May 30, 2008

Shortcut—The Bake Sale, by The Cool Kids

[img id="80664" align="alignleft"] In the world of music, things are cool until everyone discovers them. At that point, they either become un-cool or they rise to the next level and become hip.

Thankfully, The Cool Kids' rise in popularity hasn't been their downfall. The Kids, composed of Chicago native Mikey (aka Antoine Reed) and Detroit native Chuck (aka Evan Ingersoll), first garnered attention through their MySpace page and mp3s released independently. In fact, up until their most recent EP, The Bake Sale, The Cool Kids had yet to release a single 12-inch or EP. Despite the dearth of formal releases, The Cool Kids managed to tour with the much-beloved M.I.A. and earned a coveted spot at the 2007 Pitchfork Music Festival. They were also embraced by other current Chicago hip-hop scene favorites like Flosstradamus.

The Bake Sale offers a lot of insight into why The Cool Kids have gotten so much love. The EP feels laid-back, as if Mikey and Chuck wake up, put on their vinyl jackets, scarves, and retro-Nikes, and just start to spit rhymes as easily as breathing. There's also a hint of the raised-eyebrow vibe The Cool Kids give off, which has often earned them the label "hipster rap." On tracks like "A Little Bit Cooler," in a call and response, the Kids spit, "People are just losers/ and they'll do anything if someone cool do it" and "Does that belt say Star Wars?/ I'm cooler than that guy/ Your jeans ain't saggin'/ I'm cooler than that guy" over a bass and synth-heavy beat.

The Cool Kids are making fun of what's cool, and therefore, they are cool. Their rhyme-and-wink style is infectious. They embrace so much in their rap, including the influence of '80s hip-hop, the Beastie Boys ("we're the new black version of the Beastie Boys"), and a self-conscious sensibility, that they become their own category of cool.

The most exciting thing about The Cool Kids—what made Rolling Stone call them an "artist to watch"—is that they straddle so many genres. You hear the hipster dance scene's simple beats, the homage to what many consider the golden age of hip-hop, and a self-consciousness that is refreshing in a hip-hop scene where MCs seem to take themselves far too seriously. With a shrug and a smirk, they admit, "I'm eating a bowl of fruity pebbles/ how gangsta is that?/ not gangsta at all."

Above all, The Bake Sale is accessible. Whether or not you find Mikey and Chuck's style a little too precious, it's nice to have something to debate about in a hip-hop scene that needs new voices desperately. In all fairness, The Cool Kids still sound like, well, kids—a full-length LP will need more variation in its tracks than this sometimes repetitive album offers. But as a transition from MySpace to record stores, this feels good enough.