Despite releasing a number of official mixtapes and gathering a large MySpace presence back when that still meant something, The Cool Kids are just now releasing what is technically their debut album, When Fish Ride Bicycles. Having signed on with Green Label Sound, Mikey Rocks and Chuck Inglish have taken advantage of their new opportunities as Official Emcees to expand on their sound. While some of these changes may be unexpected for first-wave fans, The Cool Kids do still sound like the duo they friend requested years ago.
Known for old-school influenced, percussion heavy beats, Chuck Inglish has added a wider range of instrumentation to his production. The Cool Kids have collectively evolved over time and, for better or worse, their references this time around are a little more current. “Penny Hardaway” (with Ghostface) incorporates string samples and Southern-style high hats, a pretty noticeable departure from the Bake Sale tracks that were all kick drums and emptiness. They go even further on “Swimsuits,” bringing in Mayer Hawthorne for a dancey track that just as easily could’ve belonged to Pitbull.
That’s not to say that the songs don’t work: “Gas Station” (with Bun B) is a perfect blend of Inglish and Bun’s sensibilities. “Sour Apples” (with Travis Barker) is another success, bringing The Cool Kids a little closer to the pop audience while still feeling fresh (and continuing to help establish Barker as a viable top producer). Further down, “Roll Call” with Asher Roth, Chip Tha Ripper and Boldy James is a well-executed posse cut where everyone handles their responsibilities properly.
In exchange for a broader sound, however, Chuck and Mikey have lost some of the aesthetic appeal that helped them stand out to begin with. Not everyone will notice the difference right away, but bargain-bin Neptunes tracks (“Get Right”) and club joints (“Boomin”) just aren’t going to be as memorable as the group’s earlier work. More to the point, with nine features on eleven tracks, both rappers get lost in their own songs at times.
Despite losing the laser-like focus of their earlier mixtapes, When Fish Ride Bicycles is a fun, well-made album that brings several welcome additions to their catalogue. The duo still needs to strike the right balance between branching out and trusting their instincts, but if The Cool Kids are trying to leave the past behind, their “debut” does indicate promise for their future.