Synth-noir balladeer King Krule: “I can’t remember how I heard about them but they’re fucking raw and fucking sick. They’re one of the best bands to come out of New York City in a very long time – they’ve got the vibe of Suicide.”
New York rap crew Ratking are holed up in a Dalston bedsit, sleepy-eyed on the sofa. It’s the morning after their feisty and infectious London show and a subsequent late-night session at pal King Krule’s pad (he debuted his hip hop side-project before they played). The tiredness is also due to watching Obama’s second-term victory when they finally got in. “We saw Romney’s concession speech – he looked like he was working at McDonald’s or something,” laughs producer Sporting Life. Sat next to him is Wiki, the group’s nucleus. The sparkly-eyed rapper is newly missing a couple of teeth but it suits him, adding some gravitas to his boyish demeanor.
Having written lyrics since he was 11, Wiki released a free mixtape earlier this year, produced by Sporting Life. Childhood pals Hak, a rapper, and Ramon, a producer/VJ, soon got on board for live shows and Ratking was spawned. Their debut EP, Wiki93, is based on Wiki’s mixtape, but has been fleshed out to incorporate Hak’s verses and Ramon’s effects and visual influence.
“It’s just experience, just living in the city,” Wiki says when asked about his gritty, witty, quick-spitted lyrics about being a kid in New York, growing up and swerving trouble. “See children / What does it all mean? / It means dirty money never brings any luck / Nah, it only brings misery and despair and disgrace,” he booms on the opening to “Pretty Picture”, quoting depression-era NYC mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Wiki93 is littered with New York references and steeped in the city’s rap history, from Wu-Tang Clan to Jay-Z. Yet the woozy, earworm-y production shines new light into shady corners. “I guess it’s how New York is,” says Wiki. “It’s a pretty safe city – it’s not like how it was – but there’s always going to be that element.” Hak speaks up: “Pockets of the rawest shit.”
While they spend a lot of time in their Brooklyn basement talking about “rap very in-depth, discussing every little bit”, they also “listen to a lot of experimental stuff, No Wave, hardcore and stuff like that,” Ramon says. “We’re all inspired by a ton of music but we’re also inspired by so much visual stuff.” Sporting Life agrees, saying, “It gives you a whole other palette of things to work with,” and referring to Ratking as “a visual band.” Wiki nods: “We’re on some New York shit. It’s not enough to be just about the sound. It’s the full experience.”
Follow Ruth Saxelby on Twitter here: @RuthESaxelby
Photography Eloise Parry