Exclusive: Ratking, a New York Renaissance Story
Though 2014 by all accounts was a barren landscape of new offerings in hip hop, one group in particular emerged from seemingly nowhere to mark the year as the year of their arrival. Their name is Ratking, and they consist of dual emcees Wiki and Hak and beat-maker Sporting Life. Wiki and Hak began as childhood friends in Harlem, and after crossing paths with Sporting Life began to make their way around the New York hip hop scene in 2011. Today, fresh off a tour supporting venerable hip-hop duo Run The Jewels and a just-dropped mixtape titled 700 Fill, they stand as one of the more formidable acts around, embodying the emerging sounds of the underground scene with pointedly intelligent lyrics, venomous in their potency. Milk Made’s Ana Velasco spoke to the group about their whirlwind year, navigating the Renaissance undertaking the New York hip hop scene, and how the hell they came up with a name like Ratking.
What’s the best part and what’s the worst part about touring?
The best part is being able to go to different cities, meeting friendly people, and getting to see the best of that city for a period of time. Maybe getting some food and finding out what’s good around there to eat. There’s no real worst part but maybe the worst part is having to leave so soon before you really get to spend any real time there.
You guys released 700 Fill it without any warning through BitTorrent for free, which seems to be a trend in the music industry lately. Why did you choose to do it that way? What’s the importance of having it be this way?
We had mutual friends at BitTorrent who were fans of the music and after putting out So It Goes, which was kind of a more expansive idea, we wanted to put out something kind of quickly. We made a bunch of tracks while we were on tour with Run the Jewels and we mixed that with some other stuff we had been working on for a while. We wanted to put something out really quickly but still have it come out in kind of a record way and touch as many people and have as many people listen to it as possible, and BitTorrent presented us with the opportunity.
I know ‘So It Goes’ was inspired by Slaughterhouse Five, and you guys have been inspired by old school hip-hop as well as different genres of music, including bands like Animal Collective. What was the idea behind 700 Fill?
Well the title comes from the goose-down fill of a winter jacket so we had the title for a while. We had a bunch of album title names and we were like “alright the next winter album is gonna be called 700 Fill because it’s just a dope, hefty title.” So after we had the title, just keeping that in mind, you know I might build a track and call it ‘Flurry’ just to keep the theme of winter, cold, or iciness. And then we just kind of put a bunch of songs together; some had the theme of winter, but some were songs we had just been playing out here and there, like ‘Eternal Reveal’ or ‘Lenape Lane’, but we found ways to write verses into them to tie them back into the theme. So I guess the biggest inspiration for 700 Fill was winter, and the immediacy of walking into the sidewalk and running to the bodega and what you would hear coming out of a car.
It seems that art and music in New York were kind of stumped for a little bit, but it seems to be having a renaissance now and you guys are part of that up-and-coming scene of music that’s really ‘by New York for New York about New York.’ What do you think the future of the arts in the city looks like since it’s really changing a lot right now?
I think the future is bright. New York is always gonna be a place with so many ideas sparking and dissolving every minute of every day, so that’s always a hot bit for any type of activity, and when you can give an example of something that’s kind of well put together and quality, but also positive, and if people can see how something positive can also be cool in a place like New York then that will spread like wildfire. So I think we’re gonna see a lot of dope producers coming up and so many good MCs in New York and outside of New York, like Earl Sweatshirt, Remy Banks, Slicky Boy – all those dudes. I think it’s a good time just to be alive in general, and a good time to be making music.
New York is part of the band’s identity, so would you ever consider relocating?
I’d relocate maybe to Sydney or Melbourne, it’s so nice there. We did the Laneway Festival that travels around Australia and New Zealand and just being there was really chill. The beaches are pretty epic and they have sharks and kangaroos, so I might consider it. Maybe not relocate there, but try to spend as much time as possible in those places that you’ve found to have good energy.
Why the name Ratking? Is it because of the story and the fact that it’s three of you?
The name looks cool when you write it – it could be an X-Men character or something, you know what I mean? It kind of comes from the Ninja Turtles and also from this Clipse song. We have a couple of references, but it’s also about different artists being joined together by a singular idea but all kind of pulling in their own direction. So it’s not only me, Hak, and Patrick, but there’s also all the different artists that we work with – it’s a representation of what it is to be an artists in New York City. You’re gonna have to work with people even if your goals might be in slightly divergent directions but we still work with each other, and that’s kind of what the lifestyle is. I mean even with you, we’re working together right now, this is our first collaboration.
Have you ever seen an actual rat king?
No and I hope I never do.
Your lyrics talk about many substantial topics. What do you think is the most important topic of conversation that we need to be currently having?
Man, that’s such a crazy question. How do you even answer that? That’s obviously gonna be different for everybody! If you’re like 85 years old it’s gonna be like fucking osteoporosis or some shit. If you’re between 21 and 33 or some shit you might be saying the Ratking album is the most important shit. I guess for us it’s trying to touch on a number of topics, and if you can contain the feeling of a number of topics in a small amount of words. If you can do that you can just bring it up and maybe that sparks a discussion between the listener and his friend, and they pass it along.
If you had to describe Ratking in 3 words what would they be?
Wiki, Hak, Sport.