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Original release date: 8 April, 2014
Label: HXC/ XL Recordings

In the early 2010s, the future of rap was up for grabs. The decade before had seen the mainstream dominated by indie sleaze and radio-satisfying Jay-Z tracks, leaving many MCs to explore new sonic territories in underground movements across the States. Whether in Detroit with Danny Brown, Atlanta with Migos and Young Thug, New York with A$AP Mob, or out west with Clipping, experimental hip-hop was bubbling with possibilities. The sounds were as diverse as their creators, but what united them all was boundless ambition. The next wave of rappers and producers didn’t want to inherit hip-hop’s crown, they wanted it melted down and made-to-measure.

Around this time, Patrick ‘Wiki’ Morales and Hakeem ‘Hak’ Lewis were in their senior year of high school in New York when their older friend Eric Adiele, a.k.a. producer Sporting Life, moved into an apartment on 140th and Broadway. Blessed with a new hangout spot, the trio did what any music-obsessed kids would do and started a band. “There was a lot of experimental rap out, but we didn’t think it was on the level,” says Morales of the group’s founding attitude. “So we started Ratking. We wanted to be unfuckwithable.”

The trio spent the next two years writing demos, skateboarding and playing shows every weekend. Soon, they caught the attention of indie giant XL Recordings. In 2014, Ratking released So It Goes, their debut – and, to date, only – album; an in-your-face blast of maximalist rap that owes as much to punk as it does to hip-hop.

“I remember my history teacher talking about the first Ramones record. When that dropped, that’s what New York sounded like. It was the moment. [So It Goes] is like that” – Patrick ‘Wiki’ Morales

In interviews promoting the release, Ratking gleefully aligned themselves with hardcore as much as they did rap. Throughout So It Goes, Morales in particular delivers many of his verses with the ferocity of a hardcore vocalist inciting a circle pit, while Adiele cites the influence of cult NYC underground acts like A.R.E. Weapons. Ratking brought this ethos to life at shows: Morales and Lewis stalking the lip of the stage, the former occasionally beating himself over the head with the mic. “We almost caved the floor in at our release show!” Adiele admits. “We tried to mitigate the energy so it didn’t overflow and someone gets punched in the face.”

On So It Goes, that raucous energy manifests through vocal samples, skittish footwork drums, skull-rattling 808s and bratty adlibs stacked on top of one another like a lamppost plastered in basement show flyers. Take the opening bars of fan favourite Canal: distorted sirens jostle for space with thudding drums and tinny hi-hats as Morales and Lewis holler, “Cuh-cuh! New Ratking! Canal canal!” By the time Lewis rolls in with his infinitely chantable “what a mess but yet you continue to feed!” it’s impossible not to move. Canal also contains the record’s mission statement. As the beat dissolves, leaving the two MCs running a capella, Morales declares: “Think the city has let up? Better check up/ Kids that are fed up/ Instead of bitching and moaning, they get buck and get up.” If you thought the NYC rap game had lost its edge, think again.

So It Goes is littered with allusions to the city. The title track conjures the perpetual movement of day-to-day life, flipping a piece of hip-hop history with its refrain of, “Six million trains to ride, choose one/ Six million stories to tell, whose one?” Likewise, Snow Beach takes its name from a Ralph Lauren collection, a fashion brand whose association with New York rap goes back decades (think Raekwon flexing a Snow Beach jacket in the video for Can It All Be So Simple). “I remember my history teacher talking about the first Ramones record,” Morales reflects. “When that shit dropped, that’s what New York sounded like. It was the moment. [So It Goes] is like that.”

Like the famed NYC punks before them, Ratking confronted the city’s ills. Remove Ya, for example, is built around chirping police sirens, as Lewis and Morales detail police brutality. The track concludes with one of the album’s most affecting moments, the beat cutting out as a female voice recites a chilling nursery rhyme: “N-Y-P-D miny mo/ Catch a Black boy by his toe/ Hang him put him up for show”.

So It Goes also draws on influence from further afield. Protein is a blast of Chicago footwork synths and drum programming, with Lewis and Morales constantly shifting flows to ride the jittering beat. At one point, Lewis starts singing, his serene vocals drifting above the chaos beneath. Look closely, and you’ll even notice the similarities between the album’s cover art and DJ Rashad’s seminal Double Cup. The members of Ratking also had real love for music coming out of the U.K. On lead single, So Sick Stories, Londoner King Krule lends his baritone to a hook that details a grey city “in between the concrete and the mist” that sounds familiar to residents of both metropolises. This transatlantic fusion is reflected in Adiele’s production as well: a stilted piano melody points to the uncut samples of 36 Chambers-era Wu-Tang, while fluttering drums hint at the U.K. jungle breaks that the producer obsessed over.

Whichever side of the Atlantic you were on at the time, So It Goes is a snapshot of a music culture that’s all but disappeared. Streaming and social media had yet to dominate people’s listening habits, and the now-customary meteoric rise of artists – particularly in hip-hop – was still a novelty. Through this lens, it seems almost inevitable that – despite 2015 follow-up EP 700 Fill hinting at more to come – So It Goes would be Ratking’s only album. “Even the title is referencing time passing,” Adiele says with a touch of resignation. “The lesson is to be OK with the idea that nothing ever stays the same. It’s perfect as is, you know?”