An interview with MIKE, Wiki and The Alchemist

A trio for the ages on how they made their joint album Faith Is A Rock.


[Left to right] Wiki, The Alchemist and MIKE. Art by Tyler Farmer.



Today marks the vinyl release of Faith Is A Rock—the ten-track collaboration between New York rappers MIKE and Wiki and legendary producer The Alchemist. Emerging from three distinct eras of New York—The Alchemist dominating the city’s early aughts production, Wiki pioneering its frantic underground sound throughout the mid-2010s, and MIKE presently building a real movement around a new wave of MCs—the trio jells harmoniously here. Grainy interview recordings and film monologues live in the negative space as MIKE and Wik deploy a swaggering, back-and-forth style, elevating each other like sparring partners.

Despite their unique trajectories, MIKE, Wiki, and Alc were practically predestined to join forces through their overlapping constellations of collaborators—specifically, each artist’s connection to Earl Sweatshirt. Last fall, I spoke to the trio about how they avoided burnout and learned from each other while creating one of the finest rap albums of 2023.

🔕🔕🔕🔕🔕🔕🔕🔕🔕🔕

The Alchemist: There’s this kid on YouTube who does album reviews. Have you ever seen him? He wears a shower cap and he does album reviews off a pizza box. He’s funny as hell, man. That kid is actually dope. Eric something. He’s got good taste, but he’s actually funny, man. He could have a platform one day because he’s actually hilarious.

MIKE joins the call.

MIKE: What’s good, fam? My bad for coming in late. I just got out of the shower.

The Alchemist: What’s the word? 

Alex: How’s it going, MIKE? 

MIKE: Cooling. How are you feeling? 

I’m good, I’m chilling. In Manhattan right now. I love origin stories, so tell me how all y’all know each other. How did y’all first meet?

The Alchemist: I don’t remember when I first met Wik. But I was aware of his music. I was a fan of his shit. I forgot who first showed it to me in the early days. It was a similar circle. Thebe [Earl Sweatshirt] is always at the top or in the mix. A lot of guys I’ve met are through Thebe. He’s a close collaborator and I always respect his group and talent. He linked me with MIKE. Once I saw MIKE, I was a super fan from the get—like right out of the gate! First video, songs, everything. I was like, “He’s special.” So over the years, we’ve connected through the friends we have. It was inevitable that we would make music. We all started making stuff and it developed into what we have now. 

MIKE: I lowkey always been a super big fan of Wiki and Al. I’m not that young, but 6 or 7 years ago I was in high school. I remember the first time I heard an Alchemist beat—my parents, they’re from Africa so they never really listened to hip-hop like that. Thebe put me onto The Alchemist, through the beats he made for Thebe. As I’ve gained more knowledge about hip-hop, I’ve realized how many beats Alchemist has made. Same shit with Wiki. Lowkey, that’s one of my GOAT rappers.

Thebe introduced me to Al. I had pulled up to L.A. one time—we kicked it for a minute. Me and Wiki met in 2016. I wanna say some studio shit with Thebe as well. I’ve been listening to Wiki’s shit since high school.

Wiki: Me and MIKE met a minute ago. I’ve always been a fan of Al. Forever. Same thing with MIKE but in a different way. I was always a fan of Al’s early work—all the Mobb Deep shit. But I started realizing like, “Damn, he did this shit, too!” It’ll be a random classic—I’m like, goddamn! Al has always been one of my favorite producers. But me and MIKE met a minute ago, and I feel like he met me and Thebe around the same time in New York. It was all kind of organic. I was on one of MIKE’s early tapes. 

MIKE: Yeah! [laughs] 

Wiki: We have old shit we worked on. I was always waiting to get back in with MIKE for an opportunity. When Al brought the opportunity and was like, “Yo, you fuck with MIKE?” I was like, “Yeah, that’s my man! I been meaning to tap back in with him.” It really felt like it all was meant to be. 

The Alchemist: It’s crazy, it was really my people at Patta in Amsterdam who literally wanted to do a project. I showed them MIKE’s stuff, they were instantly fans, and they had Wik in mind already. They put the idea in my head to do a project.

Of course we’re going to do music. But I never thought about us putting all the forces together to do a project. So we set it off with Patta last year doing a couple of songs. It spilled over because there was so much more shit we were making. It was like, we should buckle down and really flesh it out a little more. Everyone had their own projects, but whenever we could get up, we would make the magic happen and it wasn’t hard to make—chemistry happened in the first records. This is fun. This is easy. Everyone’s going in. It shaped up into something nice. Big up to Patta. They really saw these two guys as, like, the sound of New York. And we wanted to make a New York feeling project—we were talking about the old Fat Beats, 12 inches. That’s why we made the 12 inch. Yup!



I get the sense from all three of you that history is really important to you, be it music history or personal history. How would you characterize the sound of Faith Is A Rock and where it’s situated in rap history? 

MIKE: I always feel like it’s an ongoing, generational conversation. Even with the route I was going in, that Wiki is going in, and that Al has been on—for me, personally, it felt like working on my sound. Whether it has to do with samples or getting raps out, [or] being able to write with Wiki—literally one of the best rappers I’ve ever been able to rap with. I remember mad times me and Wiki writing and I was thinking, “Bruh, this shit whoopin’ my ass right now” [laughs]. 

Wiki: It’s the “Mayor’s A Cop!” That really set off the tape. We had a beat and we just went in. It was two days of going back and forth. That shit was a moment, even just the process of recording it at the crib and everything.

The Alchemist: As far as where the sound is—that’s judged later. We don’t think about it too much while we’re creating. Does the beat move the pen? Does it give us an idea to create? Where it sits in the whole history of rap? We’ll see over time. But creating—we don’t put too much time into that question. All of this is spiritual for us. Music is something we do just outside of a job. When it feels right, we rock with it. But I guess we’ll look back at it and see where it all sits in the timeline and what it meant at the time. But we’re all trying to go left. None of us are trying to do the same old shit anyone’s trying to do. You go through Wik and Mike’s catalogs, they have a wide variety of sound. I think that what makes them also a step above a lot of people. You can’t put them in a box. You could listen to [“Numbered Dayz”] or some of the old Ratking beats—shits is just different, you know what I mean? All of us are always about going left.

Pat, MIKE—whenever you guys release an album, people always talk about how confessional or personal you are, how it’s an expression of your life in a specific moment. Do you feel that way? Where are you in your lives right now and how is this album a reflection of that? 

Wiki: This project was an opportunity. It’s not like, “Yo, this is my next album!” We’re all coming together, and it became an open space to be really creative and open. For me, it was about not trying to prove myself too hard that I’m an emcee like ah, ah, ah! I just wanted to write. I felt like that kind of came across on the project. That’s what made it—it is a personal project. It was just organic and natural. These moments when we could meet up and work and get away from the regular routine of everything. I felt like—yeah, it naturally came across that way. 

MIKE: N****s had to do some outer world shit. Once it got into the art of just rapping and being somewhere, we ’bout to spend the next two or three hours writing some joint—I feel like it was so helpful for me. It put me in a place where I feel like I originally came from: Write whatever’s on your mind, write whatever’s hitting the most right now, let that shit be. And that’s the shit [where] people be like “damn, that’s some funny shit, but damn, that’s some real shit.” You know what I mean? It was cool returning back to that type of work ethic. 

Al, you’ve been doing it so long now. What is it like now working with a younger generation of artists?

The Alchemist: I’m old enough to learn from my young friends. In my younger days I thought I knew everything. I got to a point, as I got older, I don’t know shit. I started getting a lot of game from my young homies.

The obvious answer is, you’re working with kids who are younger and you’re tapping into a younger fan base. That’s dope and I appreciate it. But when someone is dope to me, we’re one. Age isn’t a thing. Color isn’t a thing. None of that shit. I’ll meet a kid on the street sometimes kicking a beat or a rhyme. And if it’s really dope, it’s like—you’re one of us. It doesn’t matter. Working with the younger guys gives me a lot of juice and opportunity to learn and bring some shit they may not know to the table. And we kind of exchange that way. It’s a blessing.

I’ve been able to have a lot of waves in this game. As a producer you’re able to do that, maybe more than an artist. You’ve just gotta keep your ears and eyes open and be welcoming to the next shit. I remember when I first saw MIKE. I remember when I first saw Wiki. I can name a bunch of other things, too. It was like “that’s dope!” and there’s things there I can learn. Patterns, styles. I learn from all my young homies and that’s always a blessing. 

Some of us have this idea that everybody gets into the studio and records—but that might not be your process. Is it the beats and then the writing? Were you guys together while making this album? 

Wiki: We had a balance of everything which was cool. We did two joints in the studio in Brooklyn. It wasn’t like we all sent everything. Because when we were in Amsterdam, that’s when [The Alchemist] played the “Mayor’s A Cop” joint. There were a few key moments where we all got together and tapped in. But me and MIKE also had a session in New York. Most of it we recorded together. Some I did a verse with Al and sent it. 

MIKE: I feel like you’re creating your own environment for a project to exist in, like when we linked in Amsterdam. I remember when I recorded my verse for “Odd Ways,” I was on tour. A month later, I went to London and recorded in London. All the different aspects were a part of building that world where Faith Is A Rock is. That’s why I’m so grateful. It takes me back to really specific times or instances or when we were all recording in Greenpoint with the homie Gunner. It is spiritual because some of this shit is going to happen because it’s our intention. But the way it be happening is crazy. 

The Alchemist: Probably 99 percent of the things I do, the music comes first. Before the writing. It’s never pressure, it’s more of a responsibility. But it dawned on me one day: As a producer, you have to strike first. It’s rare that someone comes to me and says, “Check this acapella out, I’m looking for a beat!” [MIKE and Wiki laugh]

That’s what maybe some people don’t get. It’s the producer’s job first to bring something to the table—I know that’s my responsibility. So I was thinking about beats and what type of music would sound cool. I sent them batches, they picked certain ones, other ones didn’t make it. It’s always a collaborative process. I trust them. I wasn’t pushing any beats. I was like, “Here’s a batch, pick the ones that move the pen.” Because I know we’ll get the best out of them. And it was ill hearing them go back and forth on a whole project. Each one had a solo song on the first vinyl, and then one song together. But hearing both of them with their personal styles come together and trade bars effortlessly—a lot of people told me, “I didn’t know I needed this, but it’s dope.”

I feel like that’s old school and you don’t see it anymore, trading verses. But it’s also a very New York thing. I am constantly amazed by y’all’s level of productivity. How do you remain so generative and creative and keep that level of output going without burnout or losing quality? 

The Alchemist: It’s what we do. 

MIKE: No cap! It’s a lifestyle! 

The Alchemist: We breathe throughout the day. We make music. I think most people make music a lot. I think everybody cooks every day, we just know how to pull the trigger. I think the younger generation really does put me on. Seeing how MIKE and Wik are flowing with projects. I think it’s more about motivating than creating. 

MIKE: That’s how it be feeling with me too. Shit just keeps going until it don’t. While it is, put your heart into it. N****s don’t stop, we don’t stay stagnant. Always trying some new shit out. That shit keeps me alive. 

The Alchemist: Everyone here is a leader, so heavy is the head. A lot of responsibility, all three of us have our own crown we have to uphold and sit in that seat. Everyone earns their spot. Keep hitting and go up. Constant elevation, all the way until explosion.

Discuss: