In the first installment of Unlocked, we trace the success of Harlem-based rap trio, Ratking and discuss the success of ‘700 Fill’ with former BitTorrent Chief Content Officer, Matt Mason as well as the importance of an authentic product and blending into different mediums with the group’s prolific producer, Sporting Life.
Ratking, aptly named for the folklore phenomenon of many rats growing together, are doing just that in a ‘Form like Voltron’ manner for the Old New York hip-hop movement. You may have heard their critically-acclaimed, Young Guru-engineered So It Goes, that dropped last year. You may have caught them on tour with the likes of Earl Sweatshirt, Death Grips, and Run the Jewels, or perhaps you’re one of the million people who downloaded their free BitTorrent Bundle release, 700 Fill.
Ratking found success after their debut mixtape, Wiki1993, caught the attention of XL Recordings, where they are currently label mates with the likes of Radiohead, FKA Twigs, and Ratatat. After releasing So It Goes via XL imprint Hot Charity, Ratking completed a successful touring circuit, playing for audiences spanning from New York to London to Australia. Now, the group’s latest mixtape, the BitTorrent Bundle-hosted 700 Fill, has reached over one million downloads on the platform and even garnered more downloads in 30 minutes than sales to date.
“We had a relationship with Matt Mason from playing a show for BitTorrent at SXSW,” reflects Sporting Life on how the collaboration came about, “[Ratking] wanted something to show what we had done and songs we had been working on, and we had a platform.”
“We were talking to XL [Recordings] for a long time and kept trying to figure out people we could work with on BitTorrent Bundles, and Ratking was a group that I just kept bringing up just because I was a fan more than anything,” explains former BitTorrent Chief Content Officer, Matt Mason,
“We all just loved Ratking for one reason or another. It just spoke to us, whether we were hip-hop fans or punk fans, it just all made sense.”
The decision to revert back to their DIY roots to release 700 Fill under a direct-to-fan model speaks to the New York eras Ratking draws the most influence from: ‘90s rap and ‘70s punk. That’s not to say the group is completely self-serving, but rather carefully calculated, working to build a genuine movement that at its core, is theirs. “It’s really just smart people making moves they wanna make or trying to handle things the smartest, best way they can,” says Sporting Life, “The outcome of having smart enough people around us that don’t necessarily have to do things by some predetermined way.”
The people around Ratking truly do make all the difference. 700 Fill, which was written and recorded over the course of a week last December, taps into Ratking’s New York lineage. Mainstays like Remy Banks, Princess Nokia and Slickyboy TF lend verses to 700 Fill that intertwine effortlessly with Wiki’s Ghostface-esque rhyming register and Hak’s brooding poetic mastery over Sporting Life’s beats where the samples are so carefully worked, they might as well be original pieces. The vibe of their live shows emulates what we can imagine it was like attending an off-the-radar rap show in the ‘90s: grimy, familial and seemingly lawless. Ratking is delicately striking the balance between paying homage to the underground ideals of ‘90s rap and taking advantage of being content creators in the Information Age.
“I think it balances itself. Depending on what you’re trying to make and the colors you’re trying to paint with, it’s pretty easy to pay homage to eras of the past,” says Sporting Life, “Information about the people who made the stuff, where the sample came from that we used to make some stuff, or the samples themselves, you know, all that information is really accessible to anybody who digs for it.”
Ratking’s authenticity is palpable, and arguably the driving factor behind their steadily-growing success. With this, the group is able to attract like-minded professionals who want to contribute to the overall goal of educating listeners.
“It’s like ill communication. If you start up something with a good blueprint and put good intention behind it, it’s gonna attract the people that resonate within the unit that you put out,” says Sport, “When we tried to jump over that process, we ended up with professionals who didn’t necessarily understand exactly what we were trying to do.”
This approach of letting the product attract the team has paid off. On the business end, Ratking is working with industry greats like Life or Death PR (masterminds behind Odd Future’s explosive fame in 2011), colossal talent agency William Morris Endeavor and of course, XL Recordings.
As for what the future holds, Ratking is putting in work on the brand side, aiming to develop Letter Racer, which is a celebration of the group’s ethos. “It encompasses the individuals that play in Ratking as well as friends. It’s a group of friends that have helped us along the way,” says Sporting Life, who mentions that all the members of Ratking dabble in different mediums of art as a way of expression. “We’re trying to put out a lot more merch, put out books, t-shirt designs. It’s the house behind the lifestyle.”
As a producer who has carved out success through an authentic approach and carefully-chosen team, Sporting Life’s message seems to be that good intention and practice win.
“If you wanna be a rapper, just write a lot of raps. It’s all based in how much you put in. If you look at yourself and say, ‘I’d like to spend a lot of time doing this,’ then spend as much time possible as you can doing whatever that is.”
You can download a copy of Ratking’s 700 Fill from BitTorrent Bundle here.
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