New York’s Ratking are forging their own odd future in hip hop’s overground. MCs Wiki (AKA Patrick Morales) and Hak (Hakeem Lewis) plus producer Sporting Life (Eric Adiele) mesh hardcore, post-punk and ’90s East Coast rap influences, making for music that is raw, brazen and agitative – yet trap-free.
This summer the trio will hit Australia for Laneway. In recent years the traditionally indie festival has championed alt-hip hop with popular additions such as Run The Jewels, Danny Brown and Earl Sweatshirt. Ratking are joining Raury, Vic Mensa and, stepping in for Lykke Li, Adelaide’s Tkay Maidza.
The group, unusually not strictly aligned with any single NY borough, have been extant since 2010. Morales, his mother Irish and father Puerto Rican, met Lewis in solidly middle-class Manhattan when they were kids. An eccentrically cerebral MC, albeit one who reveres Harlem playa rapper Cam’ron, Morales eventually convinced his arty bestie to rap. Today Morales, he of the missing teeth, is Ratking’s frontman, Lewis is somewhat elusive. Nonetheless, Adiele, the studio rat, tends to do the interviews.
Adiele, a stray Virginian, encountered Morales freestyling in a park and they bonded. Ratking signed to the UK’s progressive XL Recordings, releasing the Wiki93 EP (a repackage of their earlier 1993) in late 2012. An XL rep had spotted them supporting a punk band (actually that of Adiele’s brother).
Last year Ratking unleashed their debut album, So It Goes, led by Canal (don’t sleep on a remix from the Beastie Boys’ Ad-Rock). Their labelmate King Krule croons on another single, So Sick Stories and elsewhere, Morales’ reputed girlfriend Wavy Spice cameos. Morales has touted the LP as a collision between ’70s synth-punks Suicide and the Wu-Tang Clan – and he’s not tripping.
Ratking are no playas. Nor does So It Goes, for all its street currency, reference the thug life. Rather, it’s a soundtrack to hangin’ out, much like Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, mAAd city. On the grimy joint Remove Ya, about being hassled by police, Morales flips, or reclaims, the missive “mutt”. Indeed, Ratking specialise in post-noughties skater hip hop. And, Adiele reveals, they have more of that on the way. What’s more, he’s planning a techno project. Ratking really are full of surprises.
Watch: Ratking- Canal
Music Feeds: You’re originally from Virginia. What brought you to the Big Apple?
Eric Adiele: Well, my older brother moved to NY. I kinda always wanted to move there, just from going to school with a bunch of friends who were from The Bronx, and friends who were from Brooklyn and Harlem – so I had a bunch of friends there already. So my brother moving there just gave me a little reason to do it. But I always wanted to live here – it was always in line for me at some point.
MF: Ratking have diverse influences. I’ve read that you’re fans of early grime, which is such a UK thing, as well as punk – and then you’ve collaborated with King Krule. What do you think you’re bringing to the hip hop game?
EA: As far as what we’re bringing… I understand why the lines are drawn between genres, but to me in the Internet age, I don’t think it’s that strange for a person to know about grime or Detroit techno, regardless of where they live – ’cause it’s kinda like the Internet evens everything out. If you know what you like, I think you can find that frequency in a lot of different kinds of music.
MF: I can’t believe you just said Detroit techno – is that something you’re big into?
EA: Yeah, I’ve got a techno album coming out – a Sporting Life techno-influenced album about to drop.
MF: I’m testing you now. Are you into the old school Detroit techno or more current names like Seth Troxler?
EA: You say Seth Troxler? I’ve heard his name before, but I’m not necessarily familiar with the music he makes – but I’ve definitely heard his name before. I listen to kinda anything I get my hands on, not that I know a lot, but [producers] like Derrick May or new people like Omar-S and stuff like that. So I try to get what my friends tell me – ’cause in NY I have a lot of friends who go to a lot of house and techno [events] and usually I’m at stuff like that more so than I’m at hip hop stuff. So I try to keep my nose to what’s good, you know?
MF: I still can’t get over the Detroit techno thing… Kanye West was producing Chicago house very early on – and one of the Fugees, Pras Michel, used to be heavily into Alanis Morissette. Hip hop artists are far more fluid than fans sometimes imagine.
EA: I think it has a lot to do with the fact that, depending on what age you are, you kinda came into music not necessarily looking at it like artists first. You look at things, like, would it be good to sample? And so from there you can like anything – you know what I mean? Alanis Morissette might have the sickest vocal loop and so that might be a reason why a person would be into Alanis Morissette, but through a hip hop way of looking at it, because of how sampling works in a lot of hip hop and rap tracks. That’s my theory. I don’t know if that’s true!
MF: The Wu-Tang Clan are often mentioned as your influences as well. Do you feel affinities with any current hip hoppers?
EA: As far as in NY, our friend Slicky Boy. He’s a young MC from the Lower East Side…Wavy Spice, AKA Princess Nokia, is another really good artist who’s amazing at rapping and also very talented at singing and just so raw – just creative. So people like that.
MF: You released your first album, So It Goes, last year and people loved how fresh it was. But I’ve heard that you’re plotting a new record. What can you tell us about that?
EA: Well, I can tell you that it’s called 700 Fill – it’s named after the goose down fill in a winter jacket. When you’re in NY during the winters, you usually have to buy a pretty heavy jacket, so that’s the kinda inspiration for the title.
It has about nine tracks on it – and they’re all really good (laughs). I mean, that’s my opinion! But we got the set of mixes back from this guy called Chris Tabron – he’s a really good engineer, he works at Red Bull Studios in NY, and we’ve been working there a lot – and the first set of mixes we got back were so good… just really a development from what we did last time.
MF: When will it drop?
EA: We’re gonna drop it in February, definitely.
MF: What sort of dynamic do you have in Ratking? Wiki has been described as the group’s leader, but you often do the interviews.
EA: It’s kinda just like three people living in NY with close but varying interests. All of our interests – between me, Wiki and Hak – crossover in some places, but there are some places we go off on our own and do our own thing. So that’s what creates a bit of the ‘idea’ dynamic. A song might start off as a stencil or a beat or a title and then what Hak writes to that title gives the song meaning. It works really well together when all of us are really firing on all cylinders and able to contribute an equal amount of ideas. But I like coming up with a lot of titles.
Hak has a collage-style of sifting through a lot of different books and magazines and pulling the words out of it [all] and somehow they end up having meaning or connecting to the title that I make. Then Wiki is just going to go in after that and try to write a verse that’s just like some of the best verses… So that’s how we work.
MF: Would you like to produce for other artists – or maybe you’re already doing that?
EA: Oh, yeah, I work with maybe one or two people. Any opportunity that seems right, I’d be definitely open to hear for… But we usually let those things happen serendipitously. But I have worked with a couple more people. I’m just trying to learn as much as I can and become like a seeker of knowledge, and of musical knowledge, you know?
MF: What’s your role in the show you’re bringing to Laneway?
EA: I control all the samples and sounds and drums you hear, so it’s kinda being produced live with Ableton and a 15-channel mixer and some hand control effects – [there’s] some kinda futuristic stuff happening, too.
Ratking’s latest album, ‘So It Goes’, is out now. They’ll be in Australia to play St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival’s FUTURE CLASSIC x RBMA stage, as well as two headline shows — details below.
Watch: Ratking – So It Goes
Ratking Laneway 2015 Sideshows
Thursday, 29th January 2015
The Basement, Sydney
Tickets: Moshtix | 1300 438 849
Thursday, 5th February 2015
Ding Dong Lounge, Melbourne
Tickets: Oztix | 1300 762 545