If Lil Yachty is one of the poster children for Hip Hop history apathy, then The Cool Kids are the polar opposite. Beginning with The Bake Sale EP in 2008, Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks have consistently woven slick references to their golden age Hip Hop heroes into their own futuristic tapestries. And the Chicago-Detroit duo’s latest effort, Before Shit Got Weird, is yet another example of their unwavering homage to their predecessors.
From the EPMD tribute “Strictly Business” to the Masta Ace sample of the 1995 single “Born To Roll” on “Scam Likely,” The Cool Kids have done their homework and remain students of the culture. The first of three installments, the 21-track project spans the gamut from trunk-rattling boom bap to ’80s synth-tinged bangers. While not necessarily a concept album, the project is primarily set way in the future, somewhere between 2042 and the 3000s judging by the four skits.
The last one — “Before Shit Got Weird (Skit)” — puts it all into perspective when the booming, movie trailer voice begins, “Before Lil Wayne spilled his lean in that one interview, before you were paying $1,200 for a pair of Jordans, before Jake Paul was the world heavyweight champion of boxing, before shit got weird, the story of two friends who traveled through time and space to save us all from the most dangerous enemy we’ve encountered — ourselves.”
With that in mind, it’s clear Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks believe they’re on a mission to inject some life into the monotonous trap landscape that’s so sorely lacking any sense of originality — although that doesn’t mean there aren’t fleeting moments where the trap influence isn’t felt. Airy album opener “In The Mix” benefits from rhythmic snares and 808s but is unlike anything in heavy radio rotation.
By the third track, “Horizon Island” featuring Gabby!,” Chuck’s talent on the production board easily takes centerstage, while their senses of humor continue to penetrate every track on the project. Whether it’s the deep, rolling bass, reverse drums and ominous synths on “It’s Yours Part 2” or bubbling ’90 nostalgia pulsating through every second of “Dapper Dan Leather,” Chuck’s beatmaking skills have grown exponentially over the past 14 years, allowing for a variety of styles to coast over his beats. From KEY! and Nikki Sweets on the explosive “Hibachi” and Guapdad 4000 on “I’m Coming Over There” to Chance The Rapper on the beautifully lush “Low Sodium,” the number of diverse artists able to fit neatly into Chuck’s production pockets is substantial.
Despite the re-energized comeback vibe of Before Shit Got Weird, the album suffers a hiccup on the A-Trak and Pell-assisted “Too Bad,” which slows the project’s momentum to a snail’s pace. The awkward hook sounds misplaced and momentarily throws the album off track. Thankfully, those moments are few and far between. “Ridin Clean” featuring Nic Jr and “Lightwerk” with 6LACK and JID quickly recapture the “cruising-around-the-city-with-the-windows-down” mood with their funk-inspired rhythms and atmospheric swirls tip-toeing across each beat. The latter, in particular, has elements of an Outkast classic with its ascending bassline and psychedelic feel. Still, the non-linear nature of the album could make it a difficult listen for some people, considering the thread they perhaps intended to tie it all together is noticeably frayed.
Before Shit Got Weird might not convince everyone of its likeability on the first spin either. Chuck Inglish specifically designed the project to get better with each listen, so it’s highly possible it might not click until the second, third or even fourth go-around. Either way, The Cool Kids have arrived right on time, providing a much-needed respite from the homogenized rap currently flooding the market.
That New Cool Kids album is A BANGER …. Really loving the album “BEFORE SHIT GOT WEIRD” ???? Chuck Inglish is a legend. Sir Michael Rocks is a legend.
— Nap King Cole (@napkingcolejr) March 13, 2022
The Cool Kids got one of the best albums of the year with Before Shit Got Weird. Perfect title btw.
— ?. (@NTVE_Tongue) March 8, 2022
(A) The Cool Kids – Before Shit Got Weird. On the one hand, this is trap with the edges sanded off, a fairly unappealing idea. On the other, The Cool Kids consistently craft fun tunes, their verses bouncing over the beats easily. Way too many skits tho, making the album drag.
— MediaMcC1 (@mediamcc1) March 11, 2022