The rise of the Internet as a music-distribution platform—specifically hip-hop's embrace of MySpace—was supposed to free rappers from their record-label overlords and lead to an explosion of collaboration and creativity. Instead it's yielded a throng of crappy wannabes who think they're Jay-Z. Though MySpace has helped launch a number of great artists, it's a safe bet they would've hustled their way to the top even without the assist. And another Biggie or Tupac has yet to emerge from the fray—hell, we haven't even seen another Big L or Rakim. There's plenty of talent out there, but a serious lack of genius.
Chicago's Cool Kids, aka Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks, might be the rappers who finally prove that the Internet can incubate brilliant hip-hop. Two unconventional guys with impressive flow and a style straight out of the 80s, they started small in 2005—a beat-making session at Rocks's apartment, a handful of MySpace-only tracks—but since then they've blown up big with no major-label deal and limited help from any traditional labels at all. They've hooked up with Mountain Dew's Green Label Sound imprint, soundtracked a series of Nike commercials starring puppet versions of LeBron and Kobe, collaborated with the likes of Lil Wayne and Ludacris, toured with M.I.A., and played major festivals from Pitchfork to Rock the Bells. They're now considered one of the most important and influential acts in the throwback-rap movement.
Due to a contract dispute with former label Chocolate Industries, the Cool Kids haven't had a formal release since 2008's The Bake Sale, but you can't keep good men down: in May they dropped a much-buzzed-about mix tape called Tacklebox, and this summer Inglish collaborated with Freddie Gibbs—another excellent rapper from the wild wild Web—on a track called "Oil Money" that also features Bun B, Chip tha Ripper, and Black Keys front man Dan Auerbach. Even better, that collaboration has catalyzed a new group—Chuck, Freddie, Bun, and Chip—that Inglish has provisionally named P.O.C. (Pulled Over by the Cops).
Chuck, you rapped on a track with Freddie Gibbs. How was that?
Inglish: It's cool. Rich [Parry], our manager, is actually a musician too; he has a production company. He works with his other half, our engineer. They put some songs together and I was going through a time in the winter when I was dealin' with some BS, and when he played the song and he wanted me to get on it—I usually don't rap to shit like that, that's usually not my style. I usually like more those '85, those real . . . head-noddin' beats, but this one was just a different day. So I ended up kicking off something where we ended up creating a group. We're creating an album for it.
How old is the group?
Inglish: When I recorded the song. The "Oil Money" song for Freddie Gibbs, when I got that beat, and when Freddie got it . . . it was dumb. We got another song called "Authority," it's even crazier than that. It's good 'cause it's three dudes who all got a different crowd; we all got a similar style too. Bun B is the champion of that style that we all kind of came from. I listen to Bun B extensively; I penned a lot of influence off UGK. Song was just magic, man. It was meant to happen.
What's been the weirdest part of getting sort of famous?
Inglish: Shit is like high school, man.
Rocks: Yeah, it's weird, dealing with a lot of other characters in this. The thing about us is we don't really put on a whole performance, you know what I'm saying? There's people that put it on like they're acting in a movie—they're playing this role real tough, they play a character. It's different for us 'cause we kind of just do what we were doing, do what we like to do, and not everybody is really on that shit.
Inglish: It's weird how no one has ever stepped up and expressed how ridiculous this shit is, how the masses celebrate other people that really ain't up to nothing. There's no push towards any sort of progression. The year 2000 don't look no different than the year 2010 except the iPhone and some iPads and shit—the cars look the same, the houses look the same.
Are you talking in terms of rap too?
Inglish: I'm talking in terms of everything. Movies ain't no different, people making remakes—it's like, motherfuckers tapped out.
Well, you guys grew up in the 90s, 80s—
Inglish: We grew up where everything was, you know—
Rocks: We saw the shit hit the fan, man. We grew up when the shit hit the fan.
Inglish: Super Soakers. Super Soakers, you know what I'm saying? I'm in the age of the Super Soaker. That was some genius shit, dude. Think about what the Super Soaker was—it was the super squirt gun, and everybody had that bitch, don't matter what race you were. I'm tryin' to be like the Super Soaker, straight up. That hit everybody hard. Like, where I was at, where I used to play when I was little, that was—I would go around the corner from my neighborhood, which was really not the best neighborhood in the world, in Detroit, and everybody had a Super Soaker. I would go out to the suburbs to my aunt's house, and where all the kids were hanging out—like Asian kids, white kids, black kids—everybody had a Super Soaker. Then they put the shit out with the backpack!
Rocks: That was when we got the Super Soaker, man.
You could put ice in it—
Rocks: That was the shit! That was when shit got real.
Inglish: That was the coldest shit I ever seen in my life.
How old are you guys?
Inglish: I'm 25.
See, I'm 20.
Inglish: But you still heard about the Super Soaker.
Yeah, we were there with it! In fourth grade, man.
Rocks: You were in the backpack generation. That was when we got the Super Soakers, for real. That was like the eighth-grade water-gun fights—remember the eighth-grade graduation water-gun fights?
Oh yeah, eighth grade.
Inglish: But look, look, I'mma hit y'all with this. I'mma hit y'all with this. This will explain the difference and really make the point. Think about the Power Rangers, Ninja Turtles—
The Nickelodeon shows, like—
Inglish: Didn't they hit you with Dragon Ball Z? That was a half-assed—that was nowhere near Ninja Turtles. Like, they fucked y'all over with that Dragon Ball Z shit. Seriously. I got Ninja Turtles in the first grade.
Rocks: Goku did die every, like, four episodes, man.
Inglish: Yeah, blew my mind, dude. Y'all did pogs, do you remember pogs?
I did pogs.
Inglish: Yeah, what's goin' on now?
We were there with Pokemon, like . . .
Inglish: Yeah, I was there with Pokemon, man, that shit was the world for a minute. Fourth grade!
I had a Charizard deck, man.
Inglish: Oh, you had a holographic Charizard, man?
Oh shit, the holographic Charizard up in my deck—I built that deck specifically for tournaments.
Inglish: Jordan rookie card—
Oh, better than the Jordan card, man, that was worth money on eBay!
Inglish: Like $400 on that shit, man!
What's it worth now, a dollar?
Inglish: Nothing no more, man. You didn't cash out when you shoulda cashed out, man, it's over for you.
All the kids were like, I'mma save this and sell it when I'm 30.
Rocks: Do you remember the Sega game where you could play the Sonic—
Inglish: Yeah, Sonic & Knuckles, man.
Rocks: And open the top of the game and put another fuckin' game on top of it.
Inglish: You don't remember that, Sonic & Knuckles?
Inglish: Sonic & Knuckles, then you put Sonic 2 on there and play the Sonic 2 levels?
Rocks: All I'm saying is—what I'm really trying to say is this. There hasn't been nothin'. People hit that peak and then just were like, "I'm just gonna get rich off this shit." And you killed off the whole decade. Like, people try to remake it. Do you know how much cooler Green Day was when I was in fifth grade than they are now?
Now they have a musical.
Rocks: Like, if I had a kid now, right now, and I was playing Green Day, like that's Green Day on the radio, they'd be like, "Green Day sucks." [Laughs] Yo, but their old shit was the greatest.
It's crazy that they've been around that long—decades.
Rocks: Yeah, but like—like U2. What? U2 now is Spice Girls compared to what U2 used to be. They used to be great. I'm not trying to offend anyone, but . . . I don't wanna be those dudes. I don't wanna be complacent with what I used to be. I'm not trying to reinvent this, I'm trying to better it, to make sure we're the only gatekeepers of this shit.
You're evolving every time you put something out.
Rocks: That's what we're supposed to do.
A couple months ago this Chicago band called Smith Westerns tweeted something like, "Coming back to house shows in Chicago and seeing people who won't look at us." Do you experience the same thing? People from the early days, house shows, losing respect?
Inglish: Yeah, man, we never left. I never stepped on anybody's toes and had to shit on anybody to get where I'm at. Everybody was kind of rooting for us and if not, we converted them.
Rocks: We worked, we worked, we went the harder route. Yo, people used to hate us, man. People used to think we were a joke. Ain't nobody seen nobody bring that real 80s shit back, but we were really on it. Our whole crowd was like that. Our whole crowd was like that, like before the term hipster came out, that's what we were really into. And that's what we came out of, that's what we looked like. They're only used to the rappers with the T-shirts, the chains, you know? And then you got the Kanye route where they got pretty—but they ain't seen nobody here like us, where it looks like we brought Kris Kross back. That was what was ill to us at the time. We stuck out for fashion reasons instead of music. And when people got wind of the music, it was like, "Oh . . . I get it."
Like, "Now I understand."
Rocks: Yeah. I like the fact that if you don't really dig our shit, everybody looks at you weird, like, you retarded. That's a good point to be at! I heard somebody say that, like, "Oh, you don't like the Cool Kids? You're retarded." And everyone behind them was like, "Hell yeah, you're stupid." And I'm like, that shit feels good.
Let's talk for a minute about the Chocolate Industries lawsuit—what's the deal with that?
Inglish: We just got duped, man.
Rocks: We got duped. We did some shit when we was a little younger, dude took advantage of us.
Inglish: He sold us something, said it wasn't what it really was. "Hey, this is this," but it really wasn't that, you know? Fortunately, we got enough work ethic and we're talented enough where we can just continue to keep the ball moving instead of getting stuck by that shit and making it put a hold on us.
Rocks: We made the best out of a bad situation.
Inglish: It made us way better than what we would've been, so now we gotta work twice as hard.
Rocks: And this ain't the only time this ever happened to artists from any label. Like, it always goes down. You know what I'm saying? What can you do? But we just decided to not lay down and take the shaft.
[Seven Bedard from Chocolate Industries, contacted for comment, e-mailed: "It breaks my heart to hear the Cool Kids say this. I did this deal because I love what I do and love what the Cool Kids do. I presented them with a completely standard deal; the Kids had access to seasoned professionals for advice, so if the terms of the deal presented were not consistent with the deal the Cool Kids ultimately wanted, their attorney or manager should have negotiated the deal to their liking. At no point were the Cool Kids unrepresented. The way I see it, they were happy to get a record deal, we helped them blow up, and there's nothing wrong with trying to protect what we worked hard to achieve."]
Yeah. It sounds like you guys would rather release songs, make mix tapes—
Rocks: Yeah dude, people are catchin' it.
Inglish: We got a whole bunch of shit cooked up already, man. I got some shit that I'm gonna throw out whenever. 'Cause you can do that, like, why not? So I got a bunch of tracks I've been working on and I'm gonna throw out before the summer's over, and just keep flooding y'all with a bunch of shit so y'all can see where we at, man. 'Cause it's gettin' crazier and crazier.
Any advice for aspiring rappers?
Inglish: Get good. Get really, really, really, really good. Don't think about all that other shit first. Just get real nice and then everything else'll come.
Rocks: Take pride in your work, man. 'Cause once you make a bad song you've made a bad song for the rest of your life.