Official album art from Wiki93.
“It would be ill if your image was less important than your skill,” Harlem-based hip hop crew Ratking writes on Twitter, furthering one of their tangents for the day. “I guess somebody’s gotta do the taking if nobody wants to give… allota people wanna be the man just because.”
Ratking thinks like the man, but speaks more with the unabashed candor of youth. Call them hip hop, rock, pop – the “next Odd Future” – this crew of four and their debut EP, Wiki93, are creating a buzz with their honest dissection of life, or something like it, from the vantage of a soul on the brink of maturity.
“RATKING© NOT PATTERNED BUT NOT RANDOM,” they tweet. “RATKING©… 4 THE SO- CALLED AVANT-GARDE…RATKING© IS CIA. RATKING© KNACK FOR GATORS. ASK ANYBODY YOU CAN TRUST RATKING©”
Led by 18-year-old emcee Patrick “Wiki” Morales, it’s clear flow is in focus with this emerging bunch of punk rap artists, and Morales’ rhymes can be as hard as Eminem at times. He’s proof that hip hop runs deep into the veins of New York City, a cultural plasma flowing through the schools, homes and streets that infiltrates the minds of youngsters. He’s also a testament to the shifting artistic scene of hip hop’s birthplace.
“Harlem is built off Southern Blacks coming up to Harlem,” Morales points out in an interview with Complex. “It’s like Southern culture, churches on every other block and soul food. Like a dude that’s in the middle of America—I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that dude, and this is good things and bad things—they can sound exactly like a New York rapper, they don’t have to be from New York. They can dress exactly like some dude from New York. There used to be more distinct styles.”
He adds, “That’s dope because now some dude who isn’t from L.A., or New York, or one of these cities, can get put on because he’s talented as fuck. But also, it takes something away. New York rappers don’t sound as authentic to their city.”
This may be an attribute Ratking hopes to do away with, but don’t assume Morales is some tough street kid from the ghetto either. While many of rap’s legends hailed from the city’s grimiest enclaves, Morales grew up a far cry away from Brooklyn. Despite the grit of his introspection, he was raised in a cushy neighborhood of the Upper West Side in Manhattan, and coins himself, “like, well off, upper-middle class.” Yet even in the hoity-toity sectors of the city, hip hop still funnels its way into all factions of the community.
“I started rapping when I was in 6th grade,” Morales recalls. “I had a math teacher and a Spanish teacher who grew up in the Bronx and they were into hip hop. They spit a little bit, so we would cyph. It was funny because they were my teachers.”
Years later, Morales has now assembled a solid core of cohorts focused on upping the ante of their performances, and pushing out Wiki93, released this past November. It’s a follow-up to a free edition they put out online last year, and a breakout move for the group. Jon Carmanica wrote in the New York Times, “Plenty of albums are about the city, far fewer are of it…[Wiki93] is in its fiber a product of the city — not just the physical streets, but also a frame of mind and a set of experiences.”
Stretching their insight as far as their eyes can wander, Ratking is stepping up to the next level. They are currently signed to one of the big indies – XL Recordings – and not surprisingly, aren’t too into the idea of a major endorsement. For a bunch of kids still waiting on high school graduation, they’ve got a good enough thing going and life has never been about taking over the world.
“The dope part for me is like, I don’t need to live [fancy],” says Morales. “I understand how if all your life you’re broke as fuck, and when you get paid you’re gonna ‘ball out.’ In my mindset, there’s no need to do that. No matter how paid I am, I know I’m gonna live relatively humbly. Which is dope, Fuck that, I’ll live Uptown or I’ll live [in Harlem] in some nice ass brownstone or some shit.”