In Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five, an account of “so it goes” immediately follows any mention of death.
New York hip-hop trio RATKING purposely embrace this relationship with their debut album adopting this iconic phrase and attempting to put the trend of “taking it back to New York’s golden age” into finality. RATKING is comprised of MCs Wiki and Hak going over Heatmakerz-meets-SBTRKT production by in-house producer Sporting Life. So It Goes is a jargon-injected urban ballad that expertly blends the best elements of punk, hardcore hip-hop, and electronic music, both in the stylistic and idealistic sense.
RATKING made a little bit of a name for themselves in 2013 with their debut EP Wiki93 which was eventually taken down from their Bandcamp and re-released by XL Recordings entirely reworked. The EP featured all the elements that eventually brought the trio to where they artistically stand at the moment, but the project lacked a clear vision and the cohesiveness of a flowing body of work. They’ve obviously made notes and fixed those issues with So It Goes.
From the get-go, So It Goes explores its anti-conformity themes with an opening monologue by Wiki explaining that, “the average 23-year-old rapper is different from Biggie and Pac, so you can’t really compare the two…you just gotta stick with the now.” The album’s excellent first half mostly deals with the grimness and isolation that comes with living in modern urban New York and being associated with its street culture. “Canal”, the album’s first single, is a cry of frustration from “kids that are fed up” with the “sin city”. “Snow Beach”, one of the album’s brightest highlights, features Wiki and Hak lamenting about the city’s metaphorical decay. “How you supposed to be standing for New York, dismantling New York?” questions Wiki, expressing disdain for the current wave of “throwback rappers” over a distorted jazzy sax sample.
Through the different sounds and structural styles, one can still hear obvious homages and influence from New York hip-hop heroes such as The Diplomats and Def Jux. RATKING manages to sound like nothing else but yet still wear their influences on their sleeves. They aren’t scared to make it known who they look up to, they just don’t want to emulate them. That’s something that more New York upstart rappers should take a few hints on. The contrast between the rapping styles of Wiki and Hak perfectly compliment Sporting Life’s often erratic and occasionally “digitally soulful” production. On Wiki93, Wiki sounded like a young Slim Shady firing slang-filled stories but at time sounding a little silly with some of his word choice. On So It Goes, maturity seems to have settled in and he sounds a little less outside-looking-in and more like a caged bird telling his story. Meanwhile, Hak croons lines that would read like something you would see on a Bronx graffiti mural.
Here in 2014, it has become quite a bit of a cliché to call the newest underground New York album the next Cold Vein. However, the comparison has never been so right to point out until now. Cannibal Ox created one of the last love-hate stories about pre-9/11 urban New York ever created with their now-classic The Cold Vein, RATKING accomplishes the same feat with as much (if not more) grime, honesty, and unique style as their predecessors that built the foundation of which they base their craft upon.
So It Goes is an accomplishment of many feats. RATKING successfully attempts to pull the plug on structural and aesthetic limitations that have plagued New York hip-hop for decades now while still touching on issues that historically have been prevalent in the city’s urban culture.