LAST YEAR, a 19-year-old motor-mouthed rapper opened his trio's debut album So It Goes with the inner frustrations of every kid his age: "Graduated, what's next?/Everybody's asking/What college you going to?/What you had planned?"
Last Wednesday, March 4, that kid, Wiki, and his band, Ratking, released 700 Fill, their sophomore album, and answered those teenage questions with confidence: "Ain't been at school for a year/Some say I been a fool for a year/But I'm coolin' because I got a career."
In those 11 months since their debut, Ratking has toured the world alongside acts like Run the Jewels and Earl Sweatshirt, has been remixed by Ad-Rock of the Beastie Boys and featured on the cover of Fader magazine.
Along with Wiki—a streetwise loudmouth born Patrick Morales—Ratking includes fellow rapper and childhood friend Hakeem Lewis, or Hak, and Sporting Life, whose real name is Eric Adiele, and is nearly a decade Wiki and Hak's senior. Adiele is also the only member of the group not born and bred in New York City, having moved north from Virginia in 2005.
"I could never see the city through Wiki or Hak's eyes," Adiele admits via phone from Brooklyn, hours before the first hometown stop on Ratking's current North American tour. "It's a totally different thing." But nevertheless, the city informs every Ratking creation—"it's the spine," Adiele explains, "and probably most of the rest of the body."
Sonically, what makes Ratking redolent of New York is the trio's intrepid range of sound and style. Adiele even refer to the group's albums as collections of drills, explaining, "Really, these songs are like exercises in different styles."
One Ratking project might feature flavors of the Midwest drill scene, Southern trap music, or New York's boom-bap era. As each beat becomes more experimental, each emcee becomes more comfortable adapting their words and delivery. Adiele knows his lyrical counterparts are more advanced than most emcees their age because of it: "Wik or Hak can probably make 15 songs in any one of the styles on So It Goes because they already know how to spit over those beats."
700 Fill, which was released for free on BitTorrent, is a collection of both new material and sharpened versions of songs that have been on their setlist for the last year. On the record, the three are fortified and poised, more sure of themselves and comfortable than they were a year ago. But while the record works to further develop a distinct Ratking sound, what remains paramount is pushing boundaries—seeing how far that sound can be stretched.
Adiele puts it modestly, saying of the new album, "It's really just another nine styles that we haven't used before."