Photos by Andrew Kass
Ratking’s So It Goes was a stiff arm to any monolithic view of New York hip-hop that last year's return of Dipset and G-Unit brought. The album placed two twentysomething rhymers, slick-tongued and filled with youthful chutzpah, in a sonic metropolis much like New York’s: a shifting landscape where traditional boom-bap was a familiar but faint presence. MCs Hak and Wiki shook their fists at goddamned NYU, snarled at asshole cops while rocking Wallys, and made a pretty great album in the process.
Hak, Wiki, and producer Sporting Life are New York-bred, so they’re well aware that the city’s civilians are always looking for more. And today, they have more to deliver, via a new project, 700 Fill. The album is available for far less than an actual down jacket—unless you used a five-finger discount for that North Face. It’s free, and it was just released today via a BitTorrent bundle that includes a short film and all the instrumentals. While So It Goes had just a handful of features, including Brit crooner King Krule, the new album is more collaborative and more tied to New York, with contributions from World’s Fair’s Remy Banks, Despot, Princess Nokia, “Littlest Hustler” Alex Goldberg, and members of Ratking’s Letter Racer collective, Slickyboy and Sporting Life’s brother Teddy. New York’s in the building, ya’ll.
Will 700 Fill live up to the precedent of So It Goes? Maybe, but the trio is more worried about doing them. A few days before their two-night stint at New York’s Palisades and Webster Hall (as part of a tour with Trash Talk and Lee Bannon), Wiki and Sporting Life talked to us about following up So It Goes, touring with Run The Jewels, and just what “doing them” means. Don’t fret about that last part. It’s a good thing. Whereas So It Goes is more of a widescreen shot of New York (sonically, not just on the album cover), 700 Fill comes from the street level, with songs like the menacing, winterwear-themed posse cut “Steep Tech” and the jubilant sonic tinkering of “Makeitwork.” Wiki and Haks are sharp as ever, while the vibe is less cluttered chanting and more bursts of focus amid drifts of sound—check out the Animal Collective-meets-chipmunk soul instrumental of “Bethel.” Overall, 700 Fill is a bit tougher, set during the concrete jungle's brutal winter. Get your Marmot.
Noisey: So why go the free album route?
Wiki: We made this album in December. We did it in six days. We had an idea to put out a free project just to put something out and get as many people hearing it as possible. We figured that made sense as a way to do it—BitTorrent connections were already there, and we talked to XL, and they were cool with it—rather than having to do a huge release with all the press. When you go through the label there’s so much stuff you have to do. So we figured it would be easier to just get it out there.
Was this an intense six days of recording, or did it just come out organically?
Sporting Life: I think it was a little less intense than recording So It Goes. On the production side, a lot of pre-production had been done. So we had the blueprint kind of laid out. Pretty much what we had to do was write a bunch of songs and pick what we wanted to use to make sure everything was up to par.
Wiki: Maybe it was because that was the first album we made together—So It Goes. So maybe that’s why it was so intense. But [700 Fill] was a pretty fun experience. Since all the beats were there, and we had the structure, we had fun with it… It was all good. We had a lot of our friends featured on it and a lot of dope New York characters on it. It was a family event, you know?
Was there anything that you planned for this project that didn’t come through?
Wiki: Honestly, it ended up being more than we thought. First, we were going to do seven tracks. As we were recording, we were like, “This can be bigger. Why not?”
Will this album be more New York than So It Goes?
Sporting Life: I don’t think you can get more New York than So It Goes. I think it will be on another level. It’s not necessarily anything to compare. It’s like the more raw, quick, and fast side. I think So It Goes is the artistic, steady side.
Wiki: I think this one is more down to earth.
Sporting Life: Yeah, like a more street level New York.
Wiki: Because there’s not just one definition of what New York is. There’s so much that embodies it, so this is like a different side of New York.
Sporting Life: This is the New York as soon as you walk out of your doorstep.
How is this reflected in the sound?
Wiki: So It Goes was something we’ve been working on for a couple of years, so there was just all these beats and genres [to draw influence from]. This is just like right now. What are we listening to? Let’s explore this and make it Ratking-ified.
Sporting Life: There will probably be people who say you’re switching up, because people assume once you’ve made something you’re going to stay there. But I think there are a lot of styles as far as ideas and songs that are concurrent with what we did on So It Goes. The whole goal is to continuously break ground on new things and make it our own regardless of what it is you’re using. That’s the challenge we put on ourselves: How to make new things our own.
What’s it like chilling with Despot?
Wiki: Despot’s mad cool. When I was a lot young, I actually met Despot. He was playing a show… I got onstage and rapped. I was like, “Yo, let me rap.” Then he let me go onstage and I spit. Ever since then, I’ve known him. We went on the Run The Jewels tour with him and got to know him even more. Despot’s always been the homie, and we’ve been meaning to work together, so I’m happy it worked out.
Did you guys chop it up with Run The Jewels during that tour?
Sporting Life: We had a lot of conversations during that tour by just being on the bus joking and talking about current events—like being in St. Louis when that [Ferguson] verdict went down. We had a lot of conversations and those dudes are really chill and funny.
Wiki: Both are very distinct guys, and they’re both ill in their own ways.
Sporting Life: And their live set is crazy… Their album was built to be played live. Seeing that every day and playing before them definitely put the pressure on us to become tighter rap-wise. It’s a learning experience.
Was there any pressure going into 700 Fill? So It Goes got a lot of acclaim.
Wiki: I have thought about that, but at the same time, it’s so different even in how we made it. Just take it for what it is. Just take it or leave it. I think it’s ill. You could never know with these things; it could be so much better or so much worse by someone’s standards. But for me, I think it’s dope, and I’m ready to put it out there.
Sporting Life: At the end of the day, it’s just us exploring other styles. I don’t think any of the songs on 700 Fill are anything like the songs on So It Goes.
The praise would be nice though, right?
Wiki: The praise would be nice, but I don’t want to sit there and be like, “Yeah! This is the best album ever.”
Sporting Life: I think people are going to enjoy it. There are some types of songs on there that has never been made in rap before. There are just some hybrid tracks and a new combination of things. I know how we built it, but you never know how another person is going to hear those songs. That’s what’s more interesting to me: Putting the ideas into something and seeing how another person takes it and sees what the reference is or where we were taking something that already existed.
Who are you guys thinking about collaborating with in the future?
Sporting Life: There’s this producer from Virginia named D.R.A.M. Also, when we were in LA we had a chance to chill with Earl Sweatshirt, and we made some stuff. We went through a couple of days and recorded some stuff.
Wiki: Sport and Earl made a fucking ill-ass mix. He should just send it to you so you can hear it. It might come out some time. We’ll figure it out, but it has some fucking ill beats on there. But I wanna [pick collaborators] naturally and just figure out who you meet that’s dope. I definitely want to work with D.R.A.M. for sure. I want to work with Earl more.
The world needs to hear that mix, man.
Wiki: They were recording it, and like the next day we weren’t even thinking about it. Everyone was just chilling. There were mad heads there, too, so it wasn’t like we were trying to make these beats right now. Then we happened to listen to it and were like, “Oh shit. This is ill.” It’s kind of a happy accident.
Brian Josephs writes, frolics, and cavorts in East Flatbush, New York. Follow him on Twitter.
Andrew Kass is a New York-based photographer. Check out more of his work on his website.