Album review: The Cool Kids, ‘When Fish Ride Bicycles’ (Green Label Sound)

August 17, 2011

Chicago’s Cool Kids Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks hardly helped themselves in the marketing department, frittering away the buzz they first built about six years ago.  The due delayed their proper album debut through a combination of perfectionist tinkering and age-old label problems.  In fact, this disc finally is coming to us courtesy of a corporate soft drink’s boutique label.  But most of all, Cool Kids heartily embraced, if not trumpeted, “the old school,” which probably is the least cool thing you can be in hip-hop, after a backpacker.

None of that matters, however, when you spin the grooves the boys have given us at long last.

“Beach rap,” the act’s publicist has dubbed “When Fish Ride Bicycles,” and that’s not a bad way of thinking of the laidback, free-flowing, and, at times, breezy jams that dominate this disc.

But there’s substance here, too, and the Cool Kids aren’t limited to one season.

One of the strongest tracks is “Bundle Up,” which is as evocative a portrait of Chicago’s harsh winters as has ever been recorded (“Bundle up, bundle up/I said you gotta bundle up!/You said it’s gonna be cold today/From the city and the frozen lakes”).  It also happens to be an effective metaphor for how large swathes of the "City That Works" are frozen out of opportunities because of institutionalized racism and neglect of the poor.

Enlisting the help of a few unnecessary outside producers (Inglish is as good as any of them) and some superfluous cameos (Asher Roth, Travis Barker), the Cool Kids attempt to expand their minimalist ’80s rap sound at times with slightly more modern grooves, but the disc is most enjoyable when they stick to what they do best: simply musical backings with solid rhymes.

And that never gets old.

On the four-star scale: 3.5 STARS