On October 18, as New York music lovers line up for CMJ Week shows, Complex will be throwing its own "Judgment Night" event, in Brooklyn. (You can RSVP to it, here! It's free!) Making an appearance will be the boys of Ratking, a hard-charging, fast-spitting collective that's trying to change the future while drawing inspiration from the past.
Sure, they make golden era hip-hop music, but they don't consider themselves rappers. Instead, they refer to each other as artists. It's a notable and high-falutin' distinction, one that's hard to ignore. Wiki, the de facto face of the group, was born in 1993, not even twenty years ago. Bow down to our young leader.
Interview by Jeff Rosenthal (@itsthereal)
Ever since I heard your name, Wiki, I've always wondered: What is it like having the most impossible name to Google?
It's whatever. It's chill. I don't usually Google myself, so I don't give a shit.
At rap shows around New York, Brooklyn always gets shouted out, then Queens. Harlem and the Bronx, Staten Island, New Jersey and sometimes Connecticut. But no one ever shouts out Manhattan, and never ever ever will anyone shout out the Upper West Side. As someone from the Upper West Side, how does that make you feel?
I see what you're saying. It's like that Ghost song, right? You're like, waiting for Manhattan. What song is that? You know what I'm talking about?
I'm gonna be honest, I have no idea.
When they're shouting out Jersey and all that and you're like, "Fuck! Where's Manhattan?!" Nah, I see you. I mean, whatever. It's chill. We're putting it on, you know. Manhattan all day, Upper West, fuck the rest. But I mean, I don't know that I really represent the Upper West Side. I'm from the Upper West Side, but...I fuck with bagels and shit. I went to Cathedral School, which is right on 110th...it's in the big-ass cathedral, you know. I always chilled at the monument back in the day, on 88th. I used to live on 88th and Riverside. Shout out to Big Nick's, too!
Growing up in New York isn't like growing up anywhere else. I was once in a conversation with a girl from the Midwest, who wondered why kids in New York didn't play hide and go seek in a 30 block radius. Did you have a childhood, or did you grow up quickly?
Oh, I definitely had a childhood. I grew up like anyone else, anywhere else in the city. Just chillin', you know what I mean? Honestly, until high school, I spent most of my time on the Upper West Side, and then I went to school in Brooklyn, so I chilled a lot downtown and I like, had a lot of boys down here. I dunno. It was pretty regular, honestly. Nothing that crazy. Fucked around a little bit when we were in high school, growing up. Did all the stupid shit, like drugs and stuff like that. It's like, pretty regular.
You said in an interview that hip-hop shows suck. What's the worst hip-hop show you've seen?
Damn! I don't wanna blow up anyone's spot. I'll tell you, I feel like hip-hop a lot of time, it's just like, recorded, like, right there. You get that one take, that one verse, then you go out and you have to perform it...it's like, if it's for a band, then they'd be practicing for a long period of time and be playing that, performing it out, until it's ready to record, you know what I'm saying?
You said in that same interview that you thought hip-hop shows were boring; that they were lacking in energy, which I thought was surprising. I feel like the punk aesthetic you were looking for is back, especially having seen Odd Future when they were first playing shows. They channeled Bad Brains when they hurricaned into town. Do you feel hip-hop shows are changing in that respect?
Yeah, yeah, definitely. I think all of those kids opened the doors for a lot of weird shit to get involved in hip-hop. But I also feel like there are still ill live acts. Like, Jay kills it live! I saw Jay-Z live and he murks that shit. I think it is changing, and I think it's because hip-hop's in a more popular platform than it always was and now it has to change. So, yeah, I think it's on the right track in terms of live shows and hip-hop. I think it must seem like a lot of new artists kill it live.
But how do you feel you fit into that conversation? It's a pretty gutsy statement for you to make, just starting out.
I think we, Ratking, go in to make sure our live shows are ill. I feel like we practice the songs out before we even record them and shit. Most of our live set right now isn't like, songs we've recorded; most of it's new songs that we're still developing, that we're working on.
You opened up early on for Gunplay at Santo's...
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It was Gunplay and Bodega Bamz. That show wasn't our best show, to be honest. It was one of our earliest shows, and we didn't get a sound check in so our sound was kinda wack and shit. A week later, though, on 4/20, we were there and that shit was insane. That shit was popping. In terms of what we're doing live, we have two artists that are playing SP's [Roland SP-555s] live with pedals. And then we have me and another artist—Hak—who are spitting and basically that's the live show.
You were born in 1993, and nostalgia has made it seem like we're still living in the '90s. I mean, the calendar says it's not, but kids have such a hard-on for the Clinton era, that it begs the question: What do you actually remember from the 1990s?
I don't remember the fuckin' '90s! [Laughs.] I mean, I was born in '93, but...I fuck with '90s culture, but I'm all about the 2010s. I'm about pushing this shit. I'm influenced by this shit, and of course, I mean...I was a kid, and when you're a kid, you're just a kid and you're not really thinking about that shit. I'm influenced by the '90s, I'm influenced by that type of music and all that shit, but at the same time, it's like, yo.
And also, that's just like, when you grow up in New York listening to hip-hop, and you're chilling downtown, a lot of the time you're listening to like, mad '90s hip-hop. Everyone I know fucks with the greats. That influenced me, but I'm about pushing forward and changing the way shit was, not just doing the same old shit and not just doing some '90s revival.
See, but that's what I feel is happening. It is a '90s revival. There are rappers who are bubbling up who I'm just like, I thought we got rid of people like this in the '90s; I thought we already did this.
I feel you, I feel you. I know what you're saying. Like, kids like me, we were raised in the 2000s.
But how do you push forward something that's so ingrained in a past era?
I feel like you've gotta take from other stuff. The fact that we're in this new era, everything is so accessible to us. We have the Internet, we have all types of music. You can't just listen to...you can't just take the models of '90s hip-hop and use them. You have to take all types of shit and combine them.
Ratking's shit, we're about to pop. You're using the '90s model, the '90s hip-hop equation and shit, but mixing it with all other types of stuff. Like, everything from like suicide to some zombies shit to jungle shit. Put these things together in ill ways—make sure they relate, don't make it random—but like, shit crosses over in culture and you can mix those things using old models and new models and...I don't know what the fuck I'm saying.
A few years ago, groups were very dead in hip-hop. Before this current crop, the last ones were like, D4L and Dem Franchize Boyz. But now they're everywhere: A$AP, GBE, Raider Klan, Slutty Boyz, Maino's Mafia. You're in a group; why do you think groups are back so hard?
Alright, check it. I think the group element is back so hard...well, it's a crew element. They'll make songs together and shit but like, they have their solo shit. I dunno. I dunno why that's happening. What distinguishes Ratking is, this is two rappers and two musicians just making this shit live, making this music. We're not like, a crew of rappers. I see you, though. But we're more of a band, that's how I see us. But I do see you, though.
Point taken, but still, which hip-hop crew would you like to take on in stickball?
Stickball? Oh, I thought you said kickball. See, that would switch up my answer if it was kickball. Different skills. Stickball? Maybach Music, definitely. Kickball...who's kickball. Fuck. Who's kickball...? Uh, damn. What other crews are there?
Right now, there's G.O.O.D. Music, there's Young Money, there's...
Oh, G.O.O.D. Music. Fuck that, G.O.O.D. Music. In kickball, definitely. They can't kick. I'm just playin', I'm just playin'!
To attend the "Judgment Night" concert, which will feature performances from Action Bronson, Interpol's Paul Banks, Alchemist, Spaceghostpurrp, Wiki, and many others, RSVP here.
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