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STAFF PICKS: RATKING’s So It Goes invents its own golden age

The experimental hip-hop trio's layered NYC grime shines new light on the five boroughs.

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- Apr 9, 2014

I admire RATKING for their ambition to create something new. It's more constructive than just calling other rappers garbage, especially if right afterwards they're running to their producers for a beat. And anyway this talk of "normcore" got me wondering if all this "boom bap bring real rap back" shit isn't just that in music, venerating your ancestors as a way of escaping the present.

On the other hand, New York is an oasis for rappers who not only want to reinvent the radio but challenge it: Mykki Blanco's booty bass blitzkrieg, Le1f's all-inclusive party taking the fight to the old guard, Big Baby Gandhi's real talk for bus riders, etc. It's easy to overlook these movements when rap's biggest stars aren't attaching themselves to any of them. But RATKING's debut LP So It Goes represents one of many new suns shining on the five boroughs. It borrows from a variety of sounds while fuelled by no soul but its own, and heralds yet another NY revelation in its metallic yet sinewy sound.

It's not hostility to outsiders but unwillingness to bend and accommodate to either the past or the present that makes the New York rap scene so exciting. So It Goes is an island-shaped stain of indeterminate origin across its pavement.

RATKING's first mixtape Wiki93 was a tantalizing and fragmented peek at their ambitions. Take "Comic," the fists of UK jungle and the group's own developing raps colliding at the knuckles. It splinters ecstatically but doesn't stick.

On So It Goes, they've found the glue to keep it together. A lot of that comes from Hak, the 19-year-old MC who usually takes second billing to Wiki's bilious, dry heave of a flow. His voice ranges from opening track "*"'s Boy In Da Corner brash to Jamie T tuneful on "Eat." Though from Harlem, Hak sports a malformed British accent that can be locked in or staring off into space, past each word. Odd, passionate singing voices are in vogue, but as if to refute that, Hak holsters his on "Puerto Rican Judo," a colourful and important romance with guest star Wavy Spice set to a spartan loop and shuffling breakbeat. It stands out in the tracklist like a rose from the concrete, but even the most brutal skylines are defined by its landmarks.

Like the tail of their namesake, RATKING's lyrics need patience and plague-resistant gloves to untangle, and it's more rewarding than five or more fused rodents somewhat liberated. Sporting Life's productions are similarly layered in their own muck of dub, garage, UK grime, and old fashioned sample flipping. This kind of unique melange is as old as hip-hop itself, and makes for wonderful variety: the hyperactive bounce meets late night walk of "So Sick Stories" (which features King Krule back on his rap tip), the "Snow Beach" tempest of Panda Bear chants and barking dogs, and the cookout conqueror "Bug Fights." Each beat has a lovely self-contained quality to it, like they could have been composed live on a second hand, high end sampler. Like the rest of RATKING, this isn't an inchoate quality, but a new root system gnarled under New York's massive trunk.

RATKING - Canal

And yes, So It Goes is both so very NYC and RATKING's own country. For every one reference I understand there are probably dozens more that only those respective residents could. RATKING render their home as an objectively ugly place and find beauty in their skills. Leaving you in the dust is the point. That was part of the fun listening to so many great New York independent hip-hop albums, and So It Goes hits that feeling without sounding like any of them. It's not hostility to outsiders but unwillingness to bend and accommodate to either the past or the present that makes the New York rap scene so exciting. So It Goes is an island-shaped stain of indeterminate origin across its pavement.

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