Once a self-styled “mutt” in the hip-hop underground of New York City with his group Ratking, latterly a solo artist whose 2017 debut ‘No Mountains in Manhattan’ was released on XL Records, rapper Patrick ‘Wiki’ Morales’ finally looked set for some major – and not to mention well-deserved – recognition. But something just didn’t click with the public.
“Reviews strong, not enough views on the songs,” Wiki offers on his new, independently released album ‘Oofie’ as a possible explanation for the anti-climax which befell his career following the release of ‘No Mountains…’.
The intervening two-and-a-half years of Wiki’s life have been eventful to say the least: he went through an amicable split from XL, a “fucked-up” band break-up and spent a night in a Swedish jail cell (after getting too “hype” to a DMX song in a club).
NME caught up with a refreshed and re-energised Wiki to look back on this challenging period, as well as getting the 26-year-old’s take on his decision to go independent, the future of Ratking and how he’s confident that the 2020s will provide the staging ground for his “come-up season”.
NME: Hey Wiki, congratulations on ‘Oofie’! Was making the album a therapeutic experience for you?
Wiki: “I enjoyed the process of making this album, definitely. I just tried to keep it natural and work with the people around me. You can try and reach out to get all these different people, but I wanted to just stick to my guns; stick to the shit that makes sense and comes naturally to me.”
On ‘Downfall’ you declare: “I’m an enigma they tryin’ get rid of.” Are people still doubting your credibility?
“Sometimes you feel like mad people will be fucking with you, but then it’s like: ‘Damn, why isn’t it hitting?’ You feel like you’re being slept on or some shit because it’ll be legit-ass people that fuck with you, you know what I mean? But that’s just part of the hunger for anyone in any field. You don’t want to be on top the whole time ’cause otherwise you’ve got nowhere to go except down.”
One of the recurring lyrical themes of ‘Oofie’ is your relationship with drinking – why is this such an important topic for you?
“I always try to be real and honest with my music because it’s like what you said before, it’s therapeutic in a way. It’s a place where I can get all this shit off my chest: the whole drinking element and getting through that — and trying to chill out a bit as you grow — I think is mad important to both the record and everything I’ve been going through.”
Do you feel that you’ve made progress in coming to terms with your relationship with alcohol?
“It’s not like a light [has been] switched on or off, you know what I’m saying? It’s always going to be a process. You might slip up sometimes, but you always want to try and be on the better side.”
‘Dame Aquí’ is jam-packed with your wild tour stories. Tell us about the tale behind the lyric: “Punched the window in the Euro club ’cause they play DMX / Got locked up in Stockholm, finally got me some rest.”
“I didn’t mean to punch the window — I just got hype and then I did! I got arrested and spent the night in jail: it really wasn’t that bad! It was during the Rejjie Snow tour I was opening. Sometimes when you’re the opener on a long-ass tour it can get kind of tiring… Some nights you have a great show, and some nights there’s no-one really there.
“People think that touring is just like you’re on some bus and everything’s done for you. But that’s ignoring the nitty and gritty of tour life: you’re really running around from country to country, getting into shit and just trying to figure it out and get paid along the way.”
Do you enjoy touring?
“Oh yeah. You do go through those periods where you’re bummed as fuck, but you also have periods where you experience the highs, like when you’re in a dope city. It really can go either way, but I think that’s part of what makes touring an adventure.”
How was it reuniting with Princess Nokia on ‘Dame Aquí’?
“That was cool. I wanted to get a UK artist on it originally, but I guess the beat or whatever didn’t really fit. And then I was like: ‘Oh shit, I can get Noki on it ‘cause she’s a world traveller; it fits her perspective and her style’. It just clicked in my head. It was dope to get in the studio and work with her again. I wanted to [reunite] for the fans because there’s history with that, even musically when she was Wavy Spice on ‘Puerto Rican Judo’ [on Ratking’s ‘So It Goes’].”
You recorded much of ‘Oofie’ in XL’s New York basement studio, which is an interesting venue to choose as you left the label earlier this year. How did your departure come about?
“Starts of it were happening when we were finishing ‘Oofie’, but it was a thing where I was getting a little stagnant on the label… it’s just one of those periods in your life where you’ve gotta move on. XL was a dope label to be on, and they were always mad supportive of everything we were trying to do. But I just needed to go on my path, and so I felt like making that step was important.
“I wanna be looking forward and be more in control of my own shit, and learn it for myself. Not just be some artist on a label, but be the thing: you’re more in control and you can learn the business side. I gotta figure that shit out for myself — I can’t be rapping forever, you feel me? It’s important to learn that shit so you’re not just some dumb artist being like: ‘What the fuck’s going on?'”
You’ve previously likened yourself to being “a small fish in a big sea” on the XL roster. What did XL say when you told them you wanted to leave?
“They understood my perspective, and they were mad supportive and very cool about it. It was great. That was the one thing [about going independent] that I was worried about, but everyone there was mad chill.
“It wasn’t as if the person who originally signed me was even [at XL] anymore. And that’s another thing: you go to these labels, and it’s not like people don’t like you but maybe the person who originally signed you — who had that vision behind you — if they’re not there anymore and two, three years pass… it’s just that stagnant thing where you’re like: ‘Alright, I know you fuck with me, but I need to be the person who makes this happen.'”
Do you feel you have something extra to prove now? Especially to those who might just see you as an XL outcast…
“I think that I have more to prove to myself. I’m just going to keep trying to make dope music, challenge myself, get better and grow. But at the same time, when we talked to XL about leaving it was always very apparent that they were like: ‘Bro, you’re always part of the XL roster.’ In the way that ‘So It Goes’ is a classic, and ‘No Mountains in Manhattan’: those are both on the XL catalogue. It’s not like I was on XL and I didn’t make some shit, I at least got to put a stamp on it.
“‘No Mountains’ is something that I feel people will look back on and be like: ‘Oh damn, that shit was hard as fuck.’ And I know ‘So It Goes’ is going to be one of those unsung, underground New York classics, and for Ratking to go through [XL], that’s dope.”
It’s been seven years since Ratking’s debut ‘Wiki93’ EP. With the group still on hiatus, how do you look back at how the Ratking narrative panned out?
“Ratking is, I think, a mad important thing for New York in general and the underground, but also for me as an artist, growing with them. It was cool coming into [the music industry] more as a band rather than me being like: ‘Oh, I’m just some solo rapper trying to get beats.’ That definitely changed my perspective on a lot of things and I’m happy I came in with Ratking.
“In terms of the success of the group, it was one of those things where you were in the moment and now you look back on it and be like: ‘Damn, that shit was tight. That was a real moment.'”
That immense Boiler Room sweatbox set in 2014 comes to mind…
“That shit’s fire! That’s the thing: that shit is just there [on YouTube] now and I’m hyped that we did that. It was crazy, so sick. Some kids are gonna be like [to their friends]: ‘Yo, you never heard about Ratking? That was that shit!'”
What’s your current relationship like with the other two Ratking members, Sporting Life and Hak?
“Sport worked on a beat on ‘Oofie’, and I’ve worked on a couple of joints with him over the past year. He’s working with a lot of rappers in the city, which is dope to see. I haven’t really spoken to Hak in a while, I’m not going to lie to you. He’s doing his own thing, I dunno.”
Is there a future for Ratking?
“Yeah I think that there is, definitely. I just think that we all need some time to figure out our own shit and get our lives together. Once we can all be on that same page where we’re all in the right zone to do it, I think it’ll make sense. But me and Sport have some, let’s just say, little ideas, scraps of things: it’s not like it’s completely out of mind.”
Your side project Secret Circle was brought to an abrupt end in 2018 after a series of serious allegations were made against your bandmate Antwon in regards to his treatment of a number of women. How do you reflect on that situation 18 months on?
“I don’t want to get too into the details because I don’t want to be the person to speak on that and say some shit out of context. But it was a fucked-up thing [what happened with Antwon]. It’s something that’s been going on forever: not only in music but in all these different worlds, and now it’s something that’s coming out. So many people in so many different industries are dealing with that, with people that they’re close with and things coming out about them, and then having to make that choice of moving on; not being a part of that… I think it’s something that people need to realise: this shit is happening and it’s been a thing [for a while]. It was just a thing that was hidden and thrown under the rug, but now it’s a thing that gets exposed and that’s what it should be, I think.
“I think we did the right thing [with ending Secret Circle]. It was a shame because we had some dope music, but at the end of the day it was the right thing to do. And it really sucked. Me and [Secret Circle member] Lil Ugly Mane are still really cool, and I’m happy we’re still collaborating.”
Back in 2014-15, you and Skepta guested on each other’s tracks. Are you still in contact with him?
“Yeah, I spoke to Skepta the other day, he hit me up. He’s a busy man, bro! Me and Skep will always be cool: he’s always shown me the most love. Of course, when I met Skep he was already a legend in grime, but to see him in these past couple of years grow and the level he’s [now] at, it’s dope to see. No matter how hot his shit is, though, he’s always gonna be down to earth and he’ll always show love.”
‘Oofie’ was an unexpected release — should we expect more surprise album drops?
“I’m trying to be on full fucking work mode, so I’m trying to drop another [album] next year – not too late, either, that’s my goal. Right now, it’s still early stages: I have a bunch of ideas, but it could all go a couple of different directions. But I’m definitely going to be working with Lil Ugly Mane for sure, and some of my other homies. I can’t really reveal too much just because I don’t know myself – I have ideas, I just need to fuel ’em up.”
And you need to call up Skepta, too…
“I know, I’m trying to get that Skep joint! I’ma get it this time, I’ma get it this time.”
The end of the 2010s is fast-approaching. How would you sum up your first decade in music?
“Damn, that’s crazy. It’s kind of been like a slow roll… but I don’t want it to be just these 10 years because I’m trying to look forward. This shit has just begun. I feel like I’ve laid down some dope groundwork: I’m proud of all the projects I’ve put out, from all the Ratking shit — ‘Wiki93’, ‘So It Goes’ — to my solo stuff. [2015 mixtape] ‘Lil Me’ is one of my favourites to listen back [to] and see how raw it is. I feel like the 2020s are gonna be dope, for sure. It’s about to be come-up season.”
Do you feel you’re approaching your peak years as an artist?
“I hope! I’m feeling good, and I feel like that. You gotta knock-on-wood and shit, because I’m the type of fool who is always over-thinking things. But I’m feeling really positive about these next couple of years. I’m ready to grow as an artist and really lay down some shit to make people hear and make people wake up. I’m excited.”