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Words and Photos: Wiki / Navy Blue / Dom Chronicles / Hadiza / Jalyn Ezra at The Bottleneck

Wiki at The Bottleneck. Photo by Aaron Rhodes.
Date: December 12, 2021

The Bottleneck - Lawrence, KS

It can be argued that hip-hop's birthplace has no better ambassador in the year 2021 than Wiki. First known for his time in the short-lived but critically acclaimed trio Ratking, Wiki has been performing as a solo artist since 2015. The New York emcee made it to Kansas for the first time ever earlier this month on his Can't Do This Alone tour which he co-headlined with Los Angeles-via-New York rapper-producer and frequent collaborator Navy Blue (Navy is the stage name of renaissance man Sage Elsesser, who in addition to his musical pursuits is a visual artist and professional skateboarder). Backed by New Jersey producer/DJ Subjxct 5, the pair each performed solo sets of roughly 50 minutes to an hour with Navy joining Wiki for a song or two as the latter closed out the night.

Though the post-pandemic concert boom has been evident at many recent Bottleneck shows, this Sunday night outing (pre-Omicron) seemed to weed out most of the party crowd, leaving only the true heads to bear witness (I'd estimate attendance was somewhere between 100 and 200). Those heads witnessed a performance from Wiki that exuded nearly every quality that the lazy kind of old school hip-hop fans believe modern rap is missing and did so without sounding the least bit dated, thanks in part to his producer friends -- Navy Blue produced the entirety of his new album, Half God, which Wiki's set revolved around. 


You may first be seized by Wiki's zig-zagging, run-on-sentence flows and his deadpan New York accent -- his missing front teeth may also contribute to the distinctive nature of his voice. Perhaps you might first find interest in his rhymes, full of immediately believable boasts, love stories, and candid, hyperlocal narratives. Regardless of which you latch on to first, the other quickly becomes apparent. These are songs you can raise your cup and sway along to at a party, but simultaneously hold a heartfelt and sometimes relatable sentiment (I say "sometimes" because Wiki appears to rap strictly about his own experiences in life, not all of which mirror those of the average hip-hop fan).

On his song "Roof," Wiki showed more candor than most other performers I've seen this year, rapping "Got the Benjamins off unemployment / Do I really want shows to come back? I don't know / That's the only time I feel real, the times when I rap." Several times in the chorus of "Remarkably," Wiki repeats his demand, "When I make a remark, remark remarkably!" It's with this balance of vulnerability, wit, and classic underground swagger that Wiki dominates microphones and stages.

As his set came to a close, Wiki (or, "Wik Da God!" as many fans proudly saluted him) was draped in his custom flag (a Puerto Rican flag, but with the color palette of an Irish flag, nods to his heritage on both sides of his family) and fans were left to dance to Jersey club tracks with Subjxct and Navy two-stepping behind the turntables in a buoyant, celebratory mood.


Wiki had little to no direct interaction with his audience outside of his music, but Navy Blue took several moments between his songs to pinpoint and directly communicate the very particular mood he was in that evening. Through mantra-like repetition, Navy made clear to the crowd that "this shit ain't easy" and "it's not fun." About a third of the way through his set, he elaborated, noting how that day's nine hour drive had taken a toll on him, among other things. He also reprimanded a fan, asking them to stop recording video on their phone, urging them to be present. All of this could have come off as vain if Navy's music wasn't so deeply, transparently cathartic and painstakingly crafted.

On "Sea Bass," a song from his 2020 album, Song Of Sage: Post Panic, Navy traces his ancestry, scars and all, over a woozy, melancholy beat that features a prominent sample from The Four Mints' "Do You Really Love Me." Sprinkled throughout the song are powerful affirmations: "It's not a conversation, this a monologue," "Navy is an artist and an author and a poet, for the record." He drew a healthy applause before the conclusion of "Back To Basics," on which he declares, "Me and my brothers need rap."

You could feel the energy of the room shifting somewhere between that song and "Aunt Gerry's Fried Chicken." Navy and the audience seemed to have built a level of mutual respect. No more phones waved in the air, all eyes were on the stage; Navy repaid the crowd with a more energetic style of performance (though many of his songs are downbeat, so the adjustment was incremental, but still noticeable). By the set's end, he was in full stride and a few fans up front were feeling loose and rapping lines back at him (or offering their approval by shouting, "Navy Blue the truest!" at a song's end).

Dom Chronicles, a Kansas City-via-Olathe rapper-producer now a decade deep in the rap game, was the final local act before the evening's headliners. Though the set began after five to 10 minutes whole minutes of sound-related technical difficulties, Dom managed to keep his cool (he does help organize group meditations with an outfit called Grand Rising, after all). After he was assured that both his microphone and DJ Scotty Wu's turntables were properly wired to the PA, Dom stretched out his arm and slowly, dramatically brought the mic to his mouth -- his voice rang out and the crowd went wild. Fans caught on and sang along unprompted during "Feels So Good" and "Hold It Down," two songs from the deluxe version of his latest album Let's Go Outside. Dom's spiritually-enlightened, juice-sipping, and pot-friendly brand of hip-hop was well received and his stage presence surpassed all previous performances of his I'd attended.

Kansas City singer-songwriter Hadiza preceded Dom's set, accompanied by punk scene drummer Brad Highnam (a fellow Iowa transplant). Hadiza's set was rather short, running at about 15 minutes. Despite pulling together an intriguing set of sounds (a tribute to club music was added to her dark and dramatic takes on soul, jazz, and other genres, which she has dubbed "diaspora gothic"), there was little dynamism in this performance. Once moving along, a song would rarely stray from its initial melody or tempo, so as beautiful and meaningful as some moments were, a song would often feel like a slog by its conclusion.

I was unfortunately tardy to this show and only caught the last song of Jalyn Ezra's set. From what I could collect, the Lawrence rapper's solo output is less aggressive and more introspective but possibly just as engaging as his efforts in his group American Terrorist.

[Shuttlecock was a media partner on this show.]

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