Midwestern rap duo Cool Kids has waited three years for the release of its debut album, When Fish Ride Bicycles, so some overenthusiastic tendencies would be forgiven. Antoine Reed and Evan Ingersoll, better known as Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish, could have passed the time layering complex beats and mind numbingly fast lyrics or abusing the use of guest artists and well-known producers. Instead, they did the opposite—to engaging results. Nothing more than Inglish’s beats and Rocks’ rapping are needed to prove that When Fish Ride Bicycles was worth the wait.
The album is an exercise in restraint. Cool Kids pulls away from excessive studio flair and in the process shows off just how much talent its two members have. On “GMC,” the simple beat often drops out completely at the end of the phrases, leaving only the vocals; it is in these a cappella moments that the power of Cool Kids’ natural rhythm is shown. The beat feels so intrinsic that it never leaves your head, even when it leaves the song. This simplicity is a theme throughout the album, much of which was produced by Ingersoll himself. Even though seven of the 11 tracks feature guest performances and the album’s closer, “Summer Jam Feat. Maxine Ashley,” was produced by Pharrell Williams, Cool Kids utilizes each of these guests to help serve its own purpose, rather than the other way around.
Whereas simple can often imply easy, here it implies clarity. Only the absolute essentials remain, and as a result, everything that is left serves a specific purpose—no measure is without importance, no guest is without something interesting to offer. These dynamics are best shown on “Penny Hardaway Feat. Ghostface Killah,” where an instrumental intro lends an intensity that lasts for the duration of the four minutes and an inescapable downbeat gives the track its sense of immediacy and tension; it is proof that a slow chorus can hit just as hard as one that completely overpowers the rest of the song. This is echoed in single “Bundle Up,” a track that represents Cool Kids’ ’80s-reminiscent hip-hop at its best: understated and distinctive—the latter a result of the former.