Released at a time when the market was flooded with mixtapes showcasing self-obsessed rappers absolutely destroying the flashiest beats they were able to get their hands on, The Bake Sale – The Cool Kid‘s 2008 debut EP filled with roomy, fat-bottomed beats and laid-back quips about fly haircuts and bad-ass kicks – was an amazing breath of fresh air, equal parts futurism and vague reminiscence.
When Fish Ride Bicycles, it’s long-delayed full-length sequel, is equally refreshing. Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish – the Chicago/Detroit-based rappers/producers responsible for curating both the nostalgia-inducing instrumentals and throwback lyrical styling of The Cool Kids’ canon – return to that nondescript time in hip hop’s not-so-distant past in which The Bake Sale was set, this time bringing along some co-conspirators and adding some modern flair to their casually modest compositions.
The thumping low-end and good-natured boasts on “GMC” and “Penny Hardaway” are vintage Cool Kids, at home in that late-80s branch of hip hop’s family tree to which they pay so much homage. But the arrangements get downright progressive on the Travis Barker produced “Sour Apples”, and Rocks and Inglish are uncharacteristically excited on “Roll Call”, an ensemble-piece featuring Asher Roth and Barryfest-Endorsed Cleveland MC Chip Tha Ripper that gets as close to a de rigour lyrical beatdown as you are likely going to see from the perpetually chilled out Cool Kids.
The scale never tips too far though, as primary producer Inglish remains vigilant about what bits and pieces of mainstream hip hop he allows to seep into his decidedly retro aesthetic. On “Swimsuits”, he treats the occasional incorporation of the ever-dicey sung chorus with an acute conscientiousness that aptly prevents the cringing we all felt when those clownish white guys showed up on the Big Boi album. Strangely enough, this is the most powerful element of the album: where The Bake Sale made the case for the Cool Kids being a couple of unique, out-of-the-box musical thinkers, When Fish Ride Bicycles finds them dodging the inclination to continue to exist as total outsiders. A small amount of nostalgia might be lost with the inclusion of outside musical and vocal collaborators, but the trade is worth it.