How does repetition become invention? Because for all of their old-school tropes (EPMD-style photos; Eric B.-style gold ropes; big, goofy sneakers), the Cool Kids somehow avoid sounding old. The Chicago duo’s beats are simple and their flows are slow, methodical, and clearly enunciated. But their simplicity is exciting because of its nuance.
For instance, “’88” consists mostly of big, echoey drums and occasional guitar stabs, but it repeatedly threatens to become a different song with brief tweaks of the backing track. The same goes for “I Rock”- formerly known as “Mikey Rocks”- which features plenty of panning and electro sounds in the spaces between its spare, trunk-rattling beat.
The Cool Kids rap with the same nuanced simplicity. Clever punch lines reveal themselves as palindromes of vowel sounds- 19-year-old MC Mikey says “The side of my dome is a zone you could never find” in “I Rock”- and a declaration like “The concept of rocking shows is so old” is as thought-provoking as it is irreverent. But nuance can be imperceptible without something more immediate accompanying it, and sometimes the Cool Kids just want to “kick it like kickstands.” That kind of goofiness is another thing that sets them apart from the rest of the current rap pack, indie or mainstream. With their head-nod-inspiring boom-bap beats and clever lyrics in common language, maybe they’re just “bringing ’88 back.” But something about it feels like the future.