It’s no surprise that Ratking’s debut album, So It Goes, takes its name from the classic Kurt Vonnegut novel Slaughterhouse-Five. Just as the phrase curtailed a character’s death, Ratking (comprised of Manhattan-local MCs Patrick “Wiki” Morales and Hakeem “Hak” Lewis and transplant producer Eric “Sporting Life” Adiele) intends to put a knife through the heart of old-school ‘90s hip-hop. Unlike the collective’s contemporaries (such as Smoke DZA and Joey Bada$$) who seem enamored with New York’s hip-hop “glory days,” Ratking combines iconic punk rock and hardcore attitude with rhymes, pushing forward for a style that fits the modern-day New York.
From the outset, Ratking makes it clear that they have no interest in replicating the old school style of hip-hop. The opening track * begins with a monologue by Wiki explaining that, “the average 23-year-old rapper is different from Biggie and Pac, so you can’t really compare the two…you just gotta stick with the now.” However, rather than giving listeners any time to ponder whether the statement holds any weight, Ratking makes their listeners believe it. On Canal, Wiki, with his nasally flow that recalls a young Slim Shady, impressively fires off lyric after lyric at almost superhuman speed during the chorus over a booming bass and high pitched sample, recounting the cruelty of New York City. Similarly on the titular track, Wiki delivers quick verses by chaining rhyme after rhyme that describe the bleakness and sense of isolation in the city: “Six million trains to ride, choose one/Six million stories to tell, choose one.”
The group, however, demonstrates their versatility by opting for different styles throughout the album, most prominently on the track Snow Beach. Although the song begins with slow, spoken-word rapping over plinking electronic piano keys, the song swiftly transitions to a faster pace with jazzy saxophone melodies, showcasing the impressive binary between Wiki and Hak: Wiki’s more raucous vocals attack NYU and the controversial transformation of the historic Greenwich Village; while Hak complements his fellow MC with calm, reggae-esque vocals on the witty chorus: “Every year another court date/Every year I need a North Face/For warm’s sake/On long days when sun rays upstate/Some some decay away.”
Ratking further demonstrates their modernity and experimental side with their selection of featured artists on the album. The album’s second single, So Sick Stories, gets help from King Krule on the track’s hook. Instead of his familiar elongated wails backed by rock-oriented guitar riffs, Marshall offers succinct rapping over Sporting Life’s production of ambient electronic high hats and synthesized melodies, describing the rugged side of New York City that includes junkies and shootings. The closing track of the album, Take, features vocals from fellow upcoming art-rapper Salomon Faye, breaking through the chaotic cacophony of Wiki and Hak’s vocals near the end of the track, with the delivery of a lengthy verse praising Ratking and the group’s style (“Thank you for you/You beautiful fools/Losing your cool but it’s cool”).
While the album predominantly carries a sharpened edge, critiquing and attacking everything about the city and its people, the group’s softer side shows through on Puerto Rican Judo. The song captures the idyllic imagery of young romance in New York City, with Wiki going back and forth with the song’s featured artist Wavy Spice, capturing the duo’s real-life relationship. Spice coyly describes her lover’s affectionate gestures: “And I see you want my hand/killing me softly with the taste from the Oldie sharing your forties/with a song that you told me.” To which Wiki opens up on his insecurities, explaining, “Brown girl/white boy/tan soul/tangled/mouth mangled… Just trying to rap with an angel.” Even with all the problems the group finds with their hometown, the track proves that even with the harshest of critics, some silver linings still show through.
On the whole, So It Goes covers a wide range of ground musically, sometimes making it hard to comprehend as a cohesive piece in its entirety. By doing so however, Ratking has made a rap album that is truly fitting for the modern New York. The city is itself as much a growing hodgepodge of different identities and ideas as is Ratking and the album the group has created. By recognizing this facet rather than denying it like their contemporaries, Wiki, Hak and Sporting Life have enabled themselves to push forward, producing something genuinely new.