Photos by Ben Roosevelt for Mixologi.
From the moment Wiki came on-stage chanting the words “20 degrees outside” on this 80-degree early August evening in Manhattan, Ratking‘s fans seemed determined to match the MC word for word, bounce for bounce, in terms of sheer hypeness. Girls hung over the barricade separating the crowd from photographers in front of the stage, dudes swatted the air while mimicking Wiki (pictured above) and Hak’s flows and the group’s crew vibed at the back of the stage like they were performing. There might be better shows this summer than Ratking at East River Amphitheater – emphasis on might – but it’s hard to imagine one more turned up than the one the young NYC hip-hop group delivered Wednesday night before several hundred fans.
Ratking shows are “lose your shit” affairs. When I saw them play in February 2014 at the now closed Glasslands in Brooklyn, there were a group of 15 kids moshing in front of the stage while others watched outside the fray. It was as much a punk show as a hip-hop one. Their shows, like the music they’ve released on debut album So It Goes and this year’s 700 Fill, are far from the nod your head politely variety hip hop. It’s gritty, raw, physical. When they’re talking about the cold, you feel the cold. It’s New York City, in all its dirty, fierce glory.
On this night, Ratking showed its ability to create atmosphere amid the chaos, a sense of awe among the kinetic energy. Wiki and Hak each controlled the stage, albeit in different ways. Wiki spit and moved like a man raving at the apocalypse. Hak conveyed both passion and chill, whether rhyming or singing in his island cadence. Sporting Life, the group’s producer, showcased versatility not only playing live percussion on drum pads but rapping on a handful of tracks. Hearing Isaiah Barr’s saxophone on these tracks only added to the sensation that Ratking is a live force.
The East River Amphitheater show also illustrated how strong 700 Fill is as a follow-up to So It Goes, one of my 2014 favorites. “I’ve been living my whole life just trying to make it work,” Wiki and Hak chanted on “Makeitwork,” the crowd going berserk as they did so. Meanwhile, on 700 Fill opener “American Gods,” Remy Banks, Teddy and Slickboy all came out to perform their features. The guest appearances didn’t stop there. Princess Nokia received one of the night’s loudest roars when she performed her feature on “Steep Tech.”
Ratking closed its pre-encore portion of the show with a raucous version of So It Goes standout “Canal” featuring its crew going ape-shit on stage. The crowd of hundreds that packed the amphitheater did likewise. To the end, the collective energy between the group and its fans was a homecoming match made for a king.