We all know the phenomena of the rat king—when a large number of rats’ tails become twisted and fuse together to form a huge circular rat nest. It’s not pretty, and if you don’t know what it looks like then you should probably just leave it that way. The good news, however, is that New York hip-hop trio Ratking has graciously taken it upon themselves to redefine the grotesque word; we have group members Wiki, Hak and Sporting Life to thank for that.
A brief hiatus has ensued since the trio released their first EP, Wiki93, in Nov. 2012. Fortunately, So It Goes surpasses its predecessor in quality, attesting to the artistic growth undergone by the group as they distance themselves from the grimy beats and cut-up rhymes of 93. Actually, allow me to rephrase: the beats are still grimy, but the narrative and rhymes have reach new levels of succinctness and clarity.
The album begins with “*”, and then “Canal”, in which Sporting Life’s thumping bass pounds your headphones within ten seconds of the song’s opening. Amidst Sporting Life’s musical idiosyncrasies, we first hear Wiki, whose cadence is fast and strange. You could actually compare his intonation to that of Chance the Rapper’s: boyish, weird and oddly refreshing. Later on, we get a feel for Hak’s sing-songy-rap cadence, which, when paired with Wiki and Sporting Life, constructs a sonically-engaging landscape.
Like any successful rap group, Ratking paints us a picture of how they view their world, and of their lives and experiences. Throughout the album, Wiki and Hak mourn the changing face of New York – urban renewal, gentrification, racial inequalities, police brutality. There is a hint of social consciousness on the album in Wiki’s line on “Canal”—“Open your eyes, wake up”; in Hak’s endless chorus on “Snow Beach” about court dates and North faces; and in the group’s variation of the counting rhyme eeny, meeny, miny, moe on “Remove Ya”, which immediately took my mind to NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program. While Ratking isn’t necessarily conscious-backpack rap, they aren’t about sex, gats or weed. The trio lets their awareness show; amidst the heavier topics where you might stray, they use their youthful spirit to pull you right back in.
Just as with the lyrics, there is a lot to be said about Ratking’s sound. While many of the trio’s contemporaries choose to imitate the aesthetics of golden age hip-hop, Ratking is making an obvious effort to deviate from those aesthetics and move forward. That being said, however, two major elements of the golden age were innovation and diversity, aspects that also seem central to Ratking’s music. Ratking excludes no genres, incorporating elements of noise, experimental, punk, reggae, alt rock, bass and jazz; the group’s varied sound makes them both a product and counterpart of the golden age. And they don’t forget their roots (after all, the whole album is about New York), acknowledging the fellow Harlem-natives of Dipset in “Remove Ya” and “Puerto Rican Judo”.
So It Goes is an album of innovation, a representation of how Wiki, Hak and Sporting Life are able to both embrace New York hip-hop for what it has been and what it’s becoming. If Ratking is the future of hip-hop—our glimpse into the neo-golden age—then it’s safe to say we’re in good hands. Like Wiki says in “Protein,” “this ain’t 90’s revival.”
3.5 out of 5
You can buy So It Goes on Amazon.