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“We don’t need hip-hop artists, we need thinkers willing to take chances.” New XL signings Ratking plot the reinvention of rap

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  • published
    15 Jan 2013
  • interviewed by
    John Calvert
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    Ratking
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Fresh from their tour with Death Grips and the release of November’s critically lauded EP Wiki’93, art-rap provocateurs Ratking form part of a new generation of pioneering indie rappers frustrated with the current state of hip-hop.

Now a trio following the departure of co-producer Ramon, the Manhattanites are passionately opposed to the lyrical cliché and mass trend-conformity they feel is blinkering the genre’s progressive instincts, at a time when hip-hop, like rock before it, is sinking ever deeper into an epidemic of retro-ism. Specifically adoration for the ’90s golden age. With a view to transcending the hollow, shallow plasticity of nostalgia, Ratking are applying hipsterism’s recombinant techniques to hip-hop, splicing the aesthetics of two often starkly disparate acts in the hope of creating a third hip-hop entity – something new.

It’s as good a plan as any for devising a form of the genre without precedent. What could just as easily be viewed as a product of Manhattan’s compressed multiculturalism, as opposed to hipster triteness, Ratking’s merging of bohemian shock art and the darkest sections of Big Apple hip-hop is, despite being achieved through the means of synthesis, their attempt to create a “new authenticity”; the new “real hip-hop”. Because, as the trio are at pains to assert, in a genre that began as an avant-garde underground art movement, experimental visions of hitherto unknown forms is authenticity.

Squired by producer Eric ‘Sporting Life’ Adiele and fronted by MCs Hak and Patrick ‘Wiki’ Morales, Ratking are very much part of the greater New York tradition. They’re also flame-bearers of the city’s idea-trading interaction between bohemian art brut and revolutionary hip-hop – tokened by the avant-shock stylings of Public Enemy, or moreover, everything from Dälek to Def Jux to Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ to Public Enemy’s collaboration with Sonic Youth on ‘Kool Thing’. Speaking here with the feverishly idea-driven Sporting Life, if Adiele’s restlessly searching mind is in any way typical of Ratking’s collective mentality, then here is an act who will be surprising us for years to come. A double helix of production ideas and conceptual ones, Ratking have the potential to be amongst the most important acts in the history of indie rap.

 

“We then sat down and tried to identify what connects Suicide and Wu Tang – what the point of convergence is….”

 

How did the four of you get together?

“Two years back I was at this block party downtown, and this kind of…rapping New York Bart Simpson blagged his way on stage and immediately starting killing it. The beat ended and the kid’s still going off and when he ended the whole room was in shock. It’s not often you’re literally taken aback. So after, I go up to the kid and I say to him, ‘I make beats, you’re not corny – we should work together.’ That was Wiki.”

Then what happened?

“Well I liked that Patrick wasn’t obsessed with ‘making it’ – all self-hyping and desperate to make a name for himself, like every other teen rapper I’ve met. He isn’t corny in that way. He’s kind of ‘slacker’. And as a consequence, like me he was keen to define Ratking and develop conceptually before we even started making the music and taking the act live. So the first thing we did was start planning. Our initial idea was ‘Suicide-meets-Wu Tang’, but once we had that as a foundation we then sat down and tried to identify what connects Suicide and Wu Tang – what the point of convergence is….because no matter how antithetic the two acts seem on the surface, there always an ideological point of convergence. So what, artistically, forms that undiscovered space between New York’s late 70s art movement and mid-90s rap? If you think about it, it’s RZA. Between a noise band and hip-hop is GZA’s Liquid Swords.

 

“Right now we don’t need hip-hop artists, we need the process in reverse: we need thinkers who are willing to take chances, and whatever they make will be hip-hop.”

 

“From there we began looking at what connected Cam’ron and [millennial no wave act] Black Dice, or say Animal Collective and Zomby’s Where Were You In ’92?, and so on…because beneath the sonics are the ideas that connect everything in art, and it’s ideas that are going to finally move hip-hop forward again, into the future, in this day and age of creative inertia. That’s ‘real’ hip-hop, by our estimations. Right now we don’t need hip-hop artists, we need the process in reverse: we need thinkers who are willing to take chances, and whatever they make will be hip-hop. We also should be thinking of hip-hop as it was in the beginning – just another form of electronica the same as techno or jungle or UK ‘ardcore. Consider that at the same time Mobb Deep were making their music in New York, Shy FX was making his in London, and there were commonalities between the two. That precise line that divides two artists is where Ratking want to be. We approach it like, OK what is the baby of these two acts?”

So you like to begin from a starting point of formalism and then subvert it.

“Yeah, man. Rip it up and start again, y’know? Our working method consists of ensuring we are steeped in study and tradition, before then mixing everything up by jamming on these different elements. That creates, like, ‘future-knowledge’.”

 

“The most serendipitous aspect of meeting the rest of the band has been our shared interest in the no wave era, and how the artists of that time shaped New York.”

 

Obviously there’s a real art vibe to Ratking, even in terms of the films and books referenced and the aesthetic of your videos. There’s kind of a Richard Kern/Trash thing going on with ‘Comic’ and ‘Pretty Picture’.

“The most serendipitous aspect of meeting the rest of the band has been our shared interest in the no wave era, and how the artists of that time shaped New York. For example, Wiki’s mad into James Chance while Hak and I are into no wave film. It means we can bounce ideas off each other, or together try to transfer ideas from no wave to hip-hop.”

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