Spring Arts Guide: The Once and Future Ratking

The trio have been hailed as the saviors of New York rap, but they've set their sights higher

The group's aesthetic, though more refined and pronounced on their newer material, is indeed largely a product of Sporting Life's loop-laden production and Hak's odd mixture of spoken word, sung melody, and straight-up rap verses—no longer solely a platform for Wiki to showcase the wit and intricacy of his rhymes. Songs like "Comic," a glitchy, fast-paced track added to the XL re-release of Wiki93, as well as cuts leaked off their forthcoming LP So It Goes, show Ratking moving away from retro rap and toward something more inventive, a style bound less and less by the five boroughs. The beats are noisy and industrial, pushing the sound closer to that of California punk/rap outfit Death Grips than, say, Jay-Z's classic Reasonable Doubt or Wu-Tang's 36 Chambers (two albums that Ratking members still reference constantly in conversation). Hak's role in the band has also been amped up, and his dueling vocals with Wiki give the songs a certain amount of tension and drama they once lacked.

The result is something fresh, weird, and a little bit schizophrenic, like we're listening to Ratking wrestle with its own potential. The title track from So It Goes (the name is a nod to Kurt Vonnegut's 1969 novel Slaughterhouse-Five) continues in a similarly manic vein; the group says they've started to build a collage of ideas found in literature, film, art, magazines—even words they've seen carved into city sidewalks—in order to create something new.

"[So It Goes] is not necessarily more experimental, but it's more mature—even with 'Comic,' I didn't necessarily have my hands completely around the sound I was going for," explains Sporting Life, who says he strives to construct a record the same way that Quentin Tarantino pastes elements of classic film genres together in his movies. "'Comic' was like a rest stop on our way."

Wiki jumps in: "Yeah, it's not just past it, it's past it and then that way and that way," he says, pointing left and then right.

Though there's no release date yet, Ratking has finished tracking between 12 and 14 songs for So It Goes. The album was recorded by Young Guru—the Grammy-nominated audio engineer who has mixed 10 of Jay-Z's 11 albums—and New York's DJ Dog Dick, and will be a chance for the group to see if artistic ambition can translate to staying power in a genre that doesn't always reward it.

"We're trying to merk Hot 97 and merk the art world at the exact same time," says Sporting Life. "We wanna box with the big dogs."

Fresh from SXSW, Ratking are hitting the road for a mini-tour with Wu-Tang Clan's GZA starting in late March. For more info, visit ratkingnyc.com or follow @RatKing on Twitter.

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