By Alana Mazurke
With a name as gritty as their music, the three piece hailing from New York RATKING are coming to Australia for the very first time to take part in this year’s epic Laneway Festival line-up. The trio consisting of Sporting Life, Wiki and Hak released their debut album So It Goes early last year with appraisal from some of the industries toughest critics. Making their own unique music blending old Hip-Hop with the new; influenced by the city and past MC’s the group has managed to create certainly one of the finest debut albums to date. I spoke to Sporting Life about those influences as well as the production of the album, preconceptions of Australia and a whole lot about who I should be listening to this year.
“Above all, Ratking’s palette is restless, chaotic, and cluttered, and accordingly So It Goes sounds like it exists in its own world.” – Pitchfork
Forming in 2011 and having already released an EP in 2012 the group decided collectively to release their first studio album. “I don’t think it’s ever really ready, you just have to have enough people around you to tell you it is. That’s the good thing about being in a group; sometimes it will take me a long time to say ok I want to show people this but when you’re in a group it’s a little bit easier. We were just working on it for a long time and based off our ideas of what we thought sounded good to be a rap album.”Produced by Sporting Life and recorded in New York at Just Blaze’s studio, the album got its effortlessly primed sound with the help from notorious producer Young Guru who (keeping it in NY) has worked with the likes of legendary Jay Z. There are a few vast differences from the EP in comparison to So I Goes; there’s more fluidity to the LP that the EP was missing.
The LP is based around the ideology of the darker side of New York. It’s funny that first single from the album ‘Snow Beach’ replicates the weather over there perfectly, yet the first thing Sporting Life mention is the weather here. “It’s like 33 degrees here right now. We’ll be there on the 23rd so I’m planning a lot of hot weather hiking gear, shades and a big hat you know… I’m into the beach. I want to surf!” As for his preparations on coming to Australia…”I’ve watched a lot of crocodile Dundee movies”.
RATKING focus on the alternative in a way that gives them that ‘left-field hip-hop’ name. Aged between early twenties to thirties the group certainly have a knack for speaking more than just the rap scene in NY. They’ve taken what they’ve seen and learnt from the city and transformed it into relatable, new noise music. One of the stand out tracks from the album personally is ‘So Sick Stories’ featuring the talented King Krule. I was intrigued really as to how the collaboration came together but as Sporting Life says after listening to the track the pair makes a lot of sense. “Well I know Patrick used to listen to his [King Krule] first EP a LOT even before we met him and through XL who were trying to get him at the time so we ended up meeting him when we went into the studio when he was visiting. It’s always so awkward when people introduce you on the basis of trying to get you to work with each other. And even though yeah it was initially a little awkward like even thinking back now I can’t even believe we made some stuff; when we met he sat down and wrote his part on ‘So Sick Stories’ right there on the spot so sick and we were all vibing so it was good. It made sense to us because we thought his music had that kind of blue grey tone to it that’s similar to New York so we’re happy it worked out.”
“I think the whole thing living here and making work here…if you can detach yourself from the idea of having that “big break” that’s the first thing. You got to go to work like everyone else. Then if you put in a certain input of craftsmanship and if you’re eyes are open to what’s around you – that’s how you got to take it. A blue collar approach – that’s what we did. You’re gonna do everything you’re gonna do today, tomorrow and if you carry that work ethic today it should carry over tomorrow and maintain it…have patience you know.”
The trio have already played with the likes of GZA, Death Grips, King Krule and Trash Talk and has collaborated numerous times with renowned filmmaker/photographer Ari Marcopoulos. “Ari always has an ear to the ground for what’s going on creatively so we’ve sort of known about each other for a long time and now he’s done a couple videos for us.” Having already played with a number of acclaimed acts already I was interested to know about Sporting Life’s taste of music and what music or musicians influenced him growing up. “My dad is from Nigeria and my mum is from North Carolina and between Nigerian highlife music and traditional music that he grew up listening to that he then showed to me, to the music my mum listened was all a big influence. I remember speeding, driving down to school listening to a Cam’ron album hah.” Seemingly, these influences don’t sound apparent in the latest release for the group even though he admitted that they all will send and share new artists with each other. “I think we try to make it come out in music but you don’t know what one of your influences is going to sound like when once you take it and you show to it someone else. It’s going to get filtered through your own thoughts and changed which could be completely different to what you originally wanted.” Well, whatever it is they were trying to do, works extremely good for them.
“There’s nobody who’s going to open you up to it if you don’t open up to it. And you can’t depend on a store to tell you what to listen too. I think the people whose music means that much to them they seek out what they want.”
The group collate their observations and perceptions of the city into this 11 tracked conversation on the city the live in. It was really humbling hearing someone talk so honestly when I asked about the current state of the Hip-Hop music scene in one of the biggest cities releasing the genre. “I think with rappers and rap music there’ll always be people leading the curve, on the curve or behind the curve and I think the people that are leading recognise that they don’t necessarily have to be weird or commercial you can just perfect whatever you want to present and work on it over time. Since you do have internet and do have ways to record videos and if you do have ways to make something that’s creative that’s all you really need now. There are enough people who are still interested in good music to be able to recognise people who are out there making good music so as far as that goes; I think hip hop is in a good creative developing place.”
RATKING play 2015’s Laneway Festival – ticket info here.
Tickets for their sideshows can be found here.
Purchase So It Goes here.