In “Pretty Picture,” the second track on Manhattan rap alchemists Ratking’s Wiki93 record, the four teenagers repeat a gritty mantra: “We some mutts / Thinking that we done? / Dumb.” Mutts is the operative word here: Ratking have a hodgepodge family tree of influences, from the post-punk ethos of fellow New Yorkers the Beastie Boys to the disturbed vision of Odd Future to the surgical production and flow of El-P. But unlike another young NYC collective, Joey Bada$$’s Pro Era, Ratking aren’t interested in breathing new life into the past. Instead, they are fully Generation i: Wiki, producers Sporting Life and Ramon and fellow MC Hak were born into a world already entangled in the Web, and Wiki93, a warped, knotty, dissociative release, mirrors lives refracted through a dozen online outlets.
Much of this dominant, domineering feeling is generated through Sporting Life and Ramon’s beats, which lurch and stutter in self-destructive loops. It’s drunken boxing filtered through a snowy TV channel and recalls the dystopian atmosphere of this year’s Cancer 4 Cure. Opener “Retired Sports” jitters with snares and buzzes with found sound, miasmic. Wiki’s flow feels first-thought-best-thought, a trashy stream of consciousness. He pulls no punches and has a lot to prove, slashing his words: “When I roll up, Wiki’s gonna throw up / Wiki’s gotta grow up, hold up / You don’t know what.” Halfway through, the track switches gears and suddenly inhabits a different beat and flow, slowing to near-spoken-word, a manifesto with snatches of boom-bap punctuating a synth reverb.
Other songs reveal how sponge-like these kids are. “646-704-2610” finds Wiki calling Hak, who phones in an ASAP Rocky-level tongue twister. “Piece of Shit” is a druggy lurch that Lil B might’ve produced, and “Comic” has a bitter, horror-core edge, full of Death Gripsian looped chanting and coal-dirt industrial noises. “Sporting Life” repeats the theme closely—too closely to not sound stale. It’s also the third instance of this hybrid EP (seven tracks, two of which could be split in two) that repurposes one of the crew’s names for a title, a convention that toes the line between confidence and arrogance. But then, we don’t want reserved prudence from young guns. Sharing a label with Adele and The xx lends plenty of legitimacy at this early junction, as does playing at CMJ and Pitchfork Paris. Ratking have carved out a small kingdom in a crowded space, but underground hip-hop is a meritocracy. The next time Wiki and company speak, we’ll be listening.