When message boards began to buzz about The Cool Kids in 2006, their minimalist beats and clever braggadocio was energizing, like a breath of fresh air in a rap world grown stagnant with outsized characters and overproduced beats. True to form, When Fish Ride Bicycles is just what fans of the MySpace mavens have come to expect: feel good music made by and for intelligent hip hop nerds who might floss a little, but don’t take themselves too seriously. Yet, after three years of delays, the midwestern duo’s official full length debut still feels more like a collection of lighthearted summer fodder than the resounding statement that fans may have been hoping for.
The proceedings start in vintage Cool Kids fashion with the crisp drums and stabbing synths of “Rush Hour Traffic” and “GMC” providing the backdrop for playful boasts of MCs Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks. The back to basics whimsy of the Kids even bring the levity out of a couple of grizzled vets as Ghostface Killah and Bun B respectively season “Penny Hardaway” and “Gas Station” with charisma rather than menace.
Yet, the assured presence of the Shaolin warrior and the underground king inadvertently highlight the shortcomings of The Cool Kids. Their conversational deliveries and every man personas, cultivated in the often self-effacing world of blog rap sometimes feel small atop sparse, up tempo production clearly inspired by the late ‘80s when larger than life mic controllers brought the color to often minimalist canvases. While “Sour Apples” and “Get Right” may have been a nod worthy change of pace if bumped off a Myspace page through computer speakers, they feel unpolished and at times lackadaisical when magnified over car speakers.
Ironically enough, it is “Summer Jam,” the distinctly un-Neptunes sounding Pharrell Williams production that packs the hardest punch. As the mellow twang of the Kids’ unhurried flows nestles into the crevices of the jazzy beat, painting a picture of summer madness evocative enough to make Will Smith catch a Fresh Prince flashback, you can’t help but think, that as the internet favorites step onto the big stage, this may just be the tone of their next chapter.