Every genre has a ‘golden age’ and hip-hop is no different. 20 years ago, before gangsta rap cast its ugly menace over the scene, the music seemed unsullied, even a tad naïve.
Long before bling became superannuated, Run DMC rapped about ‘My Adidas’; normal pumps that you could easily buy, only to spend days arguing with your ‘momma’ about the relative dangers of wearing them without laces. The most extravagant jewellery on display was a huge Beastie Boys inspired VW sign, ripped from the bonnet of a sturdy but, hey, hardly extravagant family car. De La Soul invented ‘hippy hop’, and even the bad-ass gun-toting hoodlums NWA had someone called Ice Cube within their midst. That’s not very cool.
During the Nineties, hip-hop and rap went all a bit ‘drive-by’, with large, notorious men like The Notorious B.I.G. ruling the airwaves, and then getting shot. Any innocence had long disappeared in a hail of (depressingly successful) assassination attempts. More recently the self-styled bad boy, and repellent misogynist, 50 Cent ruled the scene. Hip-hop may well have rapped its way into a musical cul-de-sac.
Thankfully, and heroically, Chicago duo The Cool Kids may just have arrived in the nick of time. Chuck English and Mikey Rocks have decided to make hip-hop fun again. The Bake Sale rocks to bass-heavy beats, old-style scratching and a hedonistic vibe, harking back to the bygone era; “Like I’m bringin’ ’88 back,” raps English on the funky clunk of lead single ‘88’. This is schoolyard bravado, highlighted by the nursery rhyme of ‘One Two’ (“buckle my shoe”), which boasts about pulling wheelies on a bike. It’s shamelessly retro, and rewardingly fresh.
The Cool Kids take great pains to provide a point of reference to the listener, introducing themselves as the “new black version of the Beastie Boys.” In truth, they sound more like seminal New York rap acts like The Jungle Brothers or a beefed-up De La Soul. They also know what they don’t want to be, proclaiming, “How gangsta is that? Not gangsta at all!” on the juddering ‘A Little Bit Cooler’.
What lacks is a killer track; while ‘88’ and the dance-party groove of ‘What It Is’ come close, the album lacks the knockout punch of a ‘It’s Tricky’ or a ‘Fight The Power’. It’s surely only a matter of time. Right now, The Cool Kids will have to be content with putting a smile back on the face of hip-hop.