NEXT: How Hip-Hop Saved Wifisfuneral From A Life Of Turmoil
On a scorching hot day in West Palm Beach, Florida, Isaiah Rivera, the “heart” of rap duo Wifisfuneral, opens the door to welcome me into his family’s refreshingly chilly home. The 19-year-old emcee with miniscule yet meaningful face tattoos and a surprisingly short hair cut guides me to the living room where the white walls are covered with school portraits and framed family photos. Just weeks ago, Rivera had a head full of curly, brown locks. However, he felt like his hair was a representation of his past life full of careless mistakes.
“I wanted change in my life,” Rivera says while rubbing his head in an attempt to touch the ghost of his late afro. “When I was growing my hair out, I was doing a lot of dumb sh**. So having long hair was just a representation of all the dumb a** sh** I did in the past.”
As he boots up his Play Station 3 on a giant, flat screen TV, the Puerto Rican lyricist doesn’t naturally give the illusion that he had just come down from a repetitive whirlwind of drug-induced drama that helped create the dark themes on his latest mixtape Black Heart Revenge. After dropping out of high school in his sophomore year, the young outcast knew his dreams of becoming a rapper would eventually come true regardless of what his peers thought.
Since he didn’t have many friends to lean on, playing video games was a way to escape from his harsh reality, which was once clouded by drug dealer dreams and an addiction to cocaine. The only friend he relied on in his early years is the “cool half” of the Palm Beach pair, Gabe Guerra, who serves as the “spirit” of the group. He was stuck in Tallahassee and couldn’t join us, but you’ll get to know him in due time. Although video games kept his mind off Rivera’s inner struggles, it was hip-hop that truly saved his life.
“It didn’t make sense to me to keep doing it,” Rivera says about his early days as a teenaged drug dealer. “Whenever I explained it in my music, people think that I’m trying to glorify it or give it justice. But no, I’m just telling you about a life experience. Just some sh** I went through.”
The Rivera family tree is deeply rooted in the Boogie Down Bronx. However, Rivera moved to the southern Florida locale as a toddler with his mother and father, who was also a lyricist that ran around with his rap group IC Square in the early 90s. He began to craft rhymes at the early age of seven after watching Puff Daddy and Ma$e salute The Notorious B.I.G. in the “More Money, More Problems” video. Rivera’s love for hip-hop evolved after he remixed songs from MellowHype and Mos Def’s “Ms. New Fat Booty.” He picked up some melodic pointers from his stepfather’s extensive collection of the greatest raps albums of the ‘90s by age 14.
As my photographer takes candid snapshots, Rivera, who was lounging in a black and white Bathing Ape T-shirt and grey basketball shorts, grows tired of his Naruto game and switches over to NBA Live. Our conversation veers off into the history behind the group’s unique moniker.
“Wifisfuneral” represents his dreams for his music to go viral and simultaneously acts as a memorial to Guerra’s late best friend, who committed suicide around the time he met Rivera. He revealed that one of his early rap names, Casper Winter Jacket, was inspired by his loyalty to his favorite rapper Earl Sweatshirt, who would become the first top notch artist to cosign his music on Twitter.
“I didn’t see that sh** coming,” Wifi says as a gleam of light shines off his gold-plated grills through his trademark grin. “I was poor as sh**, too, so that kinda just made my day.”
Last year, Rivera and Guerra opened up for the former Odd Future member at every stop in Florida during Earl’s tour with Remy Banks. Upon hearing Wifi’s song “Surrrf” on the bus, Earl instantly became a fan of his music. Once Earl witnessed him perform live, it didn’t take long for the Chicago rhymer to tweet his appreciation for Wifi’s music. After that, nothing was the same.
Wifi became confident enough to take over stages across the state, from shows in Tallahassee to festivals like Rolling Loud in Miami. Guerra acted as Rivera’s right-hand man, accountant, chauffeur and moral supporter as he began to release more music and gain more notoriety. Once Dope ENT’s Tariq Cherif took over as his manager, Wifisfuneral began to create the most recent release, Black Heart Revenge.
“I was going through a lot of trials and tribulations through the whole process of making the tape,” Rivera says. “I was addicted to drugs when I made the album. I was addicted to coke. It was horrible.”
Rivera literally poured his heart and soul into Black Heart Revenge. Every song triggers a life-altering emotion that millennials can relate to, from the apologetic ode to his ex-girlfriend “Yellow” to the dark gloomy undertones in “Highway To Hell.” Mid-way into making the project, Wifi’s drug addiction took a turn for the worse when he unintentionally overdosed on cocaine and Adderall.
“I felt like I was really close to dying, but I’m here dog,” he says. “But that’s why the album really sounds like that, because it went from songs like ‘It Don’t Matter’ to ‘Highway To Hell’ to ‘Grim,’ and that’s exactly how my mood was during the whole project.”
Rivera barely survived, but he realized how blessed he truly was and that he couldn’t take his life for granted anymore. After a thorough recovery, he tamed his addiction and completed the rest of the project. The mixtape was well received amongst his fans that grew up with his music, and new listeners across the country. As he works on his upcoming project and preps for his nationwide ‘Black Heart Revenge’ tour, Rivera yearns to find inspiration not just from his hard-knock life, but also from his loyal fanbase.
While the group’s origins stem from a sentimental time in the lives of two best friends, Rivera has quickly proved his potential to assume a new identity as the face of a new-aged, Internet rap duo who’s killing the competition all around him with his unique come-up. His authentic music tells a rare, heart-wrenching story about the life two renegades who chose to rebel against the masses rather than succumb to what society expects of them.