not saying I’m not out there trying to do my thing. I’m balling on the low!”
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Words: Grant Brydon
Photography: Teddy Fitzhugh
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