It’s been four years since Chicago hip-hop duo Cool Kids debuted in a buzztastic blog explosion. By the time they got around to recording a proper full-length, MCs Chuck Inglish and Mikey Rocks had grown up — opener “Rush Hour Traffic” finds them pushing cars instead of bikes. The nature of cool has changed around them; one year’s Amanda Blank guest spot is another year’s Mayer Hawthorne (see the sugary summer cocktail “Swimsuits”). Even their rhyme skills have jumped leaps and bounds; they once sounded like the children of EPMD, now they’re more like Fabolous or their buddy Freddie Gibbs, tumbling words over one another with barely a breath.
Thankfully, the one thing that hasn’t changed is Inglish’s refreshingly skeletal production techniques, in which he takes the hip-hip sounds of yore and runs them through his funhouse mirror. For this, the crew is often dubbed “retro,” but you can’t trace this album’s influences to any era: “GMC” is a vintage Def Jam banger where the snares hiccup and stutter, “Boomin’” is a fake Wild Style throwdown (complete with turntable dropouts) that slowly morphs into a contemporary electro-rap ballad; and “Penny Hardaway” sounds like a ’99-era Swizz Beats production made even more authentic by a Ghostface cameo. Living in a nebulous middle ground between booming old-school trunk-rattlers and sunny new-school Khalifa-isms, Bicycles is certainly not a timeless cool, but assuredly a unique one.