Q&A: The Cool Kids Feel Like Rap-Game Ben Simmons On Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe
The Cool Kids are a decade deep in the game but they feel like rookies again. To compare them to the new wave of rookies in the NBA, they would be most like Ben Simmons. The 6’10” 21-year-old is officially listed as a forward but he can truly play every position on the floor. The Philadelphia 76ers plan to start him at point guard for the 2017-18 season, recalling the dynamism, excitement, and court vision a 6’9″ point guard named Earvin “Magic” Johnson brought to the league as a rookie for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet Simmons had to forgo his proper rookie debut in the 2016-17 season due to a Jones fracture that kept him out of all 82 regular season games. Having fully recovered, he’s still considered a rookie this season and a leading candidate for the Rookie Of The Year award.
The Cool Kids similarly had their career stifled before it really got started. They were truly at the forefront of the retro blog rap wave in 2007/2008 before label disputes led to a three-year delay of the release of their debut, When Fish Ride Bicycles, in 2011. Also just like Simmons, who has worked hard to return from his injury to dunk all over fools, Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks have put in the work on their solo dolo to hone their skills and make what is the true Cool Kids debut in their minds — Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe — a masterpiece.
Rocks evolved his flow with the name change from Mikey Rocks to Sir Michael Rocks, dropping eight solo projects since the duo split in 2011. His arsenal of cadences and speeds grew, proving that he didn’t need 808s or other retro leanings to snap on a beat. Rocks has also grown as a producer, dropping slept-on heaters on a slew of mixtapes that earned him a spot on Curren$y’s Jet Life roster. Inglish expanded his sound with seven projects of his own, ranging from beat tapes to full-fledged albums that encompass just about any sound from any genre you can think of. And not to mention, as he says on early single “Checkout,” his “bars got heavy.”
The solo growth of Rocks and Inglish combined with the renewed energy they have from recording in the same space has led to a wonderfully varied album that completely redefines the sound associated with the Cool Kids from the mid-aughts. Electric guitar riffs lead into 808 trunk rattlers with an inventive flair. Smooth R&B grooves turn into funk and West Coast vibes fit for the dance floor. And of course there is the retro lean of before, just new and improved, more intricate. If this were a proper debut from a duo no one had heard of or spent so long anticipating a new project from, it would likely be heralded as serious contender for breakout album of the year. Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe deserves to be heard with fresh pairs of ears that complement the rekindled chemistry and energy that birthed it.
So it only seemed right to chop it up with Cool Kids about their new album and all of the trials, tribulations, pitfalls, successes, and failures that led to its existence.
STEREOGUM: From about 2011-2016 you had your hiatus as a duo, but for people that don’t know, can you walk us through the timeline of that hiatus and where your heads were?
SIR MICHAEL ROCKS: Around that time Chuck had just moved to LA. I was still living in Chicago. That alone would be a factor that would push us into solo stuff just because we’re in two different spots. We were going through some fucking real-life shit at the time that also made us just want to branch out and experiment on some other shit. And legal stuff with old contracts and all that was wearing on us, like, man, it ain’t fun. We couldn’t put out music as a duo because as soon as we did we would have a lot of different hands in our pocket and a lot of people around that we didn’t need around at the time. So we felt it was the perfect time to destroy and rebuild — clean out the ranks, clean out the closet, and let all that shit kind of air out for a minute, do some solo stuff in the meantime and then come back with a clean slate.
STEREOGUM: You guys stayed solid relationship-wise, both professionally and as friends, keeping an eye on what each other were doing, but Chuck, you did seven projects during the hiatus, and Mikey, you did eight. How did your growth separately impact the work you did together on the new album?
CHUCK INGLISH: Some were beat tapes and some were albums. I just kept leaving seeds that would lead back up to this. Ultimately we are what we created, and there needed to be extra chapters to the story. I don’t think we had found ourselves individually when we had first started. Now we’re way more comfortable in our own sounds, and what we want to do and see with the whole purpose of what we’re doing has more focus. It’s pretty unwavering at the moment. We needed that. It wasn’t something that we necessarily predicted, but we were smart for doing it because every story can’t be the same. You have to roll with the waves and I feel like we handled it well, and in that time we grew to like what we do a little bit more and [recognize] the respect for what we both bring to the table. We stay with that excitement to make new music. That’s what that timeline was about for me. We’re never going to lose it again.
STEREOGUM: You almost reunited in 2014 with Shark Week. What happened to that project?
ROCKS: At that time we were just in the studio really. We had just got in the studio and started making some new stuff. But we didn’t really have a plan of an album or anything. We were just like, all right, let’s go to the studio and make some shit. Those are just like one-off joints. We really just wanted to test the water, and then we were like, nope, not yet. It’s like a well-prepared soup. You’ve got to dip your finger in there and taste it and see if it’s right. And it was like, nah, not yet. It needs a little bit more, and then we can come back at the right time.
STEREOGUM: How was the chemistry in the studio different this time around?
ROCKS: By the tail end of our first long run recording together, it was not fun. That shit was just not fun. We had a bunch of bullshit going on and it was not a good time for us to be doing stuff together. It would get to the point where, like, he would go make a beat, and then I would come to the studio like 10 or 11 o’clock at night and then he would be leaving and I would go start writing raps. We weren’t even really in the studio together at the tail end of our first stretch. It wasn’t even that we had problems with each other. It wasn’t like we had a fight or something. The new shit was fun though. And we had bigger arsenals to bring to the table.
STEREOGUM: What was the first song you recorded for the new album?
ROCKS: “Connect 4”
ROCKS: Yeah, “Connect 4,” or was it “Running Man?”
INGLISH: Nah, we put out “Running Man” first, but we recorded “Connect 4” first. At that time when we did those songs they were a part of the album. We just wanted to let people know, like, we still got this. And with the concepts of them, just thinking outside of the box and putting out two consecutive singles that matched. We did covers. We did new videos for them. Once we got deep into the creation of the album I already knew what sounds I was going to use. Those two songs were the first ones, but we created six or seven the first couple days back in the studio.
STEREOGUM: You can hear that renewed energy on the album. One minute you’re rhyming about knocking somebody’s teeth out over electric guitar riffs on “Break Your Legs,” and then you switch it to funk vibes and West Coast stuff on “Jean Jacket” and “Westide Connection,” and go smoother R&B on “Gr8ful” and “915” and the variation keeps going from there. Lyrically, you both are rhyming different, too. Mikey, it seems like you don’t rhyme over anyone else’s beats the way you do over Chuck’s beats. Is that fair to say?
ROCKS: Definitely. He has a certain tempo that he stays around and has a certain bounce that nobody else really does. When I get on his tracks, it just gives me a certain spark of imagination that I don’t get with everybody’s tracks all the time. I know where his beats are coming from. I know what part of his brain his beats are coming from. I know what part of his soul his beats are coming from, and it’s a place only he’s coming from. No other producer is really coming from there.
STEREOGUM: Chuck, you were saying you’re not really influenced by other people’s sounds, but you can’t just listen to your own stuff all the time. Is there a genre you prefer when you listen to other artists?
INGLISH: The genre I listen to doesn’t really have a name. It’s like genre Toro Y Moi, or Solange, or Sampha, or [whatever category] similar progressive artists fall under. I like albums. So if you’ve got a really good album I’m going to listen to it. I like albums with rhythm and beat. But I listen to everything. I have an obsession with knowing things. I don’t like press knowing shit before me, and they can’t. You don’t have enough time in your day to search for shit like me. I’ve never been wrong about anybody that was about to crack. I’m not trying to toot my horn, but I stay on the pulse of what song is going to crack. I’ve listened to every single album that’s come out this year. What I lean towards is functional music. I can’t listen to your cinematic story of your life. I usually lean away from those types of albums, especially in rap. I don’t want to hear that shit. I need shit that goes with my day.
STEREOGUM: What are your favorites so far this year?
INGLISH: The J.I.D album. Him and what’s that dude on TDE? Who’s the big nigga on TDE?
STEREOGUM: Lance Skiiwalker?
INGLISH: Yeah. He got the hardest album of last year. He had the most underrated album of last year, period. It’s fucking amazing from top to bottom. It’s fucking amazing. That was one my favorite albums between that and Solange’s shit. Solange’s shit and Childish [Gambino]. That album fucked my whole shit up. So between those three albums alone it was a good year for music last year.
STEREOGUM: A lot of critics I know didn’t like that Gambino album, but almost every artist I’ve talked to loves it.
INGLISH: That’s how I know if you know what you’re talking about or if you don’t. The body of work in itself musically, if you’re not tuned into that, and that doesn’t sound good to you, you might be a fucking alien. Get the fuck off the Earth. The progressions in that were supposed to be humanly enjoyed. That’s like being around a drum circle and not bobbing your head to it. Like, “Nah I don’t like that shit, there isn’t as much texture as the drum circle over there.” Fuck out of here. Everybody’s a critic. The best albums in the world, a lot of them were hated first. Like think of The Life Of Pablo versus Yeezus. The Life Of Pablo is trash compared to Yeezus — absolutely trash in comparison. Everybody tried to bang on Yeezus like that shit wasn’t amazing. And then everybody’s like Life Of Pablo! Pitchfork gave this nigga a 9.0! That’s when I knew they were tweaking. Unless we’re smoking a blunt, don’t say shit to me ever again [laughs]. Anything in the nines for Pablo is an absolute tweak.
STEREOGUM: How about you Mikey?
ROCKS: I really like SZA’s a lot. I really don’t listen to a lot of current people while I’m creating because I don’t want to be influenced, and I don’t want to subconsciously do something you did. So I really don’t listen to a lot of people. When I’m in album mode and I’m creating and recording, I’m listening to all the other shit. I’m enough rap. I’m enough rap to listen to. I’m an amazing rapper. So I get enough rap just from me, you know? I don’t really like to listen to other rappers too much while I’m recording my shit because you’ll get influenced subconsciously and you won’t even know it. When I’m recording I’m listening to old Aphex Twin, some weird Japanese jazz shit, video game soundtracks, juke, Chicago house footwork tracks. I like to listen to everything else when I’m doing my shit. When I’m not recording I like to listen to other people, take a break and relax and listen to other raps and shit.
STEREOGUM: As far as Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe, how much did you create for it? Did you have a lot of tracks to choose from or were you more efficient?
INGLISH: We just did 16 songs for a year. We just improved every song we had for a year. We can’t even give you no throwaways. I don’t believe in throwaways. You should make songs that you love and want to keep. It’s a waste of time. Every song that I sit down and want to make, either it’s for a special part of the album or I want it to be some shit that changes your life.
ROCKS: I would say the same. I feel like every song you record should be something special.
INGLISH: There’s a song we’ve got with Jeremih on the album. I think that shit is going to change people’s lives.
STEREOGUM: That’s “915” right? Is that your favorite track on the album?
INGLISH: Yeah. That’s probably my favorite, the one with Jeremih.
ROCKS: That one is one of my favorites — “Moonlanding” too, and “Checkout. I really like “Checkout” a lot too, man. I got a couple favorites on there actually.
INGLISH:: Yeah, I’m not going to split my kids. All of that shit was as if I had 16 children. I love them all equally. But I love “915” with Jeremih because it’s song for the party that doesn’t quite sound like it. It’s just got grooves in it that move me and makes my day better. I already know that it will help you make your day better. I’ve heard it in Chicago on Lakeshore Drive with the windows down, 90 degrees, and Taste Of Chicago is happening, and all of this shit is happening. So the emotion I was trying to create for it, I sat in it and I know what it feels like. And it’s an album I know you can’t digest all at once, I know it’s going to take you a couple listens.
STEREOGUM: It feels like a well-constructed album. It seems like you have a few tracks for people that have been rocking with you from the beginning that recall “88” and “Black Mags” but they’re more updated, more intricate, not quite as minimal. And then you have other tracks people wouldn’t expect to hear from you. So how did you strike that balance? Did you think about satisfying the people that have been waiting for an album from y’all for a while?
INGLISH: I wanted to walk you into an experience. I wanted to start you off like, damn, this is definitely some Cool Kids shit, and then have you be like, damn, what’s this? This shit crazy. And then it ends with, damn, that shit is hard. I made a film with that shit. I wanted to make scenes and show how they played out to me. If I was listening to us for the first time, this is the album that would fuck me up. If we were new and you never heard of us before this album, this would be the breakout album of the year. That’s what I’m hoping for. We’re still kind of new artists. We haven’t really existed yet the way we’ve wanted to. We just did a lot of shifting. We affected a lot of people first, but our music still hasn’t reached its peak. We haven’t peaked out. We haven’t gotten close.
STEREOGUM: Speaking of Jeremih, I heard a good range of features on the album. I heard Like from Pac Div, Hollywood Holt going by his old name, Boldy James, Syd, Joyce Wrice, Hannibal Buress. How did those come about? I know you prefer organic features that kind of just happen, so was that how they came about this time around too?
INGLISH: They were just there. Hollywood Holt is going to direct a video, so him doing a verse made sense.
ROCKS: It was just features that fit the songs being played. If we needed an extra voice or we needed extra attitude or some kind of extra piece for something, we would reach out to our people first. I don’t believe in just reaching out to random people that you don’t know just because they have a name or something or like that. I’d rather reach out to my people first and see who I can put on there that will serve a purpose on the track rather than just be an accessory or a shiny item on the track.
STEREOGUM: How did Hannibal Buress get on the album?
ROCKS: Let me tell you how I met Hannibal first. I’m at SXSW in like 2012 or something like that and I’m walking up to some party and all I hear from behind me is like, “Mikey, what kind of shirt you got on, man? That’s fucked up, bro.” And I’m thinking, who is this? So I turn around and [see Hannibal and] I’m like, “Oh shit, bro. Is this really you? I’m a big fan, blah blah blah.” We ended up roasting each other for about 10 minutes outside of the line and we had some good back-and-forths. Whenever I get to link up with Hannibal I’m probably one of the only rappers that’s able to be on the same level of funny as him. Most people just get ate up real quick. We’re both from Chicago, so we know how to roast. We know how to fry you really quick. We met [at SXSW] and roasted each other and just became friends. Every time he has something going on that in the same city I’m in, I try to fuck with him and hang out. He reminds me of my older brother and his friends. They both have the same mindset, the same kind of comedy. There’s a lot we have in common. He thinks like a comedian version of us. I think we have a lot of the same thought processes, really.
STEREOGUM: What were the percentages of rapping and producing for the two of you? I know you both have grown so much separately and expanded your repertoires. So I was wondering how much you stuck to the old formula.
ROCKS: [Chuck] produced the entire thing. He did the whole thing, and then he would have some instrumentalists come through. But it was all him.
INGLISH: It’s just our recipe. Mikey was hands-on in the creation of it, but it’s my passion. It’s what I do.
ROCKS: I feel like it’s best for him to, especially for this albums, it’s best for him to do the music and do the production for it because when you’re bringing us back in we needed to kind of attack with the formula that we had when we started. Let it be updated and let us start with that attack plan and then after we’ll start experimenting. Since we split up I’ve been producing as well too. I’m at a point right now where I can make really good beats, so now we’re learning how to combine things. He had the jumpshot and the rebounds, and I had the crossover and the passes. Now I got a jumpshot too, and he has a little more of the crossover. We’re just adding to each other, so we’ll get to a level where both of us are doing whatever.
STEREOGUM: Do you feel like rookies again?
ROCKS: Yeah. Absolutely.
INGLISH: I feel like nobody knows me. The story keeps going. It ain’t over. We’re at a point where it’s fun again so we’ll do it until it’s not fun anymore. But it seems like that not to going to happen for a long time.
Special Edition Grand Master Deluxe is out 9/15 via Cake Recordings.