The morning after NYC hip-hop trio Ratking's raucous show at Eclectic, I headed into the drizzle to grab brunch with them at Middletown's famous O'Rourke's Diner. Over a veritable mountain of brunch-foods, discussion ranged from Ratking's creative process to Pangaea and the dinosaurs. A wondrous link between Aphex Twin and Cheef Keef emerged. I never got the toast I ordered.
Ratking is Wiki, Hak and Sporting Life.They seemed a bit bleary-eyed when we met up outside of the diner. I was on the same page. Spurred on by the energy of their Eclectic show, I'd had a pretty wild night. Apparently Ratking had too. They'd hit up a senior house, memory lapses ensued, Hak lost his weed, and their buddy Sammy slept in a dog bed.
Wiki and Hak strike a strong contrast on record and in person. Hak sometimes assumes a languid, spaced-out flow that occupies a totally different headspace in a song than Wiki's punchy, shouted rhymes. Sitting between the two of them, it made total sense. Hak spoke rarely but carefully, and often seemed wrapped up in his own thoughts. Wiki, on the other hand, was a constant and hilarious force in the conversation, answering in torrents of raw, energetic exclamation. Sporting Life is the group's primary beat-maker and producer. He was Ratking's eloquent anchor for much of the conversation.
With omelettes on the way, a camera with swerving, grainy video on playback passed back and forth over the table. I caught glimpses of Wiki and Hak freestyling around someone's kitchen the night before. The show certainly hadn't ended at Eclectic.
Chris: Ratking, what are you brunching on?
Wiki: I ordered the Dubliner. It's like the corned beef in the omelet with cheese with bacon on the side.
Sporting Life: I got french toast with two egg whites.
Hak: The casino.
Wiki: Does that have crab meat in it?
Sporting Life: That looks dope.
Wiki: I guess since we're all in Connecticut the crabs are probably good and shit.
Chris: Google search results for "ratking" are half you guys and half clumps of dead rats. What does the name Ratking mean to you guys?
Sporting Life: Well, the name comes from a couple of different sources. One is when a bunch of rats are in a situation where they have to live in really close proximity to each other, and because of dirt and rats being kinda filthy and shit, they could get tangled. Sometimes they can live together, tangled, and operate together. It also comes from the Ninja Turtles character.
Wiki: It's kinda like Yin and Yang. Opposing sides, the rat and the king.
Chris: Was it something that you guys came up with together?
Hak: I think Sport came up with it.
Sporting Life: We had a couple of names we were trying to decide on.
Wiki: We had a list of names, and it just kinda stuck. We had another name we were trying to decide on, and then Ratking came and we were like, 'that's the one.'
Chris: What was the first show the three of you played together?
Sporting Life: It was in some art gallery, with my younger brother's band Normally Important. I remember I had an MPC 1000, totally different set up. Yea, it was really poppin' too.
Wiki: That was... that was a minute ago. It was a dope show.
Chris: What was that show like? How have you guys changed since then?
Hak: I guess I was scared.
Wiki: The set has changed.
Hak: Our live performance has grown, and our stage presence.
Sporting Life: Definitely hot stage presence is doin' a lot. And the equipment. The SB 555 is the most prominent thing, and then the SB drum pad I added about a year ago. The live gear setup has developed as well as the songs too, because we're writing them in real time. Some new songs we just start playing live. We try to let them develop over time.
Chris: How do you reshape your songs for live performance?
Wiki: It's a different shape, yea. It's always different than the last show, so the last show helps inform what we make, you know. We play songs out live before we record them.
Sporting Life: Right now we're playing this song "Returner Revealed," that isn't out yet. We try to mix it up. We need to start playing new songs. I wanna play a whole new act for the set, just merk 'em. Like, none of these songs anyone has heard...
Wiki: We've just gotta play the whole album, man.
Sporting Life: We need to play the new EP, yo, we need to start practicing that shit.
Chris: This new EP... Where's it at? How's it coming together?
Wiki: Oh, it's not even recorded.
Sporting Life: It's basically just beats and some rhymes at this point.
Wiki: At this point, Sport's been workin' on stuff, Hak's been workin' on stuff, I have too. We need to just get in a room and really make it happen.
Hak: It comes together when we actually sit down and chill.
Sporting Life: It comes together in a couple different ways. Sometimes it'll be an instrumental and they're both working on it overtime. Or then sometimes it'll be a piece of a beat, the beginning stages of a beat... Canal was like that. It was just an instrumental and we were like, this is kinda dope, we should make this a song.
Chris: From the first track on So it Goes to the track "Protein", where you drop the line "This ain't 90s revival, it's earlier, it's tribal revival," you guys seem conscious of your place in hip hop's history. What are you guys reviving?
Sporting Life: 'Tribal revival' for that song... well, in "Protein", it sounds tribal, like a digital jungle or somethin', weird birds flying around. I've always thought that some of Wiki's rhymes from So it Goes can talk about shit from Pangaea but also present day New York City simultaneously, so its traversing that time period. You can mention something that has to do with ancient cultures while referencing something from today.
Wiki: It's like a feeling, a time, we're just kinda talking about a time. This isn't 90s revival, this goes even farther back.
Sporting Life: Yea, we took the time to go further back to actually try to find something original.
Chris: On that idea, how do you guys consider the originality vs. the accessibility of your music?
Wiki: We always try to be accessible. It's important to have a good balance I think, 'cause you need to have people be able to listen that shit like 'damn, this shit is hard,' no matter who it is.
Sporting Life: I'm forcing myself to learn how to be dope and accessible at the same time. 'Cause i feel like it was really hard to get dope, but now you have to backtrack and get accessible. But it's good to do it that way. Dope first, then accessible. You can always stay dope.
Chris: What music have you guys been listening to? What groups have influenced Ratking?
Sporting Life: Panda Bear, I went to two of his concerts in New York. Shit was poppin'. Black Dice, Eric Copeland, and Animal Collective... that plus Juvenile and Capone-N-Noreaga were all the original influences for Ratking. And Suicide... those, for me, are core influences for how we present ourselves.
Wiki: Lil' Herb is dope.
Sporting Life: I just like the fact that there are new kinds of songs to be made. I don't care if it's good or not, I'm just like, here are new things, what kinda influence can take from this? The space, the clarity... like in "Citgo" and those weird Cheef Keef beats.
Hak: And then there's Aphex Twin, Syro.
Sporting Life: Yea that beat [from "Citgo"] sounds exactly like an Aphex Twin song he made like 15 years ago. You can find mad other genres in Aphex Twin's discography. It's a song called "Octagon." It sounds exactly like "Citgo."
Chris: You guys had some sweet features on So it Goes. What were these collaborations like?
Hak: It was just our friends, we didn't request anyone.
Sporting Life: I like it that way, because all the people we worked with are actually our friends now. So they aren't necessarily just business relationships. But I feel like now we're getting into the more distant collaborations but we're still making new friends. And everybody's chill, that's the thing.
Wiki: Yea it's the same thing, we're travelling and meeting all different types of people, and when we work we're usually just, like, chillin'. It's chill.
Chris: Do you think it'll be harder to keep that feeling once you get more established as a group?
Hak: Probably as you start to work with people, on solely a basis of working for the track, that's probably when it gets weird.
Sporting Life: I think the only way it becomes hard if you start slacking, the collaborations become hard. The doper you are the easier the collaborations are.
Chris: Social activities... What do you guys do together when you aren't making music?
Hak: Try to hang out with girls.
Sporting Life: I try to do something music related at all times, or as much as possible. Or chillin' with a cute girl or somethin'. Yea, but that's pretty much it.
Wiki: Hang out, listen to music, walk around, chill in a stoop, meet up with some friends, smoke a joint, choop a beer, get somethin' to eat, go see a movie.
Sporting Life: We also do a radio show every Thursday, it's on Know Wave. It's us and a bunch of our friends, so every Thursday between 6-8 PM we meet up, play instrumentals, freestyle, play new tracks and demos and shit we've been workin' on.
Chris: What are your favorite dinosaurs?
Wiki: Fuck, I forget all the dinosaurs.
Sporting Life: Diplodocus.
Wiki: I fuck with... Pterodactyls.
Chris: Hak, do you have a favorite dinosaur?
Hak: Nah, not really.
Wiki: You don't fuck with... you hate dinosaurs? You happy they died?
Check out the rest of Aural Wes's photos from the Ratking show here.