Like all of Wiki’s music, Cold Cuts drifts through a hazy past, yet its collaborations avoid rose-tinted melancholy. Subjxct 5 approaches Swizz Beatz and Dame Grease’s turn-of-the-century production with academic reverence, emulating their synths and bass drums on “Bones” and “Evergreen.” While Subjxct is an adept mimic of their imposing tempos and glossy instrumentals, his mixes lack their digitized precision, playing like DIY tributes to New York’s blockbuster era. “Ricky” recalls the Neptunes’ stuttering guitars on “Luv U Better”; “One More Chance” follows the “Hard Knock Life” formula with a choppy snare and choral sample. Subjxct barks interstitial ad-libs like a young Kay Slay, further rooting his arrangements in the early 2000s.
In spite of the shotgun approach, Wiki takes the occasion to document New York’s ongoing desecration. Although “Come Home” is a rigorous municipal dispatch, it’s burdened by the weary ambassador schtick. After stilted attempts to interrogate his own ambivalence, Wiki arrives at a diagnosis of spiritual decline: “This city, it brings the most pretentious, we all feel we got the most perspective, but is it so?/Could be broke, no diploma, still walk around with our nose up, like we know something y’all don’t.” He imagines the city through an immigrant’s eyes, then bemoans the proliferation of $20 avocado toast. His grievances land with a sullen flatness—but mostly, his attempts to condense New York’s essence into four-minute rap songs feel increasingly futile.
Wiki’s autobiographical material goes down easier than his man-of-the-people raps, although the stream-of-consciousness creates a glancing effect. “My Life” features some of Cold Cuts’ most intricate rhymes, recalling youthful indiscretions and his indoctrination into rap music (“It was Biggie, it was Christopher, that got me through high school/‘Suicidal Thoughts’ got me, I was suicidal”). The memoiristic fragments are piercing, his distinctive language delivered with a casual matter-of-factness. But they’re pieced together like a mosaic, relayed in jittery narrative leaps like a stand-up doing crowdwork. Across six and a half minutes, the gut-punch climax never materializes; as ever, it’s tough to distinguish Wiki from his surroundings and influences.
As tethered as Cold Cuts is to the Y2K era, its supporting cast places it on the cutting edge. In place of his usual collaborators—wordy old souls like Your Old Droog, Lansky Jones, and Remy Banks—a roster of abstract performers embellishes Wiki’s idiosyncrasies. The preternaturally breezy YL floats through the opening verse of “Ricky”; a muttering Big Ouee all but ignores Subjxct’s drum pattern on “Phone Calls.” On “Silent Meeting,” Wiki trades road stories with DJ Lucas, an erratic rapper from rural Massachusetts. Their frenetic back-and-forth is enrapturing, and it’s humbling—after all these years—to hear Wiki play the straight man.
Tri-state rap evolves in cycles of fragmentation and recombination: today, scenes coalesce around affinity as opposed to neighborhoods or traditions. Ambassador that he is, Wiki is happy to meet Papo2oo4 and Hunnaloe on their turf, nerding out over long-extinct designer brands and unsung DatPiff triumphs. More flamboyant and less technical than Wiki, these rappers have adopted his eccentricities—unpretentious nostalgia, quixotic seediness, feverish grins belying latent gloom—and pushed them in bolder, weirder directions. This is where New York’s headed; Wiki is wise to tag along.
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