Brooklyn nightclub 285 Kent had particularly sticky floors the first night I’d ever seen Ratking. The pit had a blindingly hype and hazy ambience that was amplified by the trio’s combined powers on their early cut “Piece Of Shit;” Hak’s airy vocals kept choruses floating while MC Wiki’s thick New York rasp dragged things down to the concrete on a bed of synthetic noise rap by resident producer Sporting Life.
The New York trio literally busted their heads for their fans, stretching their cacophonous brand of hip-hop/punk/noise music over 2012’s Wiki93 EP and full albums from 2014 (So It Goes) and just last year (700 Fill). They weren’t afraid to channel the grit, the cold, or the ferocity of the streets that Wiki and Hak walked all their lives and that Sport adopted; they were the heartbeat of new New York.
Sadly, last night (June 21), a Vice i-D interview revealed that Hak had departed from the group, citing that “I wasn’t being treated nicely to keep it a hunnid, they didn’t see me for me.”
Like all good things when they die or face stark revision, the internet poured its heart out mourning the death of Ratking. I’ll admit that I freaked out big time about potentially losing the group; it hurt to know that a group that was so thrillingly progressively New York and that had gone so underappreciated by its own city was potentially coming apart at the seams. And even in the midst of confirmation that Ratking was indeed still a group, the writing was still scrawled into the bricks. Both Sporting Life and Wiki released stellar solo projects before the end of last year, and Hak’s solo debut June dropping in tandem with an explicitly post-Ratking interview all but confirmed that Ratking was splintering long before any words were typed; though that didn’t stop Wiki from throwing some of his out there:
Harlem park jams in 2011 led to the booze-stained floors of 285 Kent and tour stints with Death Grips and Earl Sweatshirt. The luminously abrasive wall of sound that was their 2014 album So It Goes led to their BitTorrent album 700 Fill a year later, so where did it all go wrong? The truth is sure to come out at some point, but for now Ratking’s not making it easy to figure out. The group’s Twitter account, already known as a beacon for abstract thought, continued churning out tweets, including these two:
Regardless of the group’s current state, this is the death of one of New York’s premier rap groups as they came to be known; not counting their early days when Racerra and Ramon helped craft Wiki93. Like him or not, Hak’s vocals added something special to the gnarled gumbo that is the group. Sporting Life life once called Hak the “poetic” yin to Wiki’s “Old school spitting” yang: “Things just collide together in an interesting way. He’s like that, he’ll be reading National Geographic one minute and something entirely different the next.” Nowhere was this ever more apparent than on Hak’s verse for “So Sick Stories,” coming in after King Krule’s dreamy drawl: “Marred Muts, upstream harbored us/Luck loop of lucky louie shufflin’ suave struts/Wrists carved up, from center street souls/Whose scars won’t shut, no scars won’t shut!”
“So Sick Stories” and “Remove Ya” exemplify the duo’s gifts at presenting the grimy reality of a New York where rumination smells like sewage and cops are looking for an excuse to stop brown kids; “Porky pine, prickly but couldn’t stick me this time/With a fine, that I’d find, four months after that shit was signed/For a crime, committed, did it, bullshit quit it It’s a dime/I didn’t hurt nobody, I didn’t cross no line,” Wiki’s internal rhymes dotting the “I” on a bullshit ticket over a dub sack before Hak waxes poetic: “To the boys in blue, never really liked ’em, rubbed me rude/While I was cruising the nue, vibin’ the view/Hear the whoop whoop whoop, stop don’t move”/Hands on the hood, you gave me that look, wearing ya hood/Like a crook, mutt no good.” The Senate is turning down gun control bills in 2016 and these words from 2014 are more piercing than anyone could’ve known.
New York hip-hop is continually pigeonholed into a revivalist context these days, and while NYC hasn’t been gripping the wheel of contemporary hip-hop the way Atlanta has, there’s pockets of innovation just like anywhere else. Ratking and their whole clique pushed music, fashion, live performance, and video into murky energized waters. What other New York rap artist do you know that caught Kanye West’s eye enough to rock one of their shirts in a picture?
I bought Wiki93 on vinyl the second time I saw the group live, opening for Earl Sweatshirt at Webster Hall; it was my friend’s first rap show ever and no one disappointed. I’m glad that Wik, Sport, and Hak have all found success outside of the group; I’m glad that Wiki’s now working on a proper solo album through XL Recordings; I’m glad that a gem of an album like Lil Me was passed out for free and that Wiki’s group with Antwon and Lil Ugly Mane dropped a fire single a couple weeks ago. I’m also glad that Ratking isn’t dead, as time waits for no one and we have to push on, but growing pains seem to have leeched away what it once was.