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WiFiGawd is a student of hip-hop in every sense of the word. He’s been a prominent member of the D.C. music scene since the mid-2010s and has rapped over every kind of beat from plugg music to New-Age boom-bap. His taste in rap is so voracious, it was almost a surprise to hear that, due to being raised in a Rasta community, his musical diet was mostly split between reggae and classic hip-hop. “My mom was taking me to Redman shows and I seen all that shit. Rap was already on some turnt up shit,” he remembered with a laugh. “That’s what all my old heads was on, and I wanted to be on whatever they was on.”
A good portion of WiFi’s childhood was spent mainlining music by artists like A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul and Wu-Tang Clan. As he grew older and was introduced to the internet, he was drawn to artists like Curren$y and Kid Cudi — who he felt could rap and croon over anything — and mixtapes by Don Cannon and Raider Klan. The era of DatPiff mixtapes instilled a hunger for new music in him that he’s indulged ever since. He came up rapping over old MF DOOM beats before beginning his search for every rap sound he could find. His obsession has blossomed into an incredibly prolific career. WiFi has released 22 projects over the last five years, and he takes immense pride in the time he spends combing the internet for the best beats he can find.
“I feel like, personally, I’ve rapped on some of the best beats being made — industry, underground, it don’t matter. So making new music is crazy because I really have to tap in and find fire-ass beats all the time and shit,” he said. “Motherfuckers think that shit easy, but it’s not. I really gotta be with my people and tap in with my homies and shit and make fire. I’ll probably spend the majority of the time looking for beats, but the rapping probably takes the least amount of time.”
Even if the raps are second-nature to him, it doesn’t show in the music. His latest project CHAIN OF COMMAND — his second release of 2022, via POW Recordings — continues to warp his influences into jagged pieces of debris floating through his own customized hip-hop universe. You can hear flecks of Curren$y-esque lifestyle rap on songs like “4 MY SKATERS” and “FUCK WHAT YA HEARD,” his breathy delivery pushing through the beats like he’s swimming through them. Sometimes, WiFi smokes zaza, hangs out at parties and gets into the occasional fight (“GOD OF WAR”); but other times, like on “SLIDE THRU,” he’s crooning for some neck and company like Kid Cudi.
WiFi is an engaging rapper, but listen closely to any of his projects, and you’ll find that the raps are only half of the equation. His flow is static, more or less bound to the rigid cadences of his older rap ancestors. The beats that he chooses to rap over provide the movement, the drama that turns any WiFiGawd song into a party. Hearing him find the pockets and force himself into any sound is half the fun. Take “KAWASAKI,” a song that twinkles like a chandelier but is accented by a bludgeoning low-end courtesy of Maryland producer AMAL. WiFi jumps between these different sounds effortlessly, turning brags about his drip and new motorcycle into a game of lyrical hopscotch. No matter the beat, WiFi is the grounding force behind any of his songs.
“That comes from looking for the best beats for hours and hours and hours and working with the best people. That’s all it is, bro,” he said. “I could be an A&R or something.” His ear for production goes beyond personal preference. He speaks of the beat selection process like a gallery owner would speak of sifting through art samples; YouTube and SoundCloud accounts are the portfolios he examines and re-examines until he finds what works for him. Occasionally, he links up with producers before they blow up nationally. 2016’s WiFi Season features contributions from producers like F1LTHY and Working On Dying representative Oogie Mane, who’ve gone on to create hits with Playboi Carti and Lil Uzi Vert, respectively.
It’s cool to be early to certain producers, but WiFi is just as concerned with being able to flesh out these musical worlds on his own. He first started producing for himself in 2018, and while he doesn’t consider himself an expert, it’s helped to narrow down specific sounds he’s looking for while in the studio with producers: “I’m not a professional but I got that touch. I might have a little loop all done up and I can give it to my man and he’ll put some drums on it. That’s really why I was making beats: so I could show niggas what I want. I can put a little swag on that jont but I still need a Chad Hugo to add that [explosion sound] to it.” He specifically cites his relationship with New York producer and longtime collaborator Tony Seltzer — who crafted two of the beats on CHAIN OF COMMAND — as a point of inspiration. “He’s the GOAT, bro. He’s a wizard,” he claimed. “I look at people like that as like, ‘Y’all are producers.’ Me? I can make some wavy shit, but when the day comes when I can make some smacking ass shit, that’s goals.”
Whether he’s rapping or producing, he’s already made enough noise to be able to put on for his hometown of Washington D.C. The area produces music across the spectrum but is especially known for genres like go-go, an offshoot of funk built around call-and-response. Though not entirely indebted to genre-blending like go-go is, D.C.’s rap scene does share a similar sort of adventurousness; it’s present in WiFiGawd’s own music and something he admires in other artists from the DMV like Lil Gray, Lil Zelly, Nappy Nappa, and ANKHLEJOHN, among others. “Everyone from the DMV, I consider us family,” he said, “We a whole army out here.”
D.C.’s pride flows through WiFiGawd, but he’s quick to clarify that no one — in D.C. or elsewhere — is doing this rap shit like him. As our conversation wrapped up, I asked him if he feels pressured to keep such a rapid release schedule, to keep pace with every other rapper with an internet connection and dreams of stardom. He quickly denied feeling that pressure and instead talked about the ways he wants to keep surprising his fanbase in ways only he can: “These consumers gotta calm down, so shit like vinyl will make you calm down. Go buy that shit, first of all. Calm yo ass down [laughs]. I started planning out drops in different ways, like whether it’s gonna be a CD, cassette or vinyl exclusive, or if I’m gonna make 100 DVDs and sell these jonts for $20 a pop with five music videos on them. All types of shit, bro. I don’t give a fuck what nobody else doing. I’ma just do me.”
VMP: Your latest project CHAIN OF COMMAND is your second of 2022 and we’re not even a month into the year. Where do you find the time to sleep, bruh?
WiFiGawd: Music, at this point, is effortless for me. But it do take some time because my outlook on this shit is crazy, bro. I feel like, personally, I’ve rapped on some of the best beats being made — industry, underground, it don’t matter. So making new music is crazy because I really have to tap in and find fire-ass beats all the time and shit. Motherfuckers think that shit easy, but it’s not. I really gotta be with my people and tap in with my homies and shit and make fire. I’ll probably spend the majority of the time looking for beats, but the rapping probably takes the least amount of time.
That’s one of my favorite aspects of your music, how tapped in you are to up-and-coming producers. Your 2016 album WiFi Season alone has beats from F1LTHY and Oogie Mane from Working On Dying, who’ve both blown way up in the last few years. Staying on top of music in 2022 with new stuff coming from every angle is no easy task. How do you manage to sift through it all and find the good bits?
That comes from looking for the best beats for hours and hours and hours and working with the best people. That’s all it is, bro. I could be an A&R or something. With that, I be getting a lot of ideas. I also be telling the producers that I’m working with how I want things, and they just be bringing it to life. Sometimes, crazy producers just be hitting me up. It just go like that, bro.
Who’s the craziest producer outside your circle who’s hit you to work?
A couple people, for real. Probably Earl [Sweatshirt], though. That was the craziest thing. I was like, “What the fuck, nigga, you listen to my music?” A couple other people, too. This guy named Cruel Santino. He like this rare-ass Nigerian rapper, bruh. Shit crazy. A bunch of random motherfuckers from Japan that don’t nobody know except for me. I be hip to that shit like “What?” It’s like some art shit for real, bro. When certain people be tapped in, I be like, “Salute, bro. You get it.”
You’re very community-oriented in that way. Community is something I’m always interested in, especially when it comes to independent/DIY scenes. How else has working within such a diverse community of artists benefited you?
It just gives me a bigger outlook on shit, like the bigger picture. It’s all different styles of rap, different styles of beats. With that, it’s just hella lanes to explore. I feel like I’m in no type box and I just make fire music. With that, you gotta know that all beats are the same. It’s just the percussion and all different snares and shit. I make beats myself, so I can say that shit. I can turn a plugg beat into a house beat in 30 seconds. All that shit the same, it’s all about how you looking at it and what you’re trying to do. It’s all cohesive, it’s 360. This is an evolution of rap. I don’t even wanna say shit like that, but this is what it is. Back to the essence and that new shit.
Your approach to music is fearless: you go in over so many different kinds of sounds that could potentially be too much but your voice finds a rhythm and just cuts through everything. I remember listening to Hot As Hell for the first time and being so blown away by hearing songs like “Delete” and “2020 Hotboy” back-to-back. When you’re putting a project together, does working with so many different sounds become overwhelming?
When I started listening to music [on my own], I was only listening to mixtapes, bruh. All the mixtape rappers on DatPiff who could rap over any beat. Like Spitta [Curren$y] could rap over any beat and would drop hella music. I’m in high school like, “Wow, new mixtape, new mixtape.” It’s just embodying that type shit as well. I’m doing my own thing, but it’s just some real mixtape shit.
That makes sense because I’ve read that you were really into Lil Wayne growing up.
Not really, but anything mixtapes? We were on that, bruh. Like Curren$y, Kid Cudi, Chip The Ripper, even Asher Roth and Don Cannon. All the Cannon mixtapes? I always wanted that shit. Then the super underground shit like Raider Klan and Metro Zoo. I was listening to everything, bruh. I could’ve been a sick-ass DJ or something.
Listening to a song like “SLIDE THRU” from CHAIN OF COMMAND, the Kid Cudi influence on your music is so clear to me. Just from the hums alone.
I just be chillin’ bro. You gonna be seeing the styles develop more, bro. I haven’t been shooting any crazy movie-style videos yet or anything, but I’m gonna bring the whole aesthetic together in a way people will like.
I know you grew up listening to so much different music and that you were raised in a Rasta community. I’m sure that was interesting, considering that there can be certain types of music you can and can’t listen to.
No cap. That is how I grew up, though. I only listened to real hip-hop like [A Tribe Called Quest], De La Soul, KRS-One, Redman, Wu-Tang. All just real rap shit. That’s what my people was on. And then, of course, just hella reggae. So I was tapped into all that, but when I heard different types of rap I was like, “Yo, this shit is crazy.” From then, I was tapping into all sorts of different shit because it was all super interesting to me.
Do you feel that going from being restricted in that way to having a lifetime’s worth of music at your fingertips has affected the way you create music at all?
When I say “real rap,” I’m talking like classic rap. My mom was taking me to Redman shows and I seen all that shit. Rap was already on some turnt up shit. When I first started rapping, it was all on like MF DOOM beats, the Special Herbs, Vol. 1 and shit. Me and my man rapped on that whole jont. If you didn’t start out rapping on some real rap beats, you wasn’t doing nothing. That’s what everyone was doing back in the day. Then your style would evolve and you would get on your own shit. That’s how it usually go. My outlook was already on some rap shit from day one. That’s what all my old heads was on and I wanted to be on whatever they was on. But as a teenager, you be in your own bag.
I feel it. I used to have homies come over to the crib and people would throw on old Gang Starr beats on YouTube and just start going in over them.
That’s real. Everybody did that, bro. Some people would have homies who was outta pocket at rapping and would surprise people with how good they were. I was that nigga. My homie for real who was really crazy — he doesn’t rap now — but he’s the one who got me on it even more.
Once you started making music for real, when was the moment you realized it could go from being a hobby to something you wanted to do for the foreseeable future?
Maybe 2016 or ’17. I was just dropping shit on SoundCloud and that shit was going up. I was doing a lot of shows too, but I got a lot more serious around ‘16 or ‘17. I always wanted to rap but I wanted to do hella shit, bro. I be on that shit talking about comic books and cartoons and shit. I used to be big on fashion. That was the first thing we was really pumping around DC. We used to make these little chains and patching up the denim jackets. We was digging, fam. Had hella Stussy shirts in my locker. Hella Detox and shit. This was streetwear times when people would be like “Yo, I need a G-Shock.” Yo, I got you. Holla at me [laughs].
You’re also an artist from Washington, D.C., an area with such a rich musical history across genres that it feels like the general public is just now coming to appreciate. What’s one aspect of D.C.’s music culture that you feel is the most misunderstood or underappreciated?
Maybe just our approach to music. People from D.C. take pride in how rare we are. Everybody don’t wanna be like each other. I just wish people would take a little more notice to that. It’s definitely gonna happen with time. We been on this shit forever. We just need more spotlights on what we got going on. It’s not really set up for people in the art world to succeed. It just take one or two people to really break through for this whole thing to just blow. We got some of the best rappers out right now.
I understand that you’ve been getting more into producing yourself and that CHAIN OF COMMAND has a handful of self-produced tracks. When did you first start producing?
Maybe around 2018. I started on Logic or some shit. They wasn’t bad, but I just kept making them and now I can just pull up to the studio. I might have a little loop all done up and I can give it to my man and he’ll put some drums on it. That’s really why I was making beats: so I could show niggas what I want. I’m not a professional but I got that touch. I can put a little swag on that jont but I still need a Chad Hugo to add that [explosion sound] to it. For me, that would be [New York producer] Tony Seltzer or some shit. He’s the GOAT, bro. He’s a wizard. I look at people like that as like, “Y’all are producers.” Me? I can make some wavy shit, but when the day comes when I can make some smacking ass shit, that’s goals. I just do me with the shit so I have a better understanding of what goes on in the studio.
WiFiGawd is always on the move and always has something cooking. You clearly love to make music and push yourself creatively, but do you ever feel pressured to keep up with the ridiculous release schedules people tend to expect of rappers in the modern era?
Nah, I don’t feel no pressure, bro. This shit like a cult, bruh. All my people know I’ma drop some fire. They just be waiting for it. These consumers gotta calm down, so shit like vinyl will make you calm down. Go buy that shit, first of all. Calm yo ass down [laughs]. New music every day? I still drop an abundance of music, but I’ll drop when I feel like it’s a good time. I started planning out drops in different ways, like whether it’s gonna be a CD, cassette, or vinyl exclusive; or if I’m gonna make 100 DVDs and sell these jonts for $20 a pop with five music videos on them. All types of shit, bro. I don’t give a fuck what nobody else doing. I’ma just do me.
Dylan “CineMasai” Green is a rap and film journalist, a contributing editor at Pitchfork and the host of the Reel Notes podcast. His work has appeared in Okayplayer, Red Bull, DJBooth, Audiomack, The Face, Complex, The FADER and the dusty tombs of Facebook Notes. He's probably in a Wawa mumbling a BabyTron verse to himself.
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