Describing Ratking’s darkly chaotic aesthetic, the groups frontman Patrick ‘Wiki’ Morales proclaims "we’re on some New York shit, It’s not enough to be just about the sound. It’s the full experience". Indeed, the release of the Harlem based collective’s debut album, ‘So it Goes’, is far more than a product of their surroundings; it is a compelling manifestation of the city. With Wiki’s nasal drawl resonant of the distinct voice of rap that emerged throughout the 90’s from the likes of Wu Tang and The Diplomats, Ratking succeed in balancing old skool nostalgia with a progressive, yet darkly dystopian approach. While the street-smart insight of NYC’s Biggie, Big L and co. reflected personal experience through a gangsta aesthetic, Ratking’s vision is through a far more nihilistic mirror. Growing up in the upper West Side, a self confessed ‘upper middle class’ son of a banker, Morales makes no feigned, inflated claims of gangsta status, instead choosing to formulate a grittier, punk aesthetic; more urban philosopher than Nas’ “thug narrator”.
Ratking are certainly aware of comparisons to their predecessors, opening track ‘*’ begins with Wiki’s reflective commentary that “If your life experiences differ then that’s gonna come up differently”, concluding that you cannot compare the life of your average twenty-something to Biggie or 2pac; “you just gotta stick with the now”. Without hesitation they deliver a bold, abrasive expression of what it means to be just that, with reverberating loops like a distorted byproduct of music’s increasing reliance on perfunctory technology. ‘Protein’ features similar reverberating loops, like a warped pinball machine to Wiki’s playful, yet assertive nature. There is an escapable adolescent audaciousness to Ratking’s sound with ‘Remove Ya’ being the most obvious display of teen angst. A defiant anti-establishment anthem, Wiki snarls “we see through it, we see you pigs, we see the cops”, over a videogame-like loop. ‘Puerto-Rican Judo’, one of the albums standout tracks shares a similar aesthetic, with cartoonish fragments not dissimilar to the surreal karate film samples so often incorporated by Wu Tang. The song itself takes it name from Cam’Ron’s ’97 hit ‘Horse & Carriage’, referring to form of street fighting, an apt title for the fresh, fiery love song with Wiki’s real life girlfriend, Wavy Spice. There is a notable dichotomy between Ratking’s playful adolescence and dystopian nihilism. ‘So Sick Stories’ showcases such contrast, with King Krule’s cockney lull providing distorted singsong vocals against the grit of harsh snares and Wiki and Hak’s rhymes, as Wiki puts it the “prettiest prose mixed with the gritty and gross”. ‘Snow Beach’, another stand out track also contrasts lighter, hazy jazz instrumentals with warped reverb, a possible nod to the Harlem renaissance, through a dark tinted lenses. Such breezy variation between genres move like a panoramic sweep of the city.
Far from easy listening, there are times where Ratking’s unpolished, chaotic nihilism appears to spite itself, almost imploding beneath its distorted vacuum. However we are more than often relieved by unlikely interjections of adolescent angst, old skool familiarity and playful instrumentals. The name of the group originates in folklore, a phenomena whereby groups of individual rats are entangled and develop as one. Commenting on what inspired the groups namesake, Sporting Life reflects, "The idea of a rat king is all these individual things that through strange and rare turn of events get tangled together but ended up being able to work as one and be more powerful". It is this entanglement of dichotomy that makes Ratking just so compelling, and while it is these internal tensions that are liable to be problematic, the intentional chaos of So it Goes is remarkably controlled without being monotonous. It is indeed, “an experience”. On ‘Canal’, fluid, wavelike loops and Hak’s steady, tide-like flow almost assume the watery under tunnels of Canal Street, which was most fittingly – New York’s first underground sewer.
Words: Ruby Atkin