[22 May 2008]
As a genre whose existence stretches back 50 some odd years, rock has seen more imitators than it’s seen innovators. Rap, a genre that’s been around for barely 20, has seen a significantly less number of brazen biters, or at least it’s never seen a group who does it as baldly and as celebratory as the Cool Kids, a pair of Chicago teens (well, beatmaker Chuck Inglish is in his 20s) who ask to be taken completely seriously.
The Cool Kids steez is as follows: Starter jackets, chunky gold ropes, high-top Reeboks, NWA-style cheap sports team hats. Beepers flexed hopefully for ironic purposes instead of functional ones. First widely circulated press photo has them in front of a building that looks might be the one from Family Matters. Basically, they look like the Fat Boys minus 200 collective pounds.
If it’s more of a marketing ploy, it’s a curious, but brave one. The number of rap fans who caught a glimpse of that photo and shook their heads while contemplating if Nas was actually right all along is probably innumerable. In fact, as of right now, the Cool Kids main audience is mostly made up of white city kids who coincidentally dress like the rappers in hopes that someone will take their picture, put it on the Internet and it will make them famous. Their first official release, a single for “88” and “I Rock” (now called “Mikey Rocks”), both of which appear on The Bake Sale, was released by the hipster-indebted label Fools Gold. On the other hand, if the group actually is ‘80s obsessed enough to walk around in pink windbreakers all the time, I kind of want to chill with them.
As for the music, their lyrical tropes (girls, clothes, cash) aren’t breaking any ground, really (songs about bikes excepted), but the Cool Kids attack them with a patently teenage and energetic fervor that elevates their good raps and more than makes up for the patchy spots we should expect from the functional debut EP (their first EP, the self-released Totally Flossed Out, shares seven songs with The Bake Sale) from a pair of kids. Their music, at its best, replicates the pure joy and excitement that courses through fade-era classics like “It Takes Two” and “Top Billin’”. Obviously the Cool Kids never will record a song that’ll even come close to sniffing either of those, but the fact that they even can conjure those thoughts, especially in the face of their brazen revivalism, is more than we can say for other next big deals like Papoose or Currensy.
And, here’s the thing. They can actually rap. Well. Though at times verses by both Inglish and his partner Mikey Rocks vibe better than they read, each dude has an innate knack for Lego-stacking syllables on top of each other until your forced to rewind just to catch what they’ve said. Chuck’s opening verse on their best song, “Black Mags”, illustrates this thusly: “White mag rims/ Red rubber tires/ Chain, frame, pegs, grips, ship to my supplier/ Dope man attire, gimme bout an hour/ And I’ll have it clicking, ticking, gliding, flying like MacGyver.” On “Mikey Rocks”, it’s Mikey: “So fly, propellers propel us to the angels/ Repellin the fellas that’s jealous of the name, it’s/ Repellin to rappers as soon as I stage hit.”
So when their rhymes sag (let’s all collectively hit the snooze button on “It goes full circle like a Cheerio”), the Cool Kids still score points by doing things like displaying expert breath control when bobbing and weaving through these beats and by flipping rhyme schemes enough to keep their one-two verses from ever becoming especially monotonous. And at times, things do get a little monotonous, like on the lazy chest-thumper “A Little Bit Cooler” and on the cluttered and clattering “Bassment Party”, which eats both rappers up.
But all in all, and most importantly, the Cool Kids exhibit enough good ideas to promise that not only are they not cheesed-out throwback jokers, but that they are good enough rappers to stick around for whatever counts as a long haul these days. This is evident especially in Inglish’s beats, which are all thumping, bass-heavy, metallic and knocking. Spare tributes to a bygone era though they may be, they never get repetitive, settling into a fat, crawling rumble that makes you want to idle around the block all day.
The only real question left now is whether or not the Cool Kids can keep it up over another 10- or 12-song release. They’ve currently extended 12 or so songs over a year and a half and two releases. Their official full-length drops this fall, and even though their new songs suggest they may be spreading themselves thin, if it’s anywhere near as fun as The Bake Sale, I won’t be complaining.