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The Cool Kids had bros in snapbacks showing up to Grant Park in August before Perry’s Tent ever existed. Their production style became mainstream when college kids started discovering molly and Ableton, but nothing sounded like “Black Mags” when it was first embedded on your Myspace. The duo’s influence is overlooked and under-appreciated.
In retrospect, the rise of the Cool Kids makes complete sense. Before he was knighted, Michael Rocks was living in Matteson, a city best known for the Interstate-adjacent Auto Mall that cars breeze past on the way to Chicago. Chuck Inglish spent his earliest years in Mount Clemens, Mich., a city similarly distant from downtown Detroit. The kids became cool in Chicago, where at the time another duo named Flosstradamus were throwing monthly dance parties.
This is recent history, but it seems like distant past — now that the Cool Kids are never coming back. That’s according to an April tweet by @SirMichaelRocks, suspiciously posted right before a promotional run for his then-forthcoming project Populair. Mikey’s words made for a good headline, but they can’t be considered literal truth. The Cool Kids come and go. Both Mikey and Chuck have already released multiple solo albums, and we’ll probably see them together onstage again. With Populair and Chuck’s Everybody’s Big Brother being released within a month of each other, it’s impossible not to evaluate both artists as separate entities. It’s just foolish to entertain the idea that the two have actually decided to pursue diverging musical directions.
Yet the albums are definitely different. Populair is an ambitious effort in experimental production; Everybody’s Big Brother sounds like the old Cool Kids. Depending on how you felt about Speakerboxxx/The Love Below, you’ll probably like one more than the other. And you’ll probably still recognize the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.
Populair sounds nothing like Banco. It’s sparser, tighter, expressing more but using less clutter. “Drowning In The French” has skittering hi-hats and off-key crooning, brooding about relationships. All are ingredients of popular rap right now, but they don’t come out that way filtered through Mikey’s brain. “Alone” is the dreary account of first world problems in suburbia that Kid Cudi fans have been craving. The album is as strange and dark as its cover art.
Sir Michael Rocks sounds anxious about modern life — angry at the Uber driver for not letting him bring his booze aboard, frustrated with slow Chipotle employees. The production style of Populair mirrors that uneasiness, reaching for something new.
Chuck Inglish doesn’t sound as bothered with life or the need to evolve. His album might suffer without Mikey, but beats like “16 Speakers” sound just fine with Caleb James, Fat Tony, and Maxo Kream on them instead. “Several Dozen” could’ve been in Drive. “Ftw” could be played on Hip-Hop Nation. Chuck’s lyrics and monotone delivery aren’t as adventurous as Mikey’s rapping and singing, but at least you can count on the consistency.
More than ever before, these two albums prove Chuck’s production was always what anchored the former duo. By releasing these albums within such close proximity, both artists have revealed what they bring to the collaborative effort (or, in Mikey’s case, something slightly different that he could have brought). Populair is good if you’re in a certain type of mood; Everybody’s Big Brother is a well-put together work with some good guest verses from lesser-known artists. It’s a way of distinguishing the two Cool Kids and what they stand for in 2015. The problem is that Cool Kids fans have always known the difference between the two. Another collaborative album might not have made sense after all these years, but listening to them separately is like watching both sides of a recently broken-up couple trying to get on with their lives. Chuck’s still comfortable and Mikey’s still experimenting, but both are still Cool Kids and it’s impossible to let go of the idea that they’ll eventually work together again.
lede photo found here