Diving Into the Ratchet Rabbit Hole
Genres of music are being broken down into very specific, micro classifications due to the tags that taste makers, music bloggers, and critics fabricate to identify a certain styling that has yet to be labeled. At times, it can be difficult to keep up with but, at the same time, they are very fun to explore. Each week, I will explore a different sub-genre and try to explain the stains left on my shirt after climbing out of each tedious rabbit hole of musical stylings.
The murmuring drone of a keyboard starts the track then the barely decipherable watermark drops quickly, “Mustard on the beat, hoe”. What followed was America’s introduction to ratchet music. This was the new sound of Los Angeles: stripped down, bare bones, minimalist, direct approach to rap that received national attention with Tyga’s ubiquitous “Rack City”. It also didn’t hurt that the song became ushered in the arrival of Chris Paul with the Clippers. Even though some in Shreveport claim that they fabricated the sub-genre long before Blake Griffin started time traveling, Los Angeles has successfully appropriated the name for it’s current obsession.
Ratchet is characterized by a minimal sound that includes repetitive, earworm-y choruses, echoing background chants, and rapid fire hand claps. The sound gradually builds until the producer decides to strip down the beat to it’s skeleton; allowing for the artist to fill the empty space with their hard partying, almost always crude lyricism. One of the people at the forefront of the sound is DJ Mustard who produced the aforementioned “Rack City” as well as 2 Chainz’s “I’m Different”, Joe Moses’ “Ratchets”, Young Jeezy’s “R.I.P”, and Y.G’s “I’m Good”. The signature production of DJ Mustard paired with two generations of Atlanta’s rap scene tell the story of ratchet’s rise to nationwide recognition.
2 Chainz was already riding a huge wave from his undeniable verse on the Kanye West produced “Mercy” as well as “No Lie”, which received a co-sign from Drake via a vocal performance. He was already becoming rap’s new mainstream zeitgeist and then “I’m Different” dropped. The infectiousness of the repetitive chorus and the utilization of the sparse piano notes gave 2 Chainz a greater upward trend after it was released on Based On a T.R.U Story and a adidas campaign. The point of ratchet’s power was further driven home when Young Jeezy enlisted Mustard’s talent for “R.I.P”. Jeezy was on a downward spiral, as far as relevancy was concerned, for what seemed to be a lack of inspiration. His willingness to work with an up and coming producer brought Jeezy back to life. His success off of “R.I.P” alone has made him a believer as he is now associated with most of the acts in the sub-genre.
The lyricism of ratchet is very reminiscent of early ’90s Miami Bass music. It can be misogynistic, immoral, and hedonistic; a sound of celebration that reflects the current mainstream mindset without many of the anxiety from rap’s position at the center of the culture and the question of whether or not will it last forever. This is music for the moment that is filled with a lot of drugs, a lot of women, and a lot of hubris. Reflecting on the historical context of rap in Los Angeles, it has come a long way from the tone of the late-’80s and early ’90s.
At the time, N.W.A became the forefathers of gangster rap which then spawned into Dr. Dre’s chilled out G-Funk. As the sound of the Left Coast started to explode under the more mellow vibes of The Chronic, people across the country were introduced to a seemingly chill lifestyle in South Central LA. Yet, if you listen to the music closely, you can hear the undertones of a violent reality that you were never shown in the video for “Nothin’ But a G Thang”. This was a world filled with gangs, crack cocaine, and racial tension. Danger was everywhere even at a party where you would least expect it. The laid back vibes of the popular Snoop and Dre song illustrated the cautiousness in Dre’s final verse: “Never let me slip, ’cause if I slip then I’m slippin’/But if I got my nina, then you know I’m straight trippin'”. It was a world where you could have fun but you had to be very alert of what was going on. The music of ratchet is without this restraint and is seemingly care free.
One of the products of this new, more frivolous sound is Ty Dolla $ign, a singer and a producer whose first big hit was “Toot It and Boot It” featuring YG. He has the delivery of R. Kelly but is less than remorseful on his latest mixtape, Beach House 2. It’s a story that continues the lyrical content that is typical of ratchet music with songs of sordid love affairs (“Paranoid”), perceived conniving women (“Bitches Ain’t Shit”), and lurid sexual encounters (“Ratchet In My Benz”). It’s set around dreamy synthesizers that make you think you’re at a debauched party watching as a pink sun dips down below the ocean. The party will end but it will be because it’s 11 AM and you’re still on Ty Dolla $ign’s couch; not because of an altercation that turned deadly.