RATKING – So It Goes RATKING – So It Goes

a1ex-0rsinl-sl1500-1399042033[1]If you happen to come across a writhing mass of rats intertwined by their tails, essentially knotted together with blood, feces and dirt, you have found a rat king.  A rare phenomenon associated with bad omens, more specifically plagues. If you happen to come across a New York rap trio intertwined by their rhymes, unique sound and collective experience as young men in an old city, you may have found RATKING.   A new phenomenon associated with a fresh perspective on hip-hop.

So It Goes is the debut studio length album from RATKING, following the 2012 release of their debut EP, Wiki93.  At first glance, group members Wiki, Hak and Sporting Life seem like an odd match.  If you met each one separately, without ever hearing their music, you would probably have three completely different notions as to what it may sound like.  In truth it’s probably more of a combination of all three playing over the top of each other at the same time.  A paper mache-like layering of noise, which solidifies into a textured orb of concrete, packed snow and the soft lining of a North Face jacket.

The group dynamic is nothing new.  One guy mixes the beats, the other two spatter references to their hometown across the stage like a Jackson Pollock.   The sound however, is something new.  For as diverse as they are in personality, they meld together in a completely unexpected way on this album.  It feels primitive, and unhindered by the laws that govern pop music success.  In the song “Protein” Wiki proudly proclaims, “This ain’t 90’s revival, it’s earlier, it’s tribal revival.”  This concept was fully embraced by the artists when sculpting this album.

Wiki takes the role as the group’s leader.  His rhymes are front and center, and his words dominate more than one track.  He speaks of learning to rhyme on street corners, getting respect from the drug dealers who worked those corners.  He speaks of going to court multiple times, and crashing NYU campus freestyle battles while hammered, dominating the competition.  It’s apparent his tongue and wit have been sharpened by many freestyle conflicts, ready to slice an opponent at a moment’s notice.  He’s got a fast delivery, reminding me of Ludacris, Twista or E-40 in the way he structures his tempo; jumping back and forth between slow drawn out syllables, and a rapid fire assault of words which your brain can scarcely decipher, let alone comprehend.  His style makes me think Talib Kweli was a strong influence in his youth.  In the track “Snow Beach,” you can sense traces of that unique pattern of alliteration. Both being New York natives, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn a young Wiki cut his teeth  on albums like  Mos Def and Talib Kweli Are Black Star, and Train of Thought.

Hak, described as gentle and soft spoken in person, is the other half to the lyrical component of RATKING.  To me, it sounds like he’s still finding his style.  Hak admits he wasn’t really into music until Wiki pushed him to try.  Hak and Wiki were best friends, and Wiki wanted a partner in crime.  Hearing an early sample of what Wiki was doing inspired Hak, or as he put it, “hearing them start made me want to open my mouth.”  On some tracks, like “Remove Ya” and “*”, he slips into a reggae infused patois.  Then on “Protein” he sings like he’s a 50’s era crooner.  On “Bug Fights” he goes tit for tat with Wiki, showing he’s got the ability to shift into a faster gear.   He’s obviously got talent, and reading the few words he provides during interviews shows he has a depth of thought worthy of putting pen to paper in order to capture.  It feels like he’s half way through a metamorphosis.  What the end product will be is anyone’s guess, but signs point to him flourishing as an artist.

Sport, who got his name for a love of basketball, handles the beat department.  It’s impossible to describe the sounds sewn together by this man.  As offbeat as it is rhythmic, it challenges the standard template of hip-hop.  Much like the city they sing about, the music is an eclectic mix of flavors.  “Snow Beach” is a great example, starting off with an almost Caribbean feel before transitioning into a sultry and out of focus saxophone solo, upon which the beat, and Wiki’s lyrics, promptly smash into like a big rig.  Tightly wound loops of noise, which have no business being heard together, somehow make sense when organized at the hands of Sport.  His projects sound like they are influenced by everything from punk, electronic dance, jíbaro, dancehall, and jazz; and that’s probably just the tip of the iceberg.  It’s almost like he tried to squeeze sounds from all five boroughs into one album, as if he’s paying homage to a city that acts as a humble fourth member of the group.

Upon first listening to the album the lyrics may sound chaotic.  A messy mix of words seemingly disconnected from each other.  If songs are merely skimmed, it may sound like Mad Libs for hip-hop.   When you start listening more closely, you may be pleasantly surprised.  The more I heard, the more I realized these were anything but errantly assembled phrases.  These were lyrics with multiple layers of meaning, and often invoked complex word play.  Even the title, So It Goes, references the mantra from Kurt Vonnegut’s classic, Slaughterhouse-Five.  Three simple words, repeated in indifferent and weary tones, which encompass the entire spectrum of life.  The world can be an awful and cruel place, but it’s all good.  We continue to breathe because we must.  Many lyrics on the album seem to mimic this notion.

So It Goes opens with a quote, someone talking to a friend about an encounter the night before. The essence of the quote is simple: you cannot measure modern hip-hop against the past.  The experiences of young artist are going to be so vastly different than those that came before, that comparing the two is futile.  It’s as if in the very opening verse of the album the group is breaking the bonds of the past, freeing them to walk their own path, unencumbered by what hip-hop “should” sound like.  I am excited to see what RATKING does with that freedom.  If So It Goes is just the beginning, then the future looks blindingly bright for this group.  They approach their music with rampant disregard for what’s popular.  I like that kind of courage, and their music.  I have a feeling many others out there are going to feel the same way, once they give them a chance.

RATKING – So It Goes Track Listing:

1 – *
2 – Canal
3 – Snow Beach
4 – So Sick (ft. King Krule)
5 – Remove Ya
6 – Eat
7 – So It Goes
8- Puerto Rican Judo (ft. Wavy Spice)
9 – Protein
10 – Bug Fights
11 – Take (ft. Saloman Faye)

RATKING - So It Goes, reviewed by Griffen Callahan on 2014-07-09T12:25:27-07:00 rating 4.0 out of 5

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