The Cool Kids return with, oddly enough, their debut album. Seems weird, considering these Midwestern boys have been in the game roughly 5 years now, but When Fish Ride Bicycles is technically their first full-length record. With a series of singles, mixtapes, and EPs under their belts, dating back to 2007’s excellent “Black Mags” single, Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish have earned a rep for themselves as those new-school kids, supplying that old-school vibe—simplistic 808-heavy beats, high-treble claps, and a laidback flow. With Fish, the core formula hasn’t changed much but they have expanded a bit on overall sound; adding in elements of R&B, Southern hip hop, and funk.
The funny thing about the Cool Kids is that even though they rely heavily on throwback overtones, sometimes they sound ironically out of date. Not out of date as in fifteen years, but like, as in two years. For example, a joint like “GMC”, with its standard CK minimalist approach, comes off like the soundtrack to a 2009 YouTube jerkin’ video. That is not to say their beats don’t bump though—there is a sub-heavy steadiness throughout the most of their work. Like normal, the majority of the production on Fish is handled in-house by Inglish. The Neptunes contribute two tracks, neither of which amount to anything out of the ordinary (at least in terms of production,) and Blink 182’s Travis Barker, who also worked with the Kids on his solo record, offers a nod to classic hip-hop by laying the groundwork for “Sour Apples.”
The Cool Kid’s most successful attempt at genre-bending happens on “Boomin.’” The track is ripe with catchy synths reminiscent of early Minneapolis funk pioneers like The Time, Mazarati, Tamara and other Prince-related players. As well, the song features a sultry Tennille singing the hook, and a late-song radio DJ interlude—adding up to a very crusing-around-in-the-summer-with-the-windows-down-and-the-volume-up jam.
“Penny Hardaway” (named after but necessarily about the former NBA player) is, like many Cool Kids songs, an ode to both the old-school and the material; this time focusing on the Dapper Don era of hip-hop. With a hook centered on Bally loafers and Cartier sunglasses, the Kids lay down braggadocios verses about limited color ways, tennis bracelets, and tight fades. Ghostface Killah, who is not one to go light on guest spots, shows up here. The rap game veteran delivers the final and best verse of the song. “These ruthless bars have got white girls holding their mouths like, ‘Oh my god! No he didn’t!’ Give him a bib ‘cause he’s spitin’ lines that’s so cold every word is frost-bitten.”
In what might initially seem like an odd pairing, UGK’s Bun B makes an appearance on “Gas Station.” It works surprisingly well though, as the beat is hazy and gangsta-lean, and Chuck and Mike slow their roll just enough that it matches Bun’s appropriately. Unfortunately Bun only has the first verse, leaving the track feeling sort of open-ended, whereas it would be more complete had he had a few more bars at the end of the song.
Where “Boomin’” succeeds as an R&B and funk-tinged summer jam, ironically the last song, “Summer Jam” fails. It’s not anything the Cool Kids themselves have done though. Rather, the song suffers from a case of too much Neptune-age—plain and simple, it’s overproduced. It’s unfortunate that this is the last song you’ll hear on an otherwise stellar release. The previous posse cut, “Roll Call”, which features Asher Roth turning in an exceptionally tight verse, would have been a fine album closer.
My main complaint however, does not lie with anything sonically, but rather with the album artwork—a would-be acceptable cover features a glaring Mountain Dew logo. And while I do realize that this album is released on Dew imprint Green Label Sound, I think such blatant advertisement cheapens the product.
Although the Cool Kids have risen to prominence in the MP3 age, I recommend ditching the earbuds on this one, and instead listening with proper headphones or in your ride. When Fish Ride Bicycles is a smooth and effortless spin, free of the ill-advised skits and interludes that plague many hip-hop records, with ample low end and bap to keep heads nodding along.
7.1 / 10
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