Sometimes We Explode

An oral history of Ratking’s So It Goes album release party.

Art by Tyler Farmer.

It has been one decade since Ratking dropped its only studio album So It Goes and it still feels like the longest loosie I’ve ever smoked in my life. That’s because discovering Ratking felt like knowing that one cutty deli on the Upper West Side that would sell Newports to 16-year-olds after they spent (yet another) school night drinking beers racked from a local Gristedes supermarket. 

If you knew, you knew. And during a moment in the early-2010s, when New York rappers were looking towards Houston, Chicago, and the #GoldenEra for a sound that would take over the five boroughs, Ratking surreptitiously slid a New York hip-hop record into our hands that felt untaxed by any archaic laws or newly-hatched regulations on what New York hip-hop was supposed to sound like. And inhaling it paired perfectly with the natural buzz that came with being a teenager  in New York during the early-2010s—a most intoxicating substance in itself.

Maybe I’ve always felt this way about So It Goes because it arrived right when I was finishing high school. Wiki’s opening bars on “*” felt as if they were directly addressing me and so many other lost teenagers in New York. “Graduated, what’s next?/Everybody’s asking/What college you going to?/ What you have planned?” Daunting questions for a 17-year-old that felt as burdensome as those asked by the dickhead NYPD officers stop and frisking Hak and Wik on “Remove Ya” that too many of us were familiar with. 

Yet even a decade later, I still find it difficult to ascertain what drew me to Ratking. Again, it felt like a loosie because of how short-lived the group was. Ratking disbanded less than two years after releasing So It Goes and only released one other project after it— a 2015 mixtape titled 700-Fill that personally sparked my own obsession with Steep Tech jackets. 

But maybe I still feel this high because Ratking was more like a spliff rolled with the craziest bud you copped off a dealer you only saw one-time in Washington Square Park. A mysterious weedman who figured out that the dopest weed they could ever sling was by growing a hybrid that blended a producer crafting cyberpunk New York hip-hop beats influenced by everything from U.K. garage to reggae; a deft Upper West Side rapper who channeled the spirit of Cam’ron while slamming mics into his forehead like NYHC groups of the city’s past; and a pensive rapper from Harlem whose spoken word-esque bars could have easily floored the entire audience of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe.

But really, I think why So It Goes resonated with so many young New Yorkers is because the album felt like Larry Clark’s Kids engineered in a different timeline and universe. Instead of Clark, we had Ratking’s producer Sporting Life wielding a SP-555 sampler, SP-DS-X drum machine, and a single drumstick in lieu of a camera. Rather than Harmony Korine on the script, Hak and Wik took the pen and wrote out a soliloquy that perfectly captured what coming of age in New York City felt like during the early-2010s. While Tyler, The Creator was the XL Recordings signee who captured the attention of angsty teenagers nationwide, Ratking was XL’s East Coast equivalent for a much more niche audience built solely by rowdy New York kids. 

While I could point out every specific bar on So It Goes that personally resonates with me, I’m not going to Rap Genius it. What I will say is that So It Goes reminds me of every 16-year-old kid who got bagged as an adult and spent a night in the Tombs for doing absolutely nothing except for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It reminds me of those free cribs rich kids put together to climb up Manhattan’s social ladder before realizing their parent’s room got juxxed by that one grimy fool they didn’t even invite to the party. The bars resonate with anyone who grew up seeing their mans cuffed and thrown into the back of a paddy-wagon for smoking a dub even when hiding in the cutty-est section of a public park. An anthem for all those skaters who mourned the loss of that Semen Sperms/IRAK wall ramp at 12th & A in the Lower East Side. A soundtrack for all those graffiti writers who became invigorated after seeing LEWY BTM bomb the base of the Brooklyn Bridge or ingrained every CASH 4/SMELLS 907 roller they saw into the deepest recesses of their mind. Runway music for anyone who ever rode the train and admired the flyness of a random New Yorker stepping out in a Pelle Pelle, Merm or North Face shell when it was 20 degrees outside. 

Unfortunately every year that I catch myself reminiscing on Ratking, I feel another down goose feather inside a weathered 700-Fill Nuptse jacket prick my skin through a vintage Polo sweater that feels tighter to wear every year. Not even the coldest Igloo in Brownsville could freeze a New Yorker from aging out and becoming yet another old head who waxes poetic on their golden era of hip-hop.

But when I find myself running back So It Goes to reminisce on these teenage memories of growing up in New York that continue slipping from my mind every passing day, one memory worth sharing in light of its 10-year anniversary is the album’s release party at an art gallery named Babycastles. This show wasn’t just what I personally deem to be one of the best concerts I’ve ever attended in my life, but a moment that makes me naturally spit one of the greatest New York City maxims ever: “You wasn’t there…” 

But instead of being another New York old head who holds onto these moments in New York history like a pair of deadstock Nikes crumbling inside a shoe box, let’s take a second to put those shits on again and explain what made it so special. 

So here’s an honest attempt at recreating a very special night for myself, and many other New Yorkers, that occurred on April 8, 2014 on the second-floor of an art gallery on West 14th Street.

Part 1: “Copped a Couple Amps, Now we Enhanced”

Ratking. Photo by Emi Spicer.

For the longest time, I thought this release party for So It Goes was the first Ratking show I ever attended. When I checked my receipts, I realized that I was originally introduced to Ratking’s live performances a couple weeks before the release of the So It Goes when the group opened for Earl Sweatshirt’s ‘Wearld Tour’ stop at Webster Hall on Feb. 20 2014. 

That was the first time I ever attended a show at Webster Hall and Ratking delivered a performance that turned the venue’s hardwood floors into liquid. An undulating mass of teenage bodies. I literally felt like I was about to drown in a wave built by teenage skaters and Odd Future fanboys. Yeah, it smelled crazy in there. And trust that anyone who’s ever attended a turnt up show at Webster Hall knows that eerie feeling of hearing that floor creak a little too much and mentally asking yourself why anyone would let a group like Ratking perform in a building that was built in 1886—thank god they finally renovated that shit.

That’s exactly the type of show Ratking put together. Even though I arrived type-early to be towards the front of the crowd for Earl, Ratking’s opening set sucked so much energy out of my 17-year-old body that I had to tap out and watch Earl perform from the back of Webster Hall. Respectfully, I remembered Ratking’s live set that evening more than Earl’s own performance of Doris. What I didn’t know until now is that those Ratking performances sowed the seeds of So It Goes.

Wiki (Ratking Member and MC): The thing that was cool about Ratking and So It Goes is that we were playing it live before we even recorded it. In rap you usually record a song or even just a verse. But we weren’t even thinking about recording it yet. So those early shows we did were informing the recordings. 

Sporting Life (Ratking Member and Producer): I mean we had the general ideas and the stencils for stuff, which could be made in Ableton or something, but how Ratking ended up with their final product was through playing live shows. 

Hak (Ratking Member and MC): We were primarily a live band. So with that being said we were always practicing our songs live. Sometimes we practiced four or five days a week while also performing a lot of live shows. So we got those songs down to a T and it was pretty flawless. 

Wiki: So a lot of those songs on the album, people already knew them if they were already coming to the shows and shit. We already had a little bit of hype in the underground just by playing shows in the city even before So It Goes dropped.

Sporting Life: I would play all the parts live, but then realized it needed something at the end just based on how the show went. So I’d go back and resample the sound through a delay or noise pedal. Also, even when I was using a laptop, I was using the same PA speakers we were performing with. So the setup never changed. It wasn’t like I was using studio monitors making it and then just using PA speakers for the show. I did that so I knew exactly how it sounded to people. 

Wiki: We did record the album Uptown at Stadiumred. I think that’s where we did the first sessions with Young Guru for So It Goes and we went into a proper rap studio and did it. It [originally] came out really clean. So we needed to like go back in and fuck it up.

Salomon Faye performing with Ratking at Babycastles. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Sporting Life: The people we were playing with at those shows, like DJ Dog Dick and Salomon Faye, were grafted into the album too because you’re going into our world. All those noise kinds of aspects [on songs DJ Dog Dick helped produce] were almost like playing a show with him in the basement. So everything was like redone, going back over, looking at something, and then asking how do we make it more like this?

Wiki: That’s why we went in with DJ Dog Dick to this fucked up, DIY-studio, in Brooklyn. It was a totally different vibe and we just added mad shit on there. We re-did some vocals and added effects. We put all that on there, then kind of stripped it back a little bit, before giving the final to Guru to do the final mix. So there was the hip-hop side to the record along with this punk or noise side, too.

DJ Dog Dick performing with Ratking at Babycastles. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Hak: We practiced a lot in this basement studio in Bushwick, where you could hear a lot of other bands around or any other noise in the room. So we would always try to play louder.

Sporting Life: We were also working with XL at the time and they would kind of throw their weight but in a subtle way but also listened to us. They knew how much we were in the driver’s seat of that scene during that time and place.

Wiki: I knew we were going to do a release party for sure because we really worked on that album. That’s the first album that I was a part of. I was fully involved in it from beginning to end, having Sport, Hak, and everyone around us. It wasn’t like it was me on my own making it. It’s like the first album where it’s like: “This is everything. We’re going to put everything into this.”

Part 2: Sometimes We Explode

I don’t recall exactly how I found out about the So It Goes release party aside from serendipitously catching an event flyer circulating on Facebook promoting the show, which was billed Sometimes We Explode: An Exhibition of Underground NYC Through Video Games and Hip Hop.

The event was organized by a page called Babycastles. At the time, I had no idea what that was except that it was a venue located on the second floor of a building on West 14th Street and that I needed to RSVP for this event faster than signing up for an in-store Supreme drop. Leading up to the event, I remember listening to the album on repeat because got an exclusive First Listen stream of it.  

I came to learn shortly after attending this release party that Babycastles was a really intriguing New York City-based art collective launched in 2009 that was centered on highlighting indie video games. Surprisingly the founders of Babycastles were also behind Silent Barn, another popular bygone DIY music venue in Brooklyn. Babycastles’ founders explained to No Bells that the opportunity to work with Ratking coincidentally occurred shortly after they had signed a lease for a new space just blocks away from Union Square. Shouts out to the late benevolent landlord of 137 W. 14th St. Kenneth Gutierrez, who specifically sought to provide spaces to Babycastles and many other artists who occupied this building alongside them. 

Ratking’s release party for So It Goes marked the unofficial opening of Babycastles West 14th St. outpost. Here’s exactly how that collaboration came together.

The Babycastles gallery before Ratking arrived. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Pablo Douzoglou (Head of Marketing for Beggars Group): I was already a fan of Babycastles and remember when they used to operate in DIY spaces across the Brooklyn music scene. I remember seeing their presence from playing music in New York and appreciated how they incorporated gaming. I’m not huge on video games but I loved going into these venues they worked at and seeing how they put cool indie games into music environments. So that’s how I became aware of them. The idea of this event was pretty much that. How do you bring two forces within the New York scene together to make a really cool space? 

Emi Spicer (Babycastles Collective Member and Photographer): Babycastles as a collective was everything that I was interested in. It was art. It was music. It was technology. It was this culture of indie games when they were actually independent at the time. It’s not like how it’s now with small studios that are funded by investors and their publishers. It was a bunch of rapscallions who were making the weirdest fucking games on earth that were completely unsellable. And Babycastles was just known for organizing these weird indie video game art parties. 

Kunal Gupta (Co-Founder of Babycastles): I honestly didn’t even know Ratking until I saw this cold email from Beggars Music Group, which owns XL [Ed. note: Beggars Group doesn’t own XL, they are a partner in XL]. So it was this record label emailing us saying they wanted to find an arcade to celebrate the release of this album for this band that we didn’t know at the time. So they were looking for a video game space and they reached out to us. I probably listened to their music after getting that e-mail and then got excited.

Pablo: The concept was to bring the record to life through this arcade that the band would take ownership of and own. They gave us the space and then we wanted to do work with games that had some sort of connection to New York. 

Kunal: We were supposed to open our gallery in a week or two so we thought maybe we’ll combine this and make it our opening show. That’s exactly what we did.

Wiki decorating the staircase of Babycastles. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Wiki: I thought it was super dope that it was this art gallery and arcade because that’s exactly what Ratking was. It’s high brow but still for the youth. 

Sporting Life: One thing we were good at when it came to our creative circle was drawing the bridges between all our influences in not a corny way. That space, for instance, was the bridge between a gallery space and DIY video games. Hell yeah to that. We were just trying to say that we know all these art forms, we’re influenced by them and pulling from them, but we’re also really interested in hacking and remixing old things into something new. That all fell in line with that.

Hak: I remember it being a synergistic decision and we took a lot of time to prep the space. I think everyone was on board. It was on 14th Street so it’s like the crossroad of every neighborhood and was easy to get to. 

Kunal: We helped them pick out the games and then they built arcade cabinets. It’s not like they wanted to make a game, they just wanted to have video games be a part of it. Our whole thing at the time was that we always found interesting games that artists were making and found ways to celebrate them.


Photo by Pablo Douzoglou.

Syed Salahuddin (Co-Founder of Babycastles): I believe Hey Baby and Shawn Alexander’s game [Treachery in Beatdown City] were two we’ve shown before at Babycastles. We wanted to have at least five games I believe, so we probably picked a couple as well.  

Kunal: Hey Baby was a game set in a fictional New York where women could freely roam the streets without consequence.

Syed: That game was actually curated [for an older Babycastles show] by Leigh Alexander, who has gone on to do a bunch of stuff within media and video game design. Treachery in Beatdown City was [a New York City-themed fighting game] made by Shawn Alexander, who went on to become a pretty prolific independent game designer. 

Kunal: Third Rail by Joe Kowalski lets you redesign the New York City subway system. Dave Gilbert made this game called The Shivah that was about the adventure of a New York City rabbi exploring the nature of morality and corruption in a religious institution. These are the games that we chose (laughs). And then there’s Nate Hill’s Race Warriors, a video game that delivers a customized race war scenario for each user. And Crime Zone by TheCatamites, a post-structuralist adventure in which you are every police officer. 

Syed: I don’t remember any of the games being functional by the end of the show.

Part 3: “Taught You ‘Bout Tatted walls, Scratched and Scattered scrawls”

A liquor store door created by Arvid Logan graced with tags by various graffiti writers. Photo by Pablo Douzoglou.

The first thing that caught my eye instantly when entering Babycastles’ space for this Ratking show was that it was covered from floor to ceiling in orange and black paint. The most striking works were by the stage, which featured crudely spray-painted storefronts for liquor stores, bodegas, and Chinatown shops with roll down gates. These were painted by Arvid Logan, an artist who ideated the visual language of Ratking before going on to make commissioned graphics for brands like Supreme, custom airbrushed T-shirts for Playboi Carti, and his own successful streetwear label Bugsex

Of course, what instantly resonated with me was seeing some of the illest New York graffiti writers of the moment being represented on those walls. This was a little after a year since I dealt with all the legal bullshit that comes with putting your name up—which sucks even when you’re a toy. But despite spending a weekend in The Tombs, catching an ACD, and having to do community service for a couple weeks in Riverside Park, I was still hopelessly in love with all the names on those walls. 

KATSU caught a cutty mop tag towards the back of the stage. GOOG had a two-letter throw-up by a lofted section of the gallery right above a giant black-and-white photo taken by Ari Marcopolous from Ratking’s “Snow Beach ” music video shoot. SABIO, a Brazilian-American writer who smashed billboards across the Brooklyn-Queens-Expressway, had a heavy presence in that room as well. I remember geeking, becoming lowkey starstruck, when I saw writers like SOZE and CASH4 in the flesh just tagging this spray-painted recreation of a New York City handball wall that Logan created. What was crazy was that nearly every head that entered the venue that night actually wrote graffiti to some degree. That wall was completely grilled with tags by the time the show started. Here’s how Ratking’s crew created visuals that made so many of its fans feel right at home.

Arvid Logan painting the walls of Babycastles. Photo by Pablo Douzoglou.

Kunal: Ratking is an example, but another artist we’ve worked with was Keita Takahashi who made Katamari Damacy or Playstation. We did a similar thing with him except we got a whole museum to work with on multiple floors. But it’s the same process. Once we find someone really creative to work with and some space, we’re good at helping them turn an idea into an actual experience with a team that could help build that as well. We were doing the same thing with Ratking as we did with Keita Takahashi at a museum.

All we said was, “Here’s what you need to get done. Make the cabinets this way, make the room look this way, and the stage is going to be there but make the look your own. Here’s a general timeline when all this should get done.” So we’re kind of producers in that aspect and we’ve done that with any artist we work with. 

Pablo: We gave them the supplies, I made a couple Home Depot runs with them. But when we walked into [the] space, it was just white walls. I was like, ‘This is it. Here’s what you got’. I didn’t do any of the work for them. That was their sweat and work, doing all the painting themselves.

 An arcade cabinet designed by Wiki. Photo by Pablo Douzoglou.

Wiki: It was mixed media. Like I remember one cabinet decorated with film photos and there was just clearly some thought put into it.

Hak: Well I was always taking photos. Both my parents grew up taking photos of me and my brother, so I always had a camera on me. They were just photos of the tour, friends, family, and just the city. I got them printed out as usual which was expensive to do. I just thought it was going to be cool to see them on this arcade machine, so I just bit the bullet and just put them up there. 

Sporting Life: One thing that was on our side, outside the core three or four of us at one point, was that we had so many dope, hungry creatives around us. They were always feeding opportunities for us to slam dunk. It’s like having a good point guard just always throwing you lobs. So I felt like the setup of it was just an organic opportunity that came as far as this space to use.

An arcade cabinet decorated with images photographed by Hak positioned next to a giant photo from Ratking’s “Snow Beach” music video shoot by Ari Marcopolous. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Wiki: They let us do whatever the fuck we wanted to do and that was a big part of it because we had all the walls painted. We really worked on that shit for a minute. I’d say Arvid [Logan] is basically like the fourth member of Ratking because he did all the visuals. He did the Ratking handstyle, the So It Goes cover, a lot of the merch, and all the tour visuals. 

Sporting Life: Arvid was like the fourth member of Ratking. There were so many conversations we had about music and art. He was like New York City’s version of Mid Journey AI before it even existed. He would do anything you said and turn it into something cool. He’s not just a good artist. He has this crazy creative mind that came up with so many different styles. He would do like a Wiki throwie logo that he still uses now. All those came from the exact same mind. His parents were architects so maybe that’s how he just reincarnated that artistic talent. 

Wiki: The illest part is that it was based on the cover, which was orange and black and showed this map of the city. It was like New York in an alternative universe. What we wanted the room to look like was a zoomed-in section of that cover. That’s why there was a storefront and buildings all painted in orange and black. It was supposed to be like you were entering our world, which is something very real to New York but also our own version of it.

A car painted by Sporting Life. Photo by Pablo Douzoglou.

Sporting Life: I remember us just all just rolling up there one afternoon and going in. I grew up drawing like a lot of cars and basketball players. So I just did that section. The car, the beach ball, and the palm tree. The title So It Goes is just a reference to time and how things just keep circling back on each other. This show was like a testament to that because we had this song “Snow Beach” and here’s palm trees and beach balls that I’ve been drawing since I was a kid.

Wiki: A lot of that really just came from the homies who rolled through and helped us paint the wall. Arvid did most of it but we also had other people come in. One wall in particular was designed to look like a handball court so that anyone could write on that shit. So people just started throwing up shit on there and that just added to the experience and the authenticity of the whole shit. 

SABIO (Supreme Articulation Bouncing In Orbit, A Prolific NYC Graffiti Artist): We were just hanging out and they just told us they were doing a show there. I think I went with Adam Zhu and some other friends. We really just all went up and went in. Bugsex (Arvid Logan), Wiki, Sporting Life, Hakeem, and other people too. I had paint on me because I was painting a lot so I just started tagging the insides. It was just doing what we love to do. We weren’t hiding anything but just living our lives and expressing ourselves.

A SABIO tag on the wall of Babycastles towards the top left of the photo with a CASH4 and WIK tag directly underneath. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Hak: I’ve been doing graffiti since the fifth grade. My two uncles respectively wrote TEAM and WOLF 1. Both were big train writers and I used to go down to East Village Radio on First Ave every Thursday after high school to chill with them. They’d show me their blackbooks and we’d all chill in this big glass radio station. I used to bring Pat [Wiki] and Eric [Sporting Life] down there as well. 

Wiki: It’s this fake world we created but you’re seeing like the same tags you see outside. It all goes back to the experimentation of our music and that even though we were really creating our own little world, we were still showing you this authentic version of New York. 

Kunal: They were building the space for like a week with all of their friends. They kept trying to put up art all throughout the building and they were really hard to control. We had to tell them this is the only space, this hallway, and up to here. Anything else is like going to get us in trouble. That was hard to express but Wiki was instrumental when it came to controlling his friends and keeping them on track. 

Sporting Life: It was hard being in there with Arvid and Hak. I mean, Wiki’s a visual artist too. The cover of Wiki93 is his artwork from elementary school and it looks amazing. Hak was also making a lot of art pieces at the time. Even pieces I would incorporate into my set. It was like this chain mail piece made from these smashed aerosol paint cans that he actually used to paint and tag on the street. He smashed them up and linked them together so you could wear it like a breastplate. So I tied it to the front of my set-up so it would hang off it. 

Hak: I was a big writer at the time so people knew my name because I wrote everywhere. So we would meet writers who were just active in the scene at the time. It wasn’t like people who were just catching a tag every month. They were strategic. We’d actually go out and do spots, fill up fire extinguishers, and blast walls. So I knew a lot of those writers, and I introduced them to the group.

Listening party attendees tagging the walls of Babycastles. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Wiki: Everyone was painting everywhere. I mean you probably saw my little thing but Hak was definitely doing more because he’s better at painting and shit.

Hak: I think he is just saying that, but that’s nice of him.

Wiki: I remember Hak being like “Your shit’s trash!” and we were just talking shit to each other. It wasn’t in a bad way but more in the sense of all of us wanting us to be at our creative best. 

Sporting Life: From my perspective, that wasn’t necessarily an aspect of how we worked together. It wasn’t like some Mamba, Kobe Bryant, shit-talking thing. We were never really into that. But obviously, Pat’s relationship with Hak was different from my own with Pat. So there was always going to be a bit of competition. 

Pat was always able to wield the MC sword whereas Hak was more like a poet. So it was like this poet vs MC thing. What was more valid when we’re in this world that leaned more towards art but perhaps didn’t look at rap to be as artistic as poetry? So it was always this push and pull between the more poetic, free or spoken word, jazzy lyricism kind of thing. Then like fucking New York, Cam’ron, Dipset, Jay-Z Blueprint MC-ing. We were just trying to make it art. At least from my perspective, I was trying to make both equally as valid. That’s why some of our songs started off with spoken word, like “Snow Beach,” before transitioning into some of the hardest New York bars.  

As for myself, I was just trying to compete against every other rap producer or even band at that point. But it wasn’t like a boy’s locker room or anything like that. I would say there was kind of this competition between the styles of these two MCs though.

But we were always kind of pushing ourselves. It was like, “Oh, you did one painting? Well do two? Oh, you did that? Go above and beyond” But that’s always been my mindset and maybe that rubbed off on them a little bit.

Wiki: It was a time where we would just all kick it together every day. Everything was going towards the process of Ratking or furthering it, Whether it was the album or the art itself. Sport was good because he always told us we had to practice and stay productive. I think that was good because we were so young and he was older than us. So he gave us structure, guidance, and a filter for our own ideas.

Pablo: When I went to check it out, I noticed how much they had painted. I was like, well, shit, you guys totally just went beyond. I was worried that those guys [at Babycastles] were going to be like ‘You owe us all this money to bring it back to shape and stuff.’ But no, everybody was super cool with the results because they just totally took it upon themselves to just go that far.

Sporting Life: I feel like what Wik always wanted to get across to the art crowd that we were closer to is that rapping’s art. See the art in it. While that should have been obvious, I feel like that was always the thing we had to press. So to all y’all people in the rap industry, look how good we are at the art of it. Like y’all should be celebrating this more type-shit.

Part 4: “Crammed, Up in a Room Tryn’a Jam”

Photo by Emi Spicer.

I was always one to arrive to shows earlier rather than later. Truly, I don’t even remember waiting that long in line to enter Babycastles and felt that the space was mad calm before the show started. Like chill enough that I remember coming upstairs when it was nearly empty and having a short conversation with Shadow Da Great and Oso Dope, two Brooklyn rappers I also admired at that moment who were running a rap crew called Loaf Muzik that could have honestly gone toe-to-toe with MCs from Joey Badass’ Pro Era collective. I’ll be real though, I don’t remember even touching the video game cabinets. I think that’s just because some attendees were hogging them.

However, as the room began to fill up, the vibe started turning up exponentially. I remember someone working the event got particularly stressed when some kid took out a silver can of Rusto to paint a one-liner tag on the handball wall, which was kind of humorous when the wall was already being tagged over and over again by guests rolling in. 

By the time the lights went out and Ratking came on stage the room was packed to the brim and reeked of spliffs, alcohol, and paint. The show was more or less like that Webster Hall gig except in a much smaller space with a mosh pit occuring every five minutes.  

Little did I know that the scene outside of the gallery was even more chaotic. 

Sporting Life: I don’t think we really rehearsed for it. At that point we were playing enough shows where we had the set down. I always had this piece of paper where I had So It Goes numbered out on the SP-555. So it would be like 8, 9, 10, and 11 on the pad. The sample was set on 8, the drums were on 9, and the hi-hats were on 10. People would look at that sheet and not know what the fuck that was. But that was all the songs, by pad, written out. We also had played enough at that time that we could just do a quick sound check and make sure all the samples were there and no equipment was malfunctioning. I don’t think we rehearsed other than sound check though. 

Hak: I never got nervous because we had played so many shows, and even now, when I play live or go busk, I’m never really nervous just because of all the reps we put in when performing as Ratking.

Wiki: My mom was definitely there. [Princess] Nokia was there. That whole shit was packed the fuck out. I think Hak’s brother couldn’t even get in because he just came too late. 

Hak: It was just like another typical show, man. We knew people were coming out to see us, friends of ours were going to support us along with random fans. We were just excited to put on a good show and show people some artwork in this room that was not quite a venue but, for better or worse, let us do whatever we wanted. Have a party I guess.

Syed: It ended up becoming an all-hands-on-deck situation because there were absolutely way too many people in too small of a place.

Photo by Emi Spicer.

Emi: There was a point when we started realizing the line was wrapping around the block and that room had like a 100-person capacity. I’m going to talk shit right now but these kids were fucking hooligans. Like an absolute fucking nightmare. We were so scared we were going to get thrown out of the space because of how fucking rowdy they were. They broke every rule we had that night and it was just three rules. Don’t smoke, don’t drink if you’re underage, and don’t go on the fire escape. They did all of that. We were completely overwhelmed. 

Roman Grandinetti (Founder of Regina’s Grocery/CNNCTD and Attendee): Outside, there were older people I knew around my age. Then there were people with a music ear clearly coming for the music and wanting to see how they performed. Like seeing if these kids really got it. Then there was your everyday real skater kids to graff writers. Like kids in Steep Techs waiting outside with hypebeast kids who were getting a little timid when they saw the line getting crazy and the street getting really busy—asking themselves if they’re really going to get in. Meanwhile, the skaters were bum rushing the door because they knew they belonged in there. I thought that was all so cool. 

Kunal: At some point we went up the roof just to look down on the crowd at the street and we realized this was crazy but we were just trying to take it in. This is a ridiculous opening party, let’s at least look down from the roof and see what it looks like.

The line outside of Babycastles. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Syed: There were just children everywhere. Everyone was around 14 to 18-years-old.

Kunal: The other thing was that our security guards quit because it was too hard for them to do security. They locked themselves inside and refused to work. So me and Syed had to do their job on the street. Thankfully, it worked. 

Syed: We were both having deep conversations with these kids who were just crushed that they weren’t able to see this show. I was just explaining to them it was just absolutely impossible. And then just described what we were doing, why this space even existed, why they couldn’t go in, and why they had to go home because they couldn’t stay on the sidewalk or else all of our lives would be ruined that day. 

Kunal: But they listened! 

Syed: Yeah, they did! We had to go one by one and there were easily 200-300 people outside. It was just turning into a mob who were refusing to clear the sidewalk because most of those kids had never been to a show and didn’t really understand the idea of even having a ticket or having to line up for it. It was just complete chaos, like a school letting students out and they’re all filling up a parking lot or something. 

Kunal: Apparently I didn’t know who Action Bronson was. So I turned him away [at the door] and that didn’t go well later in life.

Wiki: There were kids fucking climbing the fire escape trying to get in and shit. You know what I mean? That was crazy.

Kunal: One of them ran across 14th Street, jumped up, caught the bottom of the ladder to the fire escape, climbed to the top floor and then came back downstairs into the show. Security was trying to catch them. Like no, don’t catch them, because that person deserves to be there.

Photo by Emi Spicer.

Sporting Life: Generally [how we started our shows was] the sounds would kinda start, then everybody would kind of just trickle their way in, and it was just build up, build up, build up. We were super influenced by bands like Black Dice and Animal Collective. It was cool with those times when it came together very nebulously. It starts off kind of amorphous and then grows into something.  

Pablo: There was a bit of moshing going on. I just felt being in New York and going to a lot of DIY shows was exactly that experience. That’s what the Babycastle guys represented and what Ratking represented was that house party vibe.

Sporting Life: We literally almost caved the floor that night. I distinctly remember at that release party the floor just went “Wurr, wurr, wurr” as I’m controlling the volume of this thing. I’m fully aware at that moment, if I don’t turn this down, it could be a catastrophic event in there.

Photo by Emi Spicer.

Emi: The video game people that were there had no fucking idea what to do and had expected like a certain kind of atmosphere based on previous Babycastles shows, which is to say, not a Ratking show. Like me, they were thoroughly overwhelmed by these teenage hooligans and hip-hop kids, right? So some actually hid up on that loft level, which we called the treehouse at the time. Personally, I was able to handle the show’s energy. It was just all these kids smoking weed, getting drunk, and climbing up the fire escape that was very stressful. 

Wiki: It probably wasn’t even the best sound and all that, but it was just the energy.

SABIO: It was just seeing all of us in that small room. I wouldn’t fixate on one moment in particular because the whole entire experience is a capsule of time and culture in New York City culture. New York City hip-hop culture to be even more specific, To be in that small little room with Sporting Life, Wiki and Hakeem grabbing the mic, with graffiti writers, artists, photographers, and beautiful ladies in the room. What more can you ask for?

Sporting Life: It was like trying to steer a ship on water when I was trying to navigate the energy in that room with the volume knob. It was controlling when the 808s come in and out, so people don’t get too fucking hyped in this small ass space. That’s how locked in we were at the time. It was beyond the technicalities of when to push what button, when to stop your verse, and when to start your verse. We were just literally in the realm that bands get into when they’re just working with energy. It takes a lot of shows to get to that point.

Wiki and Princess Nokia. Photo by Emi Spicer.

Kunal: The one thing I remember from the performance at the time is that Wiki’s girlfriend at the time got on stage, Princess Nokia [who was going by Wavy Spice at the time.] She got really close with the Babycastles crew after that. She started working with the gallery on several events for at least a year following that performance. I became a fan of her through that show, too. So I remember that part the most. 

Emi: It was absolutely wild and I was almost getting knocked over quite a bunch. I remember Destiny [or Princess Nokia] actually coming up behind me, grabbing me by the waist, and just using her arms to anchor me to the ground so I could still move around and take photos the way I wanted to without worrying about getting knocked over. Even back then, you can tell she was so different and cool. 

Roman: I was more concerned about being like a real spectator. I wanted to see what kids were doing when they went to the venue because I already knew what they were going to do when they were inside. They were going to act crazy, jump on each other, throw beer, scream and yell. It’s not that I didn’t want to be a part of that, but there was something that was more interesting about watching the kids who rolled up to that. Ratking started this hysteria and that’s super valuable because that’s how you know someone has a cult following.

Part 5: “So It Goes”

When looking at the only footage of this Babycastles gig that exists on YouTube, I can spot myself standing in the back of the room with two of my close high school friends, nervously observing the mosh pit forming while the group plays “Comic.” It wasn’t until Princess Nokia came up to perform “Puerto-Rican Judo” that I felt comfortable enough to move a little closer to the stage. Frankly, I can’t remember much about the actual performance except that I was obligated to attend every Ratking show I could from that night on. 

It’s funny, instead of going to my high school prom, I remember asking my parents to pay for tickets to Gov’s Ball so that I could see artists like Ratking along with every other music act I was into back in 2014—you already know we were outside for Vampire Weekend gang. I guess that only shows how much I valued these moments with my favorite artists when I was younger. 

The other day, No Bells published this piece by Rainer Turim on artist merch serving as mementos of cultural moments within New York City. It’s crazy that I ended up keeping many of my worn Ratking T-shirts in these gallon-sized ZipLoc freezer bags. Every time I look at them, I get into this delusional fanboy state and start penning out fan fiction of what Ratking could have been while also trying to remember everything I possibly can about the day I purchased that T-shirt. 

When putting this togther I searched up “Ratking” in my Facebook messages and discovered that so many link-ups with close friends were centered around this group’s live performances.  And whether it’s reminiscing on a small 30-minute set at McCarren Park or the last time I saw them ever perform songs off ‘700-Fill’ at the bygone East River Amphitheater, that nostalgia becomes a harder drink to swallow when realizing that some of the friends you attended these shows with have drifted away, entire blocks have been gentrified, great DIY venues have shut down and that even the best memories you have about New York are as ephemeral as your favorite piece of graffiti on a rooftop. Yet, so it goes.

Photo by Emi Spicer.

Wiki: It didn’t feel like any other type of gig type but more like the beginning of some shit. That Babycastles show was the start of pursuing other gigs in galleries and other fucked up spaces that were just crazy. Like little Boiler Room shits that we did in just ill spaces that weren’t just big old venues or something. 

Sporting Life: If you’re a runner, that show came in at like the middle of the run. And that could be a good and bad thing because when you’re at that point of a run, you’re so in the zone that things are just flying by you. That’s something I was always cognizant of. As fast as things were going, I was very sensitive about forgetting anybody’s contributions and I didn’t want anybody to feel like their contributions were not valid or taken into account.

Hak: It was 10 years ago so it’s so hard to remember some of the emotions or specific feelings we had around certain things. Generally, we were just pretty driven to just continue putting on shows and going around the city to get our name out. I just remember feeling pretty happy it was successful. 

Wiki: We were questioning ourselves at the time if we did it right. Because that night, mad people didn’t get in, even our own friends. So at the time, I was thinking we should have done it at a proper venue. But looking back, that all made it what it was. 

Roman: I felt like Ratking was a movement that New York didn’t have for so long. I didn’t necessarily grow up during the Beastie Boys movement, but I was aware of what they did by working and being involved in hip-hop for so many years. I worked for SRC Records [owned by Steve Rifkin] that built all these brands in hip-hop and laid the groundwork for what was to come. These Ratking kids felt like they came from that side of the world. Everyone always tells me these things are cyclical. Ratking just felt like a real New York band to me. In my eyes, they were the new Beastie Boys. 

SABIO: I’m still there and it’s still vivid in my mind. I’m still high off of the fumes and off of hip hop culture in New York City. I’m super honored, thankful, and grateful to have been a witness and been a part of that movement and culture. It was one of the best moments of my life to be there. 

Wiki: I think a lot of my music since has been a little more internally focused. Whereas with Ratking, we were looking to put the whole city into perspective and trying to capture that. The shit people always like to say is “Why do you want to write about New York all the time?” It’s just kind of natural. This is all that I know and that’s especially true when you’re in high school because you’re just running around constantly and really in the mix of the city. So it definitely represents a certain time [in New York City] for sure.

Sporting Life: I think Ratking came along at a time when it was very chaotic in New York. It ebbs and flows, going from chaos to peace. Also, in New York, at that time there were so many galleries and slightly-abandoned spaces that they needed artists to play at.

Emi: I’d been in rough punk crowds. But to feel that energy at a hip-hop show, even though I wasn’t a part of that community, I still felt connected to everyone at this show experiencing a really magical thing together. And for that to be Babycastles first show in that space, it felt like that was going to be our life going forward. Even though it wasn’t.

Photo by Emi Spicer.

Kunal: I’m sad that people don’t know what [live New York City music venues] used to be like because everyone was just doing whatever the hell they wanted. Now there were still a lot of police around and the city wasn’t like “Go do it.” You still had to hide from them. But there were a good 50 people who figured out how to hide from the police (correctly) so they wouldn’t get bothered. Because we were all so good at that, it was really lively. This [Ratking show] was honestly probably one of many things that happened that week that was just as good. 

Wiki: My favorite shit was like 285 Kent. That venue was fire because you could smoke in there. I’m not as tapped in with the venues these days, but I do feel like there was just more shit. I don’t know, another thing about that era was like motherfuckers behind all this new tech shit kept the money coming in. All these companies had money to spend and now everyone’s cheaper. Maybe it was just Ratking’s hype back then, I really don’t know what the fuck it was. 

Kunal: The problem with doing everything legally is that it costs about 10 times more, which means that there’s no room for any of this stuff. The reason all this stuff happens is because it’s cheap. As soon as you add money to it, you have to run an official business that makes that money back and it’s a whole different story. So generally, no, something like this can’t happen these days.

Syed: And if there are any places like that these days, they’re probably open to those only over 21 and make money through the bar. This show was all-ages and that was so important because almost everyone at that show was under 21. 

Kunal: 285 Kent was also really cheap in Williamsburg. The original Silent Barn was really cheap, too. I think the newer Silent Barn is a good example of what New York [venues] became, which is why it shut down. It was a spot that was just too expensive to run.

Photo by Emi Spicer.

Wiki: Also, at that time it was the beginning of this new underground bubbling up. So in general, people were really into doing shit for the sake of quality. Like doing things just because it was dope. Nowadays, it feels like it’s a little more centered on hype. Once something has like a million views and it’s like the viral thing then it’s like, all right. Whereas back then, I felt like more people were just kind of taking chances on shit. 

Sporting Life: They’re artists now who are fighting the powers that be in their own ways and fighting against the structure of how things are supposed to go or how they’re meant to be. That’s still relevant now and we were doing that in New York by fighting against what rap was supposed to be. It was not only just like having to live and buy equipment, but having to physically go out and murk shows to affect the mindset of people. To evolve their minds to meet us where we were at. What we already understood from the collage of influences that we had. We still had to fight to get people kind of up to speed. 

Hak: I kind of realized in hindsight that it was such a big force, a big collective, you know? At the moment, I don’t think I realized the power or influence that we had, but looking back now, it’s legendary.

Photo by Emi Spicer.

Wiki: Even thinking back on like those times is dope because it really makes me want to get back on that mentality. Because we were a team that went hard on every little thing we did with that shit. Even if it was just a music video we were all fully involved. Part of that is just because we were young and shit. Now, all the homies have their own jobs and everyone came up. We can’t just all get together now and be like ‘Y’all let’s just do it.’  We can, but it’s more difficult. 

Hak: I think that influence is something that, as you get older, you search for, but then you kind of realize that it’s just something beautiful about being young. People have the time to do whatever because they’re not working a job. You want to sit at home and collage a zine for three hours? To write a movie script or a treatment for a music video? That’s just all time, which is the greatest currency ever. So it’s just a byproduct of that.

Sporting Life: It’s interesting because all of those ideas are still fresh in my head. I’m still building off of ideas I was working on then but now. 

Hak: I think if we came back and did another album, that would be sick. It would catch a lot of people off guard in a great way.

Wiki: In general, I do miss the community of Ratking. It could also be said for New York at the time. Where myself and where we all were at during that time.  At the same time, I’m not regretful about it or thinking like “Oh fuck, what could have Ratking been.” It was so representative of a certain and real place in time. If you were there, you were there. 

1 thought on “Sometimes We Explode”

  1. Great band, great writer, great story. Saw them months later in 2014 in England. Mad show. Have since kept bumping into Wiki at different downtown train stations.


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