Chicago rap duo the Cool Kids tries out new concepts

by Erin Podolsky

Detroit Free Press

22 May 2008


If this rap duo went by any other name, it would create sounds just as sweet. But the Cool Kids definitely nailed it when they come up with something to call themselves.

It’s a decidedly non-hip-hop name, hitting on a number of images with just a noun and an adjective: popular high schoolers, indie rock nerds in skinny pants and vintage haircuts, or maybe just a couple of totally chill cats.

That’s exactly what Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish wanted. “We were just riding for a while as just Chuck and Mikey. But then we had our first show and we were like, `Man, we should have a name,’” says Rocks, given name Antoine Reed. “It sounds like a classic name that can survive the test of time, like certain names are just classic and they don’t sound like they were made in 2008 or during the gangsta era or the dance era. ... We just wanted a name that you couldn’t tell when it was made or what we do.”

Inglish, 23, and originally from Detroit, and Rocks, 20 and from Chicago, have been dropping hot backpack-lite tracks on their own dime since hooking up in 2005, back when Rocks was still in high school before matriculating at Columbia College (Inglish nearly finished at the Illinois Institute of Art). They’ve got a smooth, clearly dictated flow that’s easy to love.

No guessing needed about what the Cool Kids are saying—both men have verses—and that may be due to the fact that, well, they’re smart as hell, whether they’re rapping about song and dance from 1988 on “88” (which has a lovely Men Without Hats reference) or going to the grocery store on “What Up Man” or their bicycle on “Black Mag.” On the beats side, Chuck provides some layering but not too much, sticking instead to simpler boom-bip basslines and drums.

Or at least, that’s a description of them for now. Rocks says anybody trying to peg the Cool Kids had better watch their mouth, because they’re aiming to knock people off their guard with the upcoming full-length CD expected sometime in the fall.

“A lot of people think they got it all figured out. They’re all `Oh it’s going to be this type of song, they rap about this, it’s going to be this kind of beat and yadda yadda yadda,’” he says. “We’re taking everything we’ve done so far and making it sound a million times better. Our whole goal is to have people put in the CD and go `I didn’t expect this really, but it’s dope.’ I like when people think they got it all figured out and they think they know your next move and you keep slapping them in the face with something new.”

So what exactly is the meaning of “cool” in your name? Is it chilled-out, or popular?
It’s both. We think we’re cool because the cool, laid-back-in-the-cut kind of dude was usually the coolest guy in school. It’s just both.

It wasn’t that long ago for you, so you should remember—were you actually a cool kid?
I was cool. I mean I wasn’t like the most popular prom king valedictorian type, but everybody that knew me would definitely vouch for my coolness.

Your real name is Antoine Reed. Where did Mikey Rocks come from?
I was infatuated with Michael Jordan things and Michael Jordan the person so I was like that’s the best name you can have. As a little kid I would try to change my name to Mike, like write it on papers and I would tell my mom to call me that but she wouldn’t do it, so I just saw this as my opportunity to have the best name that I could possibly have.

What did you mom think about you dropping out of college?
I don’t want to go to school for music because that’s lame and you never need to do that. ... I was like, “I think I’m just gonna do music.” My mom was (angry), she was really mad for a while. I was like, “Just give me a few months and I’m going to start making money and we’re going to start picking up a lot of press and I’ll just give you proof that this is real.” And in a couple months we made it to where we were in some magazines and getting paid for a lot of shows and stuff like that so she was like “It’s cool.”

How did you hook up with Chuck?
We had a mutual friend that told me about Chuck’s beats and told me that I should check them out. So I did and then I hit him up and we went back and forth for a while just talking about beats and stuff. ... And one day I was like “Man I gotta bunch of beats I’ll just come over to your house and we’ll play some beats and think of a project we can do.” ... And it all went uphill from there. We just saw that we had a lot in common when it came to musical taste and things that we hated and things that we didn’t hate and stuff like that.

Things you hated?
Oh, sucky music. A lot of things that suck about life. So we shared a lot of things in common and we just decided to form a group and start putting out music. When we first met we were both still in school. I was in my last year of high school and he was in college and I had a job, worked at McDonald’s and I used to have to get off work and drive all the way over to his house smelling like chicken nuggets and stuff. ...

Then the next year I started college and I was in school downtown and our schools were really close to each other. After class I’d just go over there, we’d make songs ...

You and Chuck are putting out the Cool Kids albums on your own label. Your music isn’t necessarily the type that attracts major label attention, but would you consider a record deal?
We’re cool with putting out our own albums. We did a lot for ourselves what labels would have to pay to get done or stuff that they’d have to recoup from us. We did that ourselves already, so why pay them for something that we’re already doing on our own? I mean if they want to give us ... crazy money and give us the platform to do whatever we want and if they’ll just pay for it and make our lives real easy, then that’s cool. But if not, there’s no reason for us to take a regular record deal.

What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
My parents are a lot younger than most people’s parents. So instead of listening to jazz and old-soul stuff and James Brown and all that, my parents were listening to rap. You know how some people’s parents don’t let their kids hear songs and they’ll cut it off? My parents let it play. I just grew up on hip-hop like a lot of Slick Rick, a lot of Nas, Tribe Called Quest, Eric B. and Rakim. ... A lot of Snoop and Dre. Then as I got older I started discovering stuff on my own so it wasn’t just music that I would hear around the house. I started branching out.

Your music has a very fresh yet old-school sound to it. It sounds silly to say this, but it really matches your name well. Why not just do typical gangsta rap about shawties and Hennessy?
We kind of just like to tackle the subjects and tackle the song concepts that haven’t really been done. There’d be something that’s really simple like going to the grocery store. I got a song rapping about that and it sounds dope. You’d be like, “This is ill,” but you’ll have to really think about it and be like, “Oh this guy is really talking about going to the grocery store but I still like it and it sounds dope.” We just like to talk about the cool stuff that goes on during a regular day. ... just kind of simple stuff to tackle really creatively and approach from the left side of the brain and put a nice twist on it and just make it dope.

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