Title: So It Goes
Record Label: Hot Charity / XL Recordings
There seems to be an eternal trend in popular music for musicians to write songs about where they’re from. Whether it’s the artist’s hometown, current residence, or honorary home, some artists seem to be endlessly linked to a certain location– just look up George Strait’s songs about Texas. For Ratking, you could pick any of their songs and guess within the first 30 seconds that New York City is where the heart is for this Harlem-based rap collective. Their sophomore album So It Goes, released off Hot Charity / XL Recordings, follows this locational trend and paints an alt-hip hop portrait of contemporary NYC.
“Remove Ya” really stands out from the album as a sonically interesting foray with candid, socially conscious lyrics. The song starts out with a recording of a police officer arresting a man. “What am I being arrested for?” the man asks. “For being a f***ing mutt,” the police officer answers. As the song starts, background music as hectic as Missy Elliott’s “Lose Control” comes in and snippets of the policeman recording fade in and out behind Ratking’s rap. The lyrics describe being falsely accused as a “mutt” in New York City and the blatant racism from the “men in blue”– NYPD cops. The chorus is many voices chant-singing in a style similar to Outkast’s “Roses.” At the end of the song it fades into what sounds like a recording of a woman freestyling on a New York City block. “N-Y-P-D-miney-mo, catch a black boy by his soul // Hang him, put him up for show,” she raps, and then fades into a soft sing-talk as the song finishes. The juxtaposition of Ratking’s taut and rigorous flow with the woman’s relaxed tenor gives nice sonic diversity in addition to these politically charged lyrics.
“Puerto Rican Judo” again examines different facets of New York City in its lyrics while entertaining the listener’s ear with background music that references a variety of genres. Most of the song is loosely techno, “Vogue” era Madonna-esque talking over a pulsing beat– imagine The Scissor Sisters’ “Let’s Have a Kiki” with men rapping about New York City. Later in the song, a cha-cha piano hook fades in and out as they rap. Ratking performs their lyrics with comical accents and guest vocalists highlighting the cultural diversity of the City. The title of the song refers to a street fighting style typical of Puerto Rican communities in New York City– again, Ratking seems to like to sing about what they know.
One critique of Ratking’s first album was that they were still searching for something to say. At least with So It Goes, I think they’ve found their theme. Ratking is a collective from New York City– Instead of trying to sing about millionaire dreams or life-changing political statements, they rap about what they know. So It Goes salutes New York with constant references in the album’s lyric references, subject matter, and musical styles. Even the cover of the album is an homage to the Big Apple. I don’t know that singing about life in New York is enough for Ratking’s entire musical career, however– eventually as artists they may want to delve deeper into more significant issues that speak to them. But for now, Ratking has made a memorable album and paid a beautiful homage to their home city.