Thomas Johnson sings Frank Ocean to cab drivers
Ratking’s So It Goes was a portrait of the metropolis about to collapse. It’s similarities to past monuments were overlooked, most notably Cannibal Ox’s Cold Vein. Both were released independently without much promotion, and they’re helmed by producers who sound somewhat like New York’s winters and the cities ever-grimy buzz. Plus, both introduced the world to original and enigmatic young MC’s, namely Vaste Aire and Wiki.
On Ratking’s new project 700 Fill, Wiki, Hak and Sporting Life have refined every aspect of their game. Rather than wait fourteen years like their forbearers, they waited a few months to release a follow up. It retains all that made So It Goes great and curbs what brought it down. Wiki and Hak’s flows are more skillful, with Wiki, particularly, improving upon his somewhat erratic, off-kilter flow. His nasally vocals now compliment the fluidity of the rhythms.
Sporting Life’s the real star on 700 Fill. So It Goes nearly unravelled behind the boards, at times it was too distracting. It was original and a great base, but most of the production overshadowed the chaos. “Snow Beach,” the best song on the album, was able to find the perfect medium between crowded and collected. 700 Fill follows in its groove, never overflowing but maintaining an understated bounce that was sorely missing in their previous material. Opener “American Gods” and quasi-posse track “Sleep Tech” have lowkey trap beats that trade low-end bass for rippling keys, allowing equally gritty verses from all involved. The more ethereal cuts, like the balmy reminiscence of “Arnold Palmer” and cloud-rap prototype “Eternal Reveal,” strong-arm the harder aspects of Sporting Life’s typical technique, and instead, emphasize straightforward melody and Life’s love for the saxophone, not unlike the outro to “Snow Beach.”
With 700 Fill, Ratking are quickly becoming one of the most interesting acts around–East Coast or otherwise. They drop heady bars that never come off as cerebrally demanding, over radical production that’s as nod-inducing as it is subversive. The front of the group is barely old enough to drink and the main producer is over a decade their senior, yet together they make some of the better music you’ll have heard this year. Whether they’re legacy is as strong in 15 years as Cannibal Ox’s is impossible to say, but they already have a better catalogue. That’s something to celebrate, whether they’re sipping a 40 or an ice tea and lemonade.