It’s not often I hear an album that already sounds like a classic. If that seems a trite way to start a review then you obviously haven’t heard ‘No Mountains in Manhattan’ yet. This is rapper Wiki’s solo debut, his first release with XL Recordings — after a prolific few years making and releasing music with the RATKING collective and on his own Letter Racer label — and if it doesn’t blow up then there really is no justice in music.
It’s not just that the record is good — in the sense that it holds together as a coherent album, and Wiki can spit (I could listen all day to that signature mean, sexy flow and his voice that sounds as if its been grazed on a New York pavement). ‘No Mountains in Manhattan’ is clever too, with little nods to old school hip-hop (in the break before the bass drop on ‘Islander’, for example) and to New York City as represented in popular culture (the movie Mean Streets on ‘Islander’ again, Seinfeld on ‘Elaine’).
There are the cameos from Ghostface Killah (‘Made for This’), Your Old Droog (‘Litt 15’), Lakutis (‘Nutcrackers’) and singer Evy Jane on my favourite track, ‘Pandora’s Box’, a touching, honest reminiscence on lost love from both sides of the experience. The messy ‘Chinatown Swing’, with those grimy beats produced by Wiki’s long-term collaborator Sporting Life, is another stand out track.
Like all great works, the layers of ‘No Mountains…’ reveal themselves on repeat listens. The extended metaphor — the skyline of Manhattan becomes the mountain at the end of the penultimate, eponymous track — is more than it first seems as the ‘mountain’ becomes both a physical and conceptual symbol for city life, and Wiki’s life so far. The composition of the tracks give way to rhythmic peaks and flows, and while there isn’t a story as such, the narrative sense of journey makes this record as much literature as it is music.