By J. Freedom du Lac
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
Retro rappers Antoine "Mikey Rocks" Reed, 20, and Evan "Chuck Inglish" Ingersoll, 23, are both too young to have paid close attention during hip-hop's golden years -- and yet they specialize in songs that sound like giddy leftovers from that era.
Recording and performing as the Cool Kids, Reed and Ingersoll proffer period pieces that pay stylistic and, often, lyrical homage to mid/late-'80s and early/mid-'90s hip-hop culture.
Their old-school obsession has paid off in a most contemporary way: The Midwestern culture vultures have become hipster sensations -- the toast of the indie-music blogosphere -- on the strength of a series of self-produced, self-released online-only singles. (A fitting start, since Reed and Ingersoll met on MySpace three years ago when Reed inquired about buying one of Ingersoll's homemade beats.)
Sunday night at the Black Cat, the Cool Kids attempted to prove themselves worthy of their deafening ( def?) buzz with an hour-long set of swaggering, party-rocking, throwback nerd rap that rode spare, booming beats and was loaded with references to hip-hop's past: Rob Base, the Fresh Prince, Adidas track suits, the Smurf dance, "wack rappers" and "sucker MCs."
And those were just from one song, "88," which was about 1988. "I'm leaving you with these three words: yes, yes y'all," Reed and Ingersoll rapped over the music from Slick Rick's epochal 1988 single "Children's Story."
Looking at their Guccis, it's always about that time.
In "Pump Up the Volume," which rode a pulsating, circa-1987 Eric B and Rakim sample, the rappers mentioned Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing," boomboxes worthy of Radio Raheem and a cassette copy of LL Cool J's 1990 single "Jingling Baby."
In another song, "Jingling," Reed and Ingersoll alluded to that same LL single and also quoted MC Breed's 1991 hit, "Ain't No Future in Yo' Frontin'." During "Gold and a Pager," over a detonative, room-rattling bass line, the duo used a slowed-down, vintage N.W.A. sample for the song's hook.
Ingersoll and Reed rapped, in a frenetic, pass-the-mike style, about being "f-l-y" and wearing gold dookie ropes and such, and their rhyme schemes harked back to an earlier era, too -- as in "One, Two," whose opening lines counted off, old-school style: "One, two, lace up my shoes/Three to the four when I step out the door/Five, six, kick a lil' somethin'/With the Cool Kids/Then we do it again."
In that same song, the band described itself thusly: "The new black version of the Beastie Boys." (For ironists and students of racial politics, it was a watershed moment.)
Soon thereafter, the Cool Kids deejay replaced the song's jittery, minimalist Neptunes-style beat with the backward-drums rhythm track from the Beasties' 1986 single "Paul Revere," prompting the fans in the half-filled club to, well . . . bug out. As gimmicks go, the Cool Kids have a pretty good one.
Given that they're still in their songwriting nascency (a debut EP, "The Bake Sale," arrives in stores today, with a full-length album coming later this year), the Cool Kids needed some help filling the hour. So, of course, they turned to the past.
"I think we should go back like 20 -- or a couple years back," said Ingersoll, who is from a Detroit suburb. (Reed is from suburban Chicago.)
The group's deejay obliged, going back 14 years to drop Notorious B.I.G.'s debut single, "Juicy," over which Ingersoll and Reed repeated Biggie's lyrics about reading Word Up magazine, with "Salt-N-Pepa and Heavy D up in the limousine/Hangin' pictures on my wall/Every Saturday, 'Rap Attack,' Mr. Magic, Marley Marl."
Two golden-era rap revivalists getting nostalgic during a song about nostalgia: very meta.
They also rapped along to Ice Cube's "It Was a Good Day," a song about a good day that transpired some 15 years ago.
But not all of the songs were about a bygone era. There was a Cool Kids original about tricked-out BMX bikes ("Black Mags"), another about the very concept of coolness ("A Little Bit Cooler"), plus one about a party with a playlist heavy on 2 Live Crew-style Miami bass music ("Bassment Party").
And in "Gettin' It," the Kids cleverly referenced a thoroughly modern rap single by Hurricane Chris, declaring: "The Cool Kids in the sandbox, y'all can't play/Sayin ABC's, not 'A Bay Bay.' "
Then again, that same song did include a decidedly anachronistic line about throwing "it in the air/like I didn't care."
The Cool Kids: 1988's next big thing, 20 years too late.