It would be delusional of me to think that just because a dorky white boy like myself can waltz past the Marcy Projects on a Tuesday morning without breaking a sweat, New York has actually become the crimeless and colorless urban utopia that some imagine it to be. The fact remains that thousands of people in this city still suffer under the weight of poverty, drug addiction, discrimination, or all three. My comfort as an invasive urban species is more one of ignorance than of experience.
The fact still remains, however, that it is not easy to see in the city today the New York envisioned by the great rappers of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Many of its most notorious neighborhood’s are mellowing rapidly, either through gentrification or real economic growth. This might lead us to conclude that the grimy rap music some New Yorkers are known for is hard to make these days. To some extent this is even true. Today’s revivalists can often come off as pandering and without substance, making music that’s resorted to a paint-by-numbers level of detail, resulting in unintentionally high levels of polish.
If Ratking’s EP Wiki93 proves anything, it’s that the grime of New York is much less connected to urban blight than it is to the simple fact of urban life. Taking precedent from the very rap music that it proves is no longer really possible, Ratking warps New York grime to its will. Wiki, who raps for most of the release’s length, delivers his lines with a deliberate, yet off-the-handle flow that mixes The Cold Vein’s Cannibal Ox with Supreme Clientele’s Wu-Tang, but with three times the breath of either. His lines work to make the EP about as cacophonous as rappity rap can get, often seeming to pick from a book of internally rhymed lines at random.
Heard best on the breakout “Wikispeaks”, his words can be both cliched and unconnected, but sincere and freshly stated as well. His New York is the one non-New Yorker’s are likely to know: that of subway rides, Tribeca, and September 11th. He manages to squeeze the sweat from all three. Ultimately, the music’s grime is in the bloated and rickity logistics of urban life. When millions are crammed into such a small area, its hard to ignore everyone’s apparently inherent rough-edges.
Wiki parts these waters by fanuting a slam poetry flow with a high-potential for corniness into content so jaded, its hard not to take even the most boring aspects of his topics seriously. I would say that he’s in between a backpack and a gansta rap sound, but he never really stays in a single place, often making diffuse and heartfelt passages on tracks like “Sporting Life” sound just as world-worn as his frenetic lyrical flips on tracks like “Pretty Picture”.
While one of the characteristic adjectives of New York rap is “cold”, Wiki93 could easily be described as the opposite. Taking cues from jaw-clenchingly tense tracks like the Rza-produced “Stroke of Death” (at least in spirit, if not in practice), producers Ramon and Sporting Life form beats from grating and sustained pieces of sound. Like El-P’s “Stress Rap” they can be thick and textured, but unlike both precedents the tracks often vear from slow, deliberate menace towards high-speed mania. Looped samples are made to sound much more like mannered Death-Grips-style bleeps and bloops than they seem like they should. Classic grime is now in the modern idiom. It’s an almost too fitting transition towards the “attention deficit generation”. I would say, instead, that the music is a distillation of the messy information overload that has always been part of New York’s music as well as the city itself: the terrible smells of a hot summer day, the inherent danger of a simple subway ride, and the confusing and constant social interaction of millions. As Vordul of Cannibal Ox would say, “the apple stays rotten.”