Writer’s note: This interview took place in March 2013 for Juke Magazine, an independent publication out of UK. Unfortunately Juke went defunct and the article was never published. Luckily, RhymeCulture gives me a place to shed some light on Ratking prior to their 2014 release “So It Goes”. Be sure to catch them June 13th, 2014 at the Fete in Providence.
Ratking, On Some Next Shit
I first heard the name Ratking at a frat party a year prior to this interview. I had gotten into a drunken argument about rap with some kids who looked more hipster than hip hop. Part of me felt I could school them and see if they were about the real shit, or if they were fakin the funk. We kept dropping names, testing each other’s knowledge, but I got tripped up when one of them asked “You ever heard of Ratking?” I hesitantly admitted no, feeling defeated, but it wasn’t my fault. This kid was from Manhattan, in fact he went to school with their frontman Wiki; he clearly had the upper hand. I tried to play it off like Ratking wasn’t shit, and that if I wasn’t up on it, then it wasn’t worth my time. This sort of arrogance was my first mistake, the second being I thought Ratking was a reference to Master Splinter from the Ninja Turtles. Ratking however was not your Saturday morning cartoon special. They are the latest trio and self described hip hop band out of Money Makin’ Manhattan that has re-instated the age old NYC credo of being original. A rat king is a phenomenon in which a bunch of rat’s tails get intertwined, and through the hardening of the appetizing mixture of shit, blood and dirt; are inevitably stuck together. I didn’t get the metaphor until I saw them opening for the GZA in Providence. Ratking is a cohesive blend of a lotta ill shit. Among their influences are Cam’ron, the Germs, Alan Vega’s Suicide, Black Dice and Kurt Vonnegut. When Wiki and Hak rock the mic, and producer SportingLife operates his SP-555, they find a middle ground of all this. Wiki brings an abrasive but versatile delivery; casted over SportingLife’s genre bending samples and sporadic drum patterns. All the while Hak interpolates reggae melodies with original poems and literary references.
However when you really listened to them its clear you have to be quick witted to absorb their content, because until I heard their XL Recordings debut, Wiki93, I didn’t understand the full depth of their talent. It was something new, and in someways over my head. It felt good to be intrigued by hip hop again. Clearly I wasn’t the only one impressed. Their next LP entitled So It Goes is currently in its final stages and has been handled by Young Guru, the engineer behind Jay Z’s The Blueprint and The Black Album. Ratking’s performance was polarizing to say the least.
We would catch up with Eric SportingLife and Patrick “Wiki” Morales at a Pakistani Tea House in Tribeca. Hak would show up sometime after our interview. We would discuss their backgrounds, their progress and their legacy in hip hop over a plate of chicken tikka masala. At the end of the interview I was left with the impression that while Ratking, albeit talented and strategic with their art, they are simply friends unified by the goal of creating something new.
[Q&A] with Wiki
What’s good Wiki, you just finished up your tour recently with the GZA, what have you been up to since then?
Wiki: We had a show at SUNY Purchase on friday at some festival called Culture Shock, and on Sunday I had surgery. I got some stitches in my mouth so for the past couple days I’ve just been chillin in the crib.
Word, what exactly happened with your teeth? Unless you don’t wanna talk about it…
Wiki: It’s cool. Basically I won’t go into detail but some dude on the street punched me out.
Shit yeah, I was meaning to ask you about that, has that effected your rapping at all? I mean in your video for Wikispeaks you still got your grill in tact an all.
Wiki: Nah I mean I might have a little bit more of a lisp, but not really to be honest it hasn’t effected it at all.
Word, well you’ve been rapping for a minute from what I understand. Matter of fact, I heard that when you were younger the GZA pulled you on stage at one of his shows to spit a few bars, it must be some surreal shit to go from that to touring with him.
Wiki: Nah what happened was he was basically asking everyone in the crowd how old they were, and I said I was 14 and he said ‘Oh shit, we’ve got a 14 year old who knows all the words’. But the thing is he was actually doin Shimmy Shimmy Ya, it was a tribute to ODB. So I think he was hype on the fact that ODB passed on but his legacy is still with the youth.
That must have still left a huge impression on you. Didn’t your Math teacher play a big role in your aspirations as a rapper?
Wiki: Yeah my teacher Mr. G. He put me onto a lot of hip hop in like 6th or 7th grade. He was from the Bronx and shit so he grew up on hip hop, and supported me as a rapper when I was in middle school. So that definitely had an impact. There were a lot of things that did, I mean A-Ron [the guy who created the clothing brand aNYthing], he had a big a hand in putting me on and helping me get shows. He saw my talent and said get out there and do you. Even if it was raw and I didn’t have full songs yet, he would let me spit freestyles at any little event he put together.
So it seems like rapping was a big part of your childhood. Was it always just for the love of making music, or did you ever think you’d be making it into a career?
Wiki: It was definitely the love of it that got me to rap in the first place and to keep working. In the beginning of Ratking when me and Eric met, it was about doing something different so we could stand out. But at the same time, the fact that its what we love to do so much is what [made] me want to make a career out of it. I definitely have aspirations bigger than strictly doing it for the money. I want Ratking to pop off so kids can listen to our shit and be like ‘Damn this is so ill’ or older people who grew up on hip hop can say ‘Damn this is something new’. I feel like when OGs listen to us they think this is totally what hip hops about but its pushing it forward. Its refreshing but its not rehashing the same old styles.
Yeah, you guys definitely have a progressive sound in comparison to the Hip Hop we have been hearing, so how would you say Ratking is redefining Hip Hop in 2013?
Wiki: When ’93 came out we were influenced a lot by the 90s, and we really were pushing it forward as much as we could. But just in the last year and a half, we’ve been absorbing different types of music an being exposed to different cultures. I remember going to London and staying with King Krule for a little bit. We met all of his friends [like] this cat PX$H 6XD and Black Mack from London. When I was out there it was mad different, they put me onto so much shit an I put them onto stuff. It seemed like…damn this is the group I belong with, this group is pushing it forward.
Eric and Hak have [also had] a huge influence on me. Eric grew up with hip hop, so he knows everything about it. But because of that Eric also really wants to push it forward, and he’s influenced by so many things. He’ll be working on a beat, an I’ll think to myself ‘Jesus Christ’, an I’ll just be trying to figure out how I’m gonna rap on it. You can hear that a lot on the production of the new album. The intro to our new album is a Jungle Beat, but I’m almost flowing on it slow, like on some Freeway shit. An Hak brings so much to the table with the poetry; he’s just influenced by a lot of writing. In the same way a producer would sample things Hak will just read books, underline shit and formulate verses based on that.
Thats what I think is most impressive about you guys is you’re really educating hip hop heads on some shit we’re just not up on, but not in a pretentious way. Its a lot more subtle than that, you gotta dig through it to really understand it. Is that a calculated effort on your part?
Wiki: It’s somewhat calculated in the sense that we are always trying to insert some ill quotes in the backdrop of what we do. But a lot of it comes from what we are into at the time. And I agree with you saying we aren’t pretentious about it, I mean I’m not an expert on a lot of the stuff that we are into, I’m not even an expert on hip hop. But so many things that Eric brings to the table I’m just running with it, like I don’t know that much about Drum n Bass, but I’m into it. And I’m hype to learn and I’m hype to take influence and just work with it.
Yeah I feel you, and you guys make it clear that you are a Hip Hop band as opposed to a group. And the defining factor there is that you all play a role. Do you feel like being in a band and being so tight knit doesn’t leave a lot of room for collaboration or features?
Wiki: On our new album we collaborate with a lot of people actually, but we just wanna make sure all our collaborations sound natural. We have DJ Dog Dick, King Krule, our friend Wavy Spice and another rapper [named] Salomon Faye. We just wanna make sure that all our collaborations make sense, and we aren’t just emailing people to jump on a track for the hype of it. Each one of those features on that album, it’s like they are characters in our world. But it’s like each one of those characters has their own ill story. Like how you see in a Fantastic Four comic, Spider Man pops up, its sorta like that.
You and Hak describe yourselves as mutts, can you speak on what way does that relate to you overall?
Wiki: Yeah you can relate that in mad different ways. All of our influences are an ill mixture, and it can even be related to the city itself because its the melting pot. I mean, I’m Puerto Rican and Irish, Hak is half black and half white, an Eric’s dad is Nigerian and his mom is a black lady from the south. But we are all mutts in different ways. Our race is not even the half of it, its in the music itself.
Yeah its clear that even being in the city really contributes to a mixture of different influences. Considering you are from Manhattan and you are surrounded by some of the richest people in the world, how has this shaped your perception of what it means to be successful?
Wiki: On our new album I reference being a New York Giant. I took [that] from this EB White essay called Here is New York. But its not even the money, no matter what you do, being from New York we’re all New York Giants. Like if you’re a journalist, the illest journalists in the world are right here in front of you. You can see them walking down the street. For me its like the illest rappers are right there and I realize what I can achieve, and it makes it that much more tangible. It shows us what kind of work it takes to get there.
So as you guys progress and carve out your legacy in this music shit how do you think you’ll view 93 down the line? It almost seems to me that its the blueprint of whats to come, and not in a bad way, but in the sense that it really only explores a portion of your potential.
Wiki: Yeah I’m always gonna be proud of Wiki93, an I’m telling you those verses on there haven’t even been fully tapped into. I was rappin’ those verses to myself the other day and theres so many lines in there and people have no idea. But thats good because it gives people time to come back and listen to them an be like “Oh shit”. But I definitely feel like that was a rough draft, we did that and now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, were ready to move forward. I’ve simplified my verses, but not in the sense that I’ve dumbed down my lyrics, but in the sense that I get to the point and say everything I wanna say.
In what ways has your sound progressed?
Wiki: When we were done with 93 we were already working on songs for the new album. The song “So It Goes” is gonna be the title track of our new album, but playing it live showed us how to record it. It’s really been so natural so its hard to say how we’ve moved forward. But I think with Hak joining the group its had a huge impact on it. With the original release of 93 it was just me an Eric. But when we got Hak on [646-704-2610] it implanted him in the group. Really its all come together after touring and seeing other acts, and reading whatever I can. For us, the key to our longevity is just staying who we are, and developing who we are as artists. If we put in the work and have the ideas on paper to execute it, it will come across eventually. So at a certain point people can’t deny we’re ill.
[Q&A] with SportingLife
A lot that critics want to reference punk when they talk about your music, how ever I don’t think that’s something that is totally obvious in your sound, and maybe more so in your aesthetic. How would you say the DIY culture of punk has influenced your creative approach to producing?
It just means theres no “right” way to do anything. You just have to start and do it a lot. Like. what a lot of people don’t realize is that I mixed Wiki93 on Bose iPod speakers. Now we have Young Guru engineering our next album. In reality people haven’t heard Wiki’s voice yet.
You guys have really made a point of improving what it means to perform hip hop live. Your use of effects pedals in your performances in many ways is a head nod to Noise, in what way would you say Noise has influenced your production?
Going to Black Dice shows or seeing Panda Bear play live is really inspirational for us. Then once you’re open to it you start to see the noise where you hadn’t seen it before, like in RZA’s work or with Timbaland.
It’s interesting to me that you guys have been able to find commonalities between things that people don’t often associate. Do you feel that because you guys are open to so many different kinds of music, and you re-imagine these genres to create your own music, this enables you to reach an audience that doesn’t typically listen to hip hop?
Its like if you’re playing basketball and you dunk on somebody you’re energized even more when the crowd reacts to the dunk. But you don’t practice thinking about what that reaction will be. I want the reaction the crowd had when Vince Carter put his elbow in the hoop: pleasant confusion. The crowd was silent when Vince did that, they didn’t know what to make of it.
Damn, I’d say pleasant confusion describes Wiki93 perfectly. How do you think you will view Wiki93 further down the line as your legacy in hip hop progresses?
It was a good way to break the ice. It makes people have to have an opinion. Its a lighthouse for some people and kryptonite for others.
Do you feel like you and the rest of Ratking reached a new level of comfort in the recording process of this new album? and how have you approached it differently in the creative process?
Recording this album has been really educational. Working with Young Guru, Dog Dick, and everyone that came through and lent a hand or an idea or some specific expertise. It showed us what making an album is about…the process.
Anything you wanna say as a closing statement?
Words: Reuben Rodriguez-Robbins
Photos: Harry Gould Harvey IV