SEPOMANA SPOTLIGHT: Ratking

by on April 28, 2015

Posted in: Eclectic, Hip Hop, Music, Punk, Rap, Sepomana, Show Review


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In folklore, a rat king occurs when dozens of rats, squirming and wriggling around in compact, dirty places become tangled and knotted together by their tails, creating a writhing mass, even freakier than than the sum of its parts. Just as one can imagine New York City subways being a prime location for a knot of rats, the city itself proves the perfect incubator for Ratking—gritty, grimy, street-savvy and above all dynamic NYC hip-hop group. As New York’s hip-hop falls further and further behind the bubbling excitement in Atlanta, Chicago and Los Angeles, its biggest groups pretty much all seem focused on the past—Dipset and G Unit are planning comebacks and retro-ists like A$AP Mob and Pro.Era are obsessed with bringing back NY’s 90s heyday.

From its inception, Ratking has been about looking forward and injecting new energy into the city, not getting lost in nostalgia (Stereogum called them “leaders of New York’s next generation of rap”). Their 2014 album So It Goes (a title with commentary on cultural change both in New York and hip-hop, and a Vonnegut reference to boot), begins with a voice-over explaining that rappers of this generation have grown up in a totally different world than Biggie or Pac, and therefore comparisons or attempts to sound the same are pointless. And then they’re off. Distinctively off-kilter vocals rain down in an avant-garde staccato over wavy reverbs, punctuated with robotic stabs. Over the course of the album, influences everywhere from Detroit techno to Latin grooves appear, with woozy brass samples mixing with voices pitched up out of recognition and synths popping like lights on the city skyline. New York’s boom bap history isn’t completely ignored, instead it’s worked in in new ways, translated more in spirit than in similar templates. Subject matter focuses on tales of the city, but more specifically ranges from NYU (fuck NYU!) to police harassment to love stories.

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Wiki and Hak’s lyrics are chanted, yelled, sung and rapped, whatever will most directly communicate the feeling of being in New York at this very moment. Their 2015 EP, 700 Fill, which, in punk fashion, was recorded in just 6 days, shows a more consistently smooth side focusing on verbal acrobatics, flexing rap skills for the sake of fun as opposed to artistic hyper-focus. Their live shows seek to translate the urgency of their catalog. After touring with Death Grips, Trash Talk and Earl Sweatshirt, Ratking has absorbed both explosive energy and technical prowess (for example, producer Sporting Life creates beats live with a drumpad and kit). As Wiki explained to The Guardian, “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. We’re a rap group but we want to be part of the culture of punk; people coming to know songs live before they hear them on record, so they can really wile out.”

For those interested in youthful vitality, street-wise intellectualizing, punkish energy and avant-garde artistry—do not miss Ratking at Sepomana. See a sampler playlist and some videos below:

What: Sepomana 2015
Where: Wilson Social Space 
When: May 2 • 9:30 PM
Cost: $5 in advance, $8 at door —> go/sepomtix online or at the box office

RSVP to the Facebook event here.

Ratking Boiler Room London Live Show:

Ratking Freestyle:

Ratking Live at Sarah Lawrence: