Ratking: Hip-Hop’s Old And Young Punks
[Photo by Ari Marcopoulos]
In March of last year, video content brand Creative Control posted a video to their YouTube channel for a song called "Wikispeaks" by an artist named Wiki. The video—a gritty and dizzying journey through the sprawling underbelly of New York City as seen through a deflated dreamer's eyes—introduced the world to Wiki (then an 18-year-old with a 14-year-old's face), a half Puerto Rican and half Irish mutt of a kid with a rapping ability so undeniable that fans quickly made Eminem comparisons after hearing just one song.
Wiki stayed quiet for a few months after the video's release, only to then reemerge as a member of a group—Ratking—alongside fellow MC Hak and producers Sporting Life (Sports for short) and Ramon (who has since left the group). The crew quickly got scooped up by XL Recordings, home to left-field icons like The xx, Vampire Weekend and Tyler, The Creator, off the strength of "Wikispeaks," and promptly released a 7-track EP in the winter of 2012. The EP, Wiki93, is a motley mix of songs that showcases their breadth of ideas and highlights their influences, often ranging from early punk to noise rock to boom-bap rap.
After hitting SXSW for a blur of showcases last month, the trio skated down from their Harlem headquarters to the XXL offices with their friend Johnny (who they jokingly introduced as both their photographer and their bodyguard) to chat about their debut album (which is currently being mixed by legendary engineer Young Guru), finding a common ground despite drastic differences in age and why XL is the perfect home for them.
So you guys are signed to XL. Tell me how the deal came about, and how you feel about your relationship with them, going into your first record.
Wiki: XL hit us up through Facebook, originally. We just met with them and they were into what we were doing and they liked the music we already had out. So it was pretty…there wasn’t too much that went into it, we kinda just went with it. It took a while to deal with the lawyers and shit like that, but after we signed they brought us out to London and we went to their office. That was a dope experience. They have a studio in the office in London and any of their artists can record there for free, so we recorded a song there that’s gonna be on our new record, called “100.”
Sports: We also recorded “6 Stories,” featuring King Krule. We did a remix of one of his songs but he’s also featured on our album. It was dope. I like being on XL. They’re chill. With any label you have times where you’re like, “Damn, I wanna do things how I want to do them,” but I know that compared to other labels, XL is really chill and believes in their artists.
They seem like one of the few labels left that really trusts the visions of their artists. I know that with Tyler’s first album, they just let him do exactly what he wanted to do – from artwork to visuals.
Sports: And they’re creative people, too. So they can hear an idea we have and kinda give us some pointers on how to flesh it out a little bit more and carry it out so that the final product is something people are pleased with.
Wiki, you’re 19 now. Sports, how old are you?
Sports: I’m 31. I just eat really healthy.
Jesus, really?! I’m sorry, I just didn’t expect that.
Wiki: Nah, it’s a compliment!
Do you ever think about how you’re old enough to be Wiki’s dad, if you had a kid at 12-years-old?
Sports: I don’t understand.
Wiki: (to Sports) Like, you could’ve been my father if you had me when you were 12.
Sports: (to Wiki) I am your mothafuckin’ father, nigga! Nah, it’s not really that weird. I don’t think about the notion of being Wiki’s dad...that’s honestly never crossed my mind.
Hak, how old are you?
Wow, you look really young, too. How did you guys initially relate to one another?
Wiki: I’d say that we just connected as people. It wasn’t really an age thing. I feel like in the city and shit, when your mind’s right and you’re into the same stuff and you’re not an idiot, you can connect no matter what age you are. Like if you see an ill skate crew, it’s gonna have old dudes, it’s gonna have young dudes. Hip-hop is kinda like that, too.
Sports: On a basic level, dope family structures are built upon grandparents all the way down to infants, you know what I mean? That’s just basic human nature. And that’s not to say that we thought about this when we were going into it, but we just basically connected off of similar ideas that we have, coming from different places. That gives us the opportunity to present a new perspective, because I have to do shit that makes my boy Ron, who’s from the Bronx and shit and is like 31-years-old – it has to be dope for him. And then Wiki has to spit so that some 19-year-old kid is gonna feel it. So that combination of things could present something that people can really fuck with. And that’s not to say that it’s actually going to work but that’s what we tried. That’s the attempt.
So how did you meet?
Sports: Wik was spitting at this block party thing that me and a friend went to check out, and he was just murking the crowd, then the beat went off and he was just killing the crowd a cappella. I was like, “Yo, we need to put something together.” That’s pretty much how it started. Hak was there too, that first day. So we all kinda met each other then, but we really didn’t start working until a little bit later. Eventually it became a very cohesive thing.
Do you guys get along despite your age differences? Your egos don’t get in the way?
Sports: There’s definitely ego involved. We’re all human, but we can work past it.
Hak: We argue about anything, to be honest. We argue about a lot, but we’re not being serious.
Wiki: We argue but then we’re laughing about shit. We don’t take shit too personally.
Because you’ve become friends – you’re not just some dudes who answered a Craigslist ad like, “Oh let’s start a band together.”
Wiki: Right – it came together pretty naturally.
I want to talk about your sound. It’s so different and it’s such an all-encompassing amalgamation of so many different influences. When you guys decided to make music together, Sports were you like, “I want to make this type of music,” and Wiki was like, “I want to do this,” then you had to figure out how to blend them together?
Wiki: It actually was like that. I was like, “Yo, I wanna spit,” but luckily I have an open mind. Sports grew up in hip-hop – he came to New York to make beats and produce, and had grown up listening to hip-hop and studying it. But by the time he met me, he was over it, like, “Fuck this, I want to do something different.” I guess he saw something in me that was kind of like, “Oh, maybe we can do something different.”
You seem to pay a lot of attention to the visual aspect of your releases and to the actual music videos you’ve shot, and you also talk about writing and graffiti. Tell me about your relationship with the art world.
Wiki: Well, Hak is a really talented visual artist, outside of making music. He’s a painter and a sculptor, and we’re all into art and make art. We’re also just surrounded by it – all of our friends are artists. We actually have a little collective called Letter Racer. It’s bands and artists and different people we’re surrounded by, and we all work together on different things and we all hang out together.
That sounds like old-school New York, like Warhol’s Factory or something.
Wiki: Yeah, once we actually had a Letter Racer art show. It was the dopest shit. We had all our art up – Hak brought in mad art, our friend Johnny put up mad photos, we decked the walls out, and people came through like it was an art gallery. Then we played, right on the floor, and paintings were falling down and shit. It was sick because it was some old New York shit but in a modern perspective. Just hip-hop and punk...
You can catch Ratking on tour with Death Grips right now, or if you're in New York you can see them at the Downtown Music Festival next weekend.