“I’m about to bust that paper down/You already know my favorite sound,” explains Sir Michael Rocks in “The Clique.” It’s the closing track of Lap Of Lux, and right after this line, guest producer the Freshman triggers a sample of a money counter fluttering bills atop one another. Money is most important to Mikey Rocks, the Illinois rapper formally known as Antoine Reed, who has made a name for himself as one half of the Cool Kids. But it doesn’t take this sonic metaphor of stacking money to figure that out—Lap Of Lux, front to back, is an exhibition of a money-first mentality. Because after all, when you live in the lap of luxury like Rocks, you can always buy happiness later.
With the Cool Kids’ 2008 release of the EP The Bake Sale, the independent and beat-rocking duo shook the hip-hop world. Their original flows and boisterous beats snagged them a slew of commercial opportunities from spots on video game soundtracks to the coveted chance to have a song featured on HBO’s Entourage…twice. After a three-year lag—attributed to issues with their former record label, Chocolate Industries—the Cool Kids still had the big guys of the hip-hop world eating from the palms of their hands. In 2011, the duo released its first full-length release, When Fish Ride Bicycles, with production help from the Neptunes and featuring artists like Travis Barker, Ghostface Killah, Bun B and Chip Tha Ripper.
The Cool Kids had made it. And if you know anything about famed hip-hop groups, the next step was an obvious one: They each started solo acts. Rocks struck early and often with his solo career, releasing three mixtapes in just more than a year. Also in late 2011, he signed a deal with Jet Life, a Warner Bros. imprint owned by friend Curren$y. And now, after accruing loads of disposable income (I assume, because that’s all he writes about, or maybe it’s just a facade?) and the respect of his peers with his work in the Cool Kids, he looks to explore his new-found lifestyle and give us a taste of what it’s like to live in the Lap Of Lux.
Like so many people (rappers especially), Sir Michael Rocks is wealth- and possession-fixated. This becomes apparent when listening to his clever, witty and creative—though, yes, shallow—lyrics. While a song titled “GED” might seem like it should be about a high school dropout taking the equivalency test of the same name, it’s not in Mikey Rocks’ world. With the help of the deep, monotone Tris J, Rocks flows about how “watch[ing] the money move is like drugs to [him]” and how tipping strippers is like a “battle of the bands,” before dropping the hook, “This for free, GED, gettin’ every dollar, bro.” Referring to his lovelife, he’s unashamed to admit he’s a polygamous player—but not in the way you’d expect: “In a relationship or two/Not sure exactly where I stand/I’m in love with the Masi/But attracted to the Lamb.” He’s cheating on his Maserati with a Lamborghini.
This fixation on urban luxury is a mindset Rocks has explored since he started his solo career. On his debut mixtape, The Rocks Report, he begins to walk down this dollar-bill-lined, golden path. His track “Ground Up” from that mixtape personifies money and praises its excellence: “There’s money at the front door/Should I invite him in?/Ya, just let him chill, get him a glass a water/Tell him that I’m his biggest fan, No. 1 supporter.” No, Rocks’ solo lyrical content isn’t as deep and creative as it was as part of the Cool Kids, but at least he’s focused and hungry enough that his lines still come off edgy and original.
When the Cool Kids first dropped, Rocks’ partner Chuck Inglish was producing the duo’s hard-hitting and raw beats. But Rocks’ solo sound is jazzier and smoother, depending more on pattering hi-hat 16th notes and synth-driven beats than Inglish’s bass and snare, ’80s-inspired, slam-and-jam production. On Lap Of Lux, Rocks enlists production help from the likes of Flossatradamus (who opens the record with a sick sample of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games” on the track “Now You Do”), Cardo and Inglish. Each producer leaves a bit of an imprint on the album, leaving every song sounding different than the last.
At times, though, the production falls flat. Papi Beats’ “They Hate It,” a track about people’s envy of Rocks’ wealth, comes off soft and whiny with Rocks attempting Auto-Tuned vocals. Rocks tries this again on the Polyester-produced “In The Loop” and again strikes out. And then there are tracks like “The Best,” which move with a slower tempo, and though they are welcome changes, they don’t play to Rocks’ strengths as a confident and quick-witted lyricist, like he is on “NWO.”
Sir Michael Rocks makes a positive step in his solo career, but this is no Cool Kids. His lyrics are still sharp and focused, but they’re too focused on one thing. After hearing his frivolous money-first rhymes for nearly an hour, you’re left saying, “We get it already.” And while his production establishes a style of his own, it’s hard not to compare him to his earlier work with Chuck Inglish when it’s of the same genre. There are commendable hustling ambitions on Lap Of Lux, but Rocks is better off leaving the Lambs and Masis home and taking a ride on his bicycle with black mags.