Livening the discourse surrounding the health of New York hip-hop in recent years (and concurrently providing somewhat of a chew toy for salty genre purists), Ratking made their full-length debut a year ago on the XL offshoot Hot Charity. The tripartite of Wiki, Hak, and producer Sporting Life have sidestepped label mediation however, for a new surprise 9-track release entitled 700-Fill, the group’s first offering since the album. The release is assembled as a BitTorrent Bundle; a newly minted media format from the file sharing service that allows the downloading of premium content unlocked by email subscription. Perusing the finished folder kind of felt like gazing at a popped cyber trunk, where you also had the option of copping the instrumental disk and got the drop on forthcoming merch. Here might be where an ignorant “industry vs. in-the-streets” dichotomy could be discussed (and Ratking’s place within it), but because they were willing to drop an album’s worth of album-ready material for free, they do seem grounded and in touch with their fan base despite steep success. As an act touted as conjuring the unvarnished spirit of grimey New York without a gimmicky entanglement with boom bap but instead with a novel chutzpah, this FREE-P sounds familiar.
There are instances of novelty for the group throughout the EP with respect to both sides of the board. Hak returns to form, abstracting his thoughts high above street level with exalted prose when he’s not gracing tracks with a impressive, albeit vulnerable, whispering singing voice (“Eternal Reveal” houses both). Meanwhile, Wiki spits decidedly more forthright compared to his album verses. His wit is still steady: in one head-shaking instance he makes innuendo of the popular half-and-half drink on the bridge of “Arnold Palmer”—“yeah I’m mixed bitch sip that iced tea and lemonade”. At the same time, they still showcase their technical ability through their knack for parlaying one bar into the next, finishing phrases uninterrupted by beat measures and iron-cold imagery. “At the laundry mat/ tryna clean my white t’s, my undies and my Yankees cap/ I ain’t make it back, I made it to the coldest cell that I’ve ever felt”, Hak remembers dead-eyed on hustle anthem opener “American Gods”, which features World’s Fair spitter Remy Banks. Though the odd cop diss seems inevitable from disenchanted New Yorkers, 700-Fill contains less commentary on the sociology of the city. It’s no doubt Wiki’s gnarling vocal timbre that predominates the Ratking sound remembers the angst-laden weariness of So It Goes, but decidedly that’s not what pervades the new project. “Sporting Life” continues to glue things together with tightly tuned drums, and, on the EP, we get a taste of the looser side of his oeuvre (“Eternal Reveal”, “Sticky Trap”) as well as some granular tech-inflected production (“Steep Tech”). The producer’s still at his best when in the vein of Heatmakerz, making “Bethel” cry with manipulated soul and a piercing backdrop mingling over a swung drum program. In some ways, 700-Fill is presented as an exposé of the city, more particularly about loathing a bitter North East winter and, something very immediate, the role (thematic) buff down jackets play. We learn from Ratking that there’s a direct relationship between the amount of feathers on your back and survival.
700-Fill was released March 4 (accumulating over 350k downloads in its first two days available) . Subscribe with your email to download the entire bundle via BitTorrent.