Artists Of The Year CMU Approved

CMU Artists Of The Year 2014: Ratking

By | Published on Wednesday 10 December 2014

Every weekday in the run up to the Christmas break, we’ll be revealing another of our ten favourite artists of the year. See the full list of artists announced so far here. Next up is Ratking…


Noisy NYC new-wavers Ratking aren’t only for fans of hip hop, even if in the main that’s what the trio – made up of impossibly young MCs Hakeem ‘Hak’ Lewis and Patrick ‘Wiki’ Morales, and almost as young production guy Eric ‘Sporting Life’ Adiele – are doing.

Ratking are also one for the art-and-skate-and-graffiti-and-zine kids still somehow contriving to ‘do it themselves’ on any “roof, stoop or fire escape” in an increasingly sanitised New York (or any other city, any other place). And for fans of hardcore and punk bands (like oftimes Ratking show openers Show Me The Body, for one). And, thanks to Ratking tracks like ‘Snow Beach’, which closes off into a toasty improv sax solo, they are for jazz (and Nas) heads too.

Oh, and also for fans of pallid singing/snarling Brit King Krule, who spins a faded verse on Ratking’s ‘So Sick Stories’, and, on the other side of the ‘British urban’ coin, those who follow grime and might’ve caught Ratking’s gap-toothy middle child Wiki’s loose-tongued turn (up) on the ‘US remix’ of Skepta and co’s ‘That’s Not Me’.

And that’s one of the many things that’s so good about the band; that, aside from the intrinsically New York-ian tone to their work, they’re so free and able and, vitally, excited to cite a million styles, to bend genres and break credos to fit what they have to say. The group lay that out from the off on their XL Recordings-released first LP ‘So It Goes’ with intro track ‘*’, which hinges on a recorded comment from (apparently) friend-to-Ratking Raymond Mitchell.

And he says: “The average rapper right now, it’s a whole different generation, you really can’t compare no more. If your life experience is different, that’s gonna come out different-ly. Your average 25, 24, 23 year old rapper, totally different from Biggie and Pac, you can’t compare the two. So you ain’t got no point of reference, really. So it goes…”

And so, in one swoop, you know that ‘So It Goes’ – itself a Kurt Vonnegut phrase about facing the inevitable – is not going to be a typical rap record, nor will it dog the traits, beats and/or lyrical flow of the hip hop greats. In its most basic and direct terms it’s a postcard of today’s contemporary New York, where Ratking base themselves and where Wiki and Hak went to school together, and still to this day hop turnstiles on the subway, get high sometimes, live their lives and then scribble and chip them into their songs.

‘Puerto Rican Judo’ is a light-footed love hymn dedicated to and featuring Wavy Spice aka Wiki’s girlfriend Princesss Nokia. ‘Eat’ matter-of-factly traces a now-sorted addiction to Oxycontin, whilst ‘Canal’ is a straight up alarm call, prodding complainers with “Think the city has let up? / Better check up / Kids that is fed up / Instead of bitching and moaning, they get buck and get up”. Then there’s anti-‘stop and search’ paean ‘Remove Ya’, which starts off with audio from a real police frisk, (Kid: “What am I getting arrested for?” Cop: “For bein a fuckin mutt!”), and ends, with poignancy, in a verse by an unidentified woman who asks of the NYPD: “Who are you serving? Who do you protect? I know it ain’t us, no”.

So that’s how ‘So It Goes’ goes. Like Ratking themselves it’s grey and bleak in its concrete realism, but also jarringly abstract (note ‘Protein’) and often goofy, a high-rise vision of a part-real, part-fictionalised, “half noise, half hip hop” metropolis by a wise-past-their-years team of creatives. It’s certainly a liminal type of record, setting Ratking on the crest of bigger things, and maybe, while they’ve certainly been one of our favourites, this year hasn’t quite been theirs to claim per se. Maybe next year will be. It isn’t like they’re going anywhere.

This is ‘Canal’ and ‘So Sick Stories’: