New York hip-hop has a fiercely guarded history. From the genre’s inception in the early 1970s, to the arrival of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in the late-‘70s, the breakthrough success of Run-D.M.C. in the ’80s and the ‘90s heyday for artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Notorious B.I.G. and Nas, it’s fair to say New York’s produced a large percentage of hip-hop’s most legendary, world-changing artists.
While the likes of Jay Z remain in the public eye, in recent years there haven’t been many pages added to New York hip-hop history. That’s not to say there haven’t been any quality releases – at present, you’ve got youngsters like Joey Bada$$ producing welcome throwbacks to the ‘90s glory days, while Azealia Banks is a very exciting prospect – but nothing’s initiated a brand new phase for New York hip-hop.
Earlier this year, Manhattan crew Ratking released their debut record So It Goes. The trio – featuring MCs Wiki and Hak and producer Sporting Life – are indebted the city they hail from. So It Goes is a frequently frantic release, which echoes the pace and industrial clamour of the group’s hometown. Prior to recording the album, Sporting Life had a pretty clear idea of what he wanted to achieve.
“I had an idea in my head of what, in my opinion, a complete album would sound like and how varied it would need to be,” he says. “You start there, but then things develop over time. Some of your ideas works really well and some of them don’t work at all so then that changes something. Something can influence something and that all leads to making what it ended up sounding like. I try to plan 100 percent, but it ends up being like 70 percent, and then 30 percent of it happens during the process.”
It might be too early to proclaim So It Goes a new frontier for New York hip-hop, but Ratking have at the very least created something unique. The history of their hometown is formidable, but Sporting Life says they weren’t afraid to look beyond New York for influence.
“[I like doing] my own ground work of what the influences are going to be, track-by-track, and how I’m building it out, just by listening to so many classic albums like albums Dre produced and stuff like that.
“A song like ‘Remove Ya’ is sampled from Sanchez and it’s also a sample that [The Diplomats] use on ‘Dipset Anthem’. But the direction of the track was more influenced by producers like Wiley and early Grime.”
What’s more, the trio’s influences aren’t limited to the terrain of hip-hop either. So It Goes harnesses punk rock energy, which is no mere coincidence.
“We definitely listen to Bad Brains and skateboarding tapes,” Sporting Life says. “The fact that we play a lot gives it more of the punk element to it. Then we try to double back and add that into the record.”
On top of this animated spirit, Sporting Life points out how, in terms of the technology being utilised, So It Goes undeniably differs from New York’s most prized hip-hop releases.
“You don’t have to try to do something new, because you’re using new programs you’re using new drum machines,” he says. “It’s being recorded with this technology, so in a way it’s going to be new anyway. You don’t necessarily have to stress that, you just have to set up a system and then put things through that system and see if they come out listenable. If it’s listenable people will consider it new, if it’s not they’ll be like ‘that’s just some noise.’”
Sporting Life produced the entire record, but Wiki and Hak weren’t denied their say on the production side of things. Similarly, Sporting Life, weighed in on the merits of what was coming from his co-pilots. Ratking are a crew after all, and it’s their vision leading the way, rather than their egos.
“To a certain degree it’s left up to the individual, but at the end of the day we all have to agree with it,” Sporting Life says. “If there’s a part that sounds really corny, we’re all going to say something about it, so there might be a little bit of back and forth about it. Over time you get more and more comfortable with maybe not having all of your ideas go in.
“That’s the only way you can improve,” he adds. “None of these albums that are considered great were [made] where one person did it all. You get to the point where you’re comfortable letting other people give you ideas or pointers on stuff. That’s another level of creativity – more successful or more cohesive creativity.”
Ratking might have fairly lofty ambitions, but condescending bravado isn’t their stock in trade. So it Goes is proof of the ultimate dividends this attitude supplies.