“I’m sorry,” the woman’s voice says, “but the person you called has a voice mailbox that has not been set up yet. Goodbye.”
That’s what you hear when you dial the titular number of “646-704-2610,” a track from Ratking’s 2012 debut EP, Wiki93. Honestly, the message is a disappointment. The Harlem trio’s hip-hop sprints and weaves at a frenetic clip that just dares you to keep up, so it would have been cool to actually have something waiting at the number as a reward for people who want to follow them all the way down the rabbit hole. If nothing else, Ratking could have left behind a recording of someone reciting the lyrics to “646-704-2610” in a way that won’t leave a bunch of question marks behind.
The track centers on Wiki (aka Patrick Morales), one of the two MCs in Ratking, zigzagging in a patois that hybridizes the cadences of Eminem and alt-hip-hop rapper Doseone, plus a good dose of Porky Pig when he’s quickly stuttering before a “That’s all, folks!”
In “646-704-2610,” Morales drifts from one disgusting, busted New York City payphone to another, searching for one that is at least somewhat usable. When he finds his prize, Morales calls the phone number in question to chat with his buddy Hak (aka Hakeem Lewis), Ratking’s other rapper, and bring his voice into the song.
Wiki and Hak BS and banter about trivial stuff like masturbation and their inability to talk to women, and then the song’s slang gets increasingly tangled, Aesop Rock-style. Morales throws out verses like “She’s dick ridin’/ Pig’s knife, mixed sirens hit hydrants/ Let it off, shit’s flyin’, hit the fan” that are so arcane and off-kilter that it’s anyone’s guess as to what the hell he’s referencing.
Wiki’s flow makes his voice incredibly difficult to understand, too. On the popular hip-hop database Rap Genius, several phrases have been transcribed as “?” These lyrics are akin to wildstyle graffiti—stuff that’s pretty-looking and probably has cultural merit but, as it stands to the untrained eye, makes absolutely no sense. That approach is both the draw and downside of Ratking’s (small) discography.
The music, however, is much easier to swallow. “646-704-2610” has a glimmering, understated beat built from a vocal hook from some unknown jazz/blues singer. Sporting Life (aka Eric Adiele) is the caretaker of Ratking’s beats and likely produced that track. (A now-ex-member named Ramon used to handle similar duties in Ratking.) A Virginia native who has said that he’s always maintained a New York “state of mind,” the 31-year-old Adiele started crafting beats sometime around 2006, and first met the much younger Wiki and Hak (who have known each other since grade school) at the same time.
Sometimes, Adiele uses samples. At others, he creates all original compositions. Either way, his M.O. involves shaking up typical hip-hop templates. “Me and Wiki started Ratking influenced by Suicide and Animal Collective and stuff like that,” he says. Density and disorientation are the group’s forte, and they’ve come along at a peak period for those concepts’ cultural cachet. Similarly out-there rap projects like Death Grips and Odd Future take pride in designing abrasive and often-difficult-to-engage lyrical content.
After talking with Adiele for 15 minutes, I really haven’t learned too much more what exactly the group are out to accomplish. I know that he fancies making cinematic-sounding beats and wants to be stationed at the crest of rap rather than lagging behind, but he never gets into the nitty-gritty. Keeping the world from knowing too much about them is just the Ratking way.
“So much ridiculously well-thought-out and melodic and ill music has been made, you just gotta hopefully find your place and have fun with it,” Adiele says. “It’s kind of pointless to have some type of end goal. The end goal is right now, [making] the dopest shit today. I borrowed an iPad today with a program on it, so I’m going to see what sounds I can get out of that.”
w/ Trash Talk, Null Revolution
741 S. Kilby Court (330 West)
Thursday, July 25, 7 p.m.
$10 in advance, $12 day of show