Artist of the Week: Ratking Are the New Sound of New York City Hip-Hop

In New York City’s underground – the subway tunnels and sewer systems, the veins and arteries of the city – rats run amok, thieving and grieving on the daily hustle. Some days are good. Some days are bad. And some days are really bad. When rats huddle together, there are times when their tails get twisted and tangled together. Each rat tries to run in a different direction but to no avail, until they all basically, die of starvation. The resulting wheel of rats is called a “ratking” and it’s a horrific natural phenomenon that couldn’t be a more accurate metaphor for the, dare I say it, “rat race” that is New York City. For three NYC kids, though, Ratking is a redefinition of NYC hip-hop and punk aesthetics.

Artist of the Week: Ratking

Ratking is the new sound of New York City. MCs Wiki and Hak spit aggressive rhymes over producer Sporting Life’s (Sport, for short) diverse beat selection, with influences from old school Detroit techno, West Coast punk rock, East Coast trip and hip-hop and even London dub. Though they’re billed as a hip-hop trio, the group finds itself fitting in more with the punk crowd than anything else.

Taking cues from former tour mates, Death Grips and OF’s Earl Sweatshirt, Ratking blurs genres, infusing hip-hop syllabary with punk and DIY aesthetics. They look more like the stoner kids who chill on stoops in between skate sessions – and their music sounds like that too. Off-kilter rhyme schemes fill the roughly sketched verses, over a sonic landscape that sounds vaguely hip-hop, but clearly can’t be pinned down to one genre.

While NYC youth contemporaries like Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era often get the subtitle of “bringing back the NYC hip-hop sound,” Ratking isn’t bringing anything back. Instead, they are taking us forward, into the future of New York City hip-hop – the sound that kids in 30 years will be attempting to “bring back.” All of this can be heard on the group debut album, So It Goes, which was released via Hot Charity last week. The album spans across 11 tracks, with the only features coming from a drawled-out, crooning King Krule, Wiki’s adventurous girlfriend Wavy Spice, and artsy NYC rapper Salomon Faye.

Ratking covers content relevant to New York City, from youth culture to gentrification. Tracks like “Snowbeach” address the [over]expansion of NYU’s campus, as it takes over the village, while focusing on Wiki’s rap and freestyle talent. “Remove Ya” opens with a clip of a police officer arresting a youth for being a “mutt,” and “Canal” is an overall call-to-arms in a push for a better city.

It’s no wonder, then, that critics have referred to the album as “a portrait of modern-day New York City,” presented through the eyes of three kids who are in the thick of it all. So It Goes, which was engineered by none other than Young Guru, is a testament to the ever changing landscape of NYC streets – and sound. Proposed in a perfectly punk aesthetic, the kids of Ratking aren’t blind to the industry realities either. With the possibility for an artist to blow up so quickly, and just as easily get swept under the rug, the trio is aware that it needs to continue pushing boundaries in order to stay relevant. Their long-term mission, though, isn’t necessarily driven by gold chains and fast cars, but rather a desire to wise up their audience – to give them something they didn’t yet realize they needed.

Ratking has more in common with New York City punks than they do with rappers. In an interview with The Guardian, Wiki said “Punk sounds great live but it can often come up short on record. Rap sounds great but is not the dopest thing to see live.” So in infusing the two styles together, Ratking is able to provide a live presence that can get people hyped for the recorded effort. And if So It Goes is any indication, the group has succeeded tremendously.

Article by Arpan Somani

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