The first words you hear on the Cool Kids' The Bake Sale
EP-- out now on iTunes and in stores early next month-- are as follows: "tick tick clap, tick tickticktick clap." The beat for "What Up Man" is classic minimal 808-heavy mid-1980s shit, the sort of thing Rick Rubin might've spent 10 minutes slapping together for an LL Cool J B-side, except that in place of actual hi-hat ticks and handclaps, we get the words tick
). That pretty much perfectly encapsulates the Chicago duo's approach right there: They semi-faithfully recreate the music of rap's low-budget bubbling-under era, but they do it with eyebrows arched and quotation-marks firmly in place. On "88", they make their aims explicit: "Do the smurf, do the wop, baseball bat/ Rooftop like we bringing 88 back," itself a quote from an unashamedly retro 2002 Nas single.
Mikey Rocks, the younger of the two Cool Kids, was born in 1988. But Cool Kids' 1988 revivalism doesn't rankle the same way that, say, Jurassic 5's 1981 revivalism can, largely because Mikey and partner Chuck Inglish never slap you over the head with the inherent superiority of the era they're reviving. Or: The Cool Kids don't rap about how hard they are, and they don't rap about how they don't rap about how hard they are. Instead, they mostly rap about how fly they are, which is fertile territory. Hearing the Cool Kids rap about their haircuts is sort of like hearing a circa-now rockabilly band singing about their pompadours. And that's fun. Songs about haircuts are fun.
That retro-clothes fixation has gotten the Cool Kids widely tagged as "hipster rap," an understood pejorative of deep meaninglessness. That term ignores the musical intelligence at work on The Bake Sale
. The EP's beats, all self-produced, are all empty space, melody implied by the barest hints of synth-bass, every drum-machine woodblock-tunk impeccably timed. That gives the two rappers plenty of room to play. Mikey and Chuck both have the easy charisma and calm nonchalance to sell even their clunkiest punchlines. Their boasts tend toward the cartoonish, which suits them just fine: "I could build a sandcastle without bringing a pail/ And go catfish fishing and come up with a whale." And they're unshowy enough with their twisty internal rhymes that you might not at first notice the intricacies of a line like this one: "Fly propellers propel us to the angels/ Repelling the fellas that's jealous of the name."
Of course, given that the Cool Kids don't concern themselves with much beyond the clothes they're wearing, there's precious little urgency to be found on the EP. The two never sound more committed than when they're playing up their own trendsetting abilities, and even that comes with a self-aware wink: "I'm 'bout to say 'screw it'/ And grow a jheri curl, wear a diaper like Cupid/ Or something else stupid/ And see if people do it." And they only break out of their spacey thud-rap pastiche style a couple of times: with the Miami bass pastiche of "Bassment Party" and the tumbling-break Marley Marl pastiche of "What It Is". Those self-imposed limits might wear a bit thin over the course of a full-length album, but the 10-track, half-hour running time of The Bake Sale
is about perfect. Give or take the occasional 12", The Bake Sale
is the first commercially available product from a group that's built its rep via MySpace and live shows, and most of these tracks have been floating around the internet for a long minute. But it makes for a great little introduction to two guys who know exactly what they're doing and who do it well.