By Mark Guarino
“The black ‘Wonder Years’” is how rising star rapper Mikey Rocks remembers growing up in south suburban Richton Park, a comfortable middle class childhood that included parents who passed their love of classic rock and retro rap to their kids and early evenings spent cruising the streets on BMX bikes, “picking up girls, riding to stores.”
Fast forward to the handlebar-heavy “Black Mags,” an instantly catchy online hit by the Cool Kids, the Chicago hip-hop duo that made friends in all the right places over the last 12 months: They opened a fall tour for U.K. rap star M.I.A. and, last summer, headlined the Pitchfork Music Festival. Now they’re aiming to see those connections pay off in 2008. In March, the Kids roll out their much-anticipated debut EP; a full-length album will follow this summer.
The group’s media blitz is rooted online. Rocks, 19, in his first year at Columbia College, stumbled upon future partner Chuck Ingersoll, a digital media major at IIT, on MySpace.com. There, Ingersoll had posted some of the homemade beats he created in his bedroom; Rocks’ query about prices led to a live face-to-face in which Ingersoll listened to Rocks - “the missing piece to the puzzle,” he said - free-flow rap. Two hours later, a partnership was born.
Like LL Cool J, Run DMC, and the Beastie Boys before them, Rocks and Ingersoll aim to provide an alternative to the gangsta crime sagas that have pervaded mainstream rap and, instead, bring listeners back to the club friendly era of the 1980’s, where live instruments matched bratty rhymes. “I’m not going to talk about a bunch of jewels because not everybody has bunch of diamonds,”_says Rocks. “We’re just talking about the regular stuff that people actually relate to”— particularly “Black Mags,” that talks about life as seen from the handlebars. “Everybody rode bikes when they were younger, no one was excluded,” said Rocks.
With their music licensed to commercials and a commitment to keep frenzy stoked online, the Cool Kids are savvy about building momentum while keeping the mission statement simple. “We just make what doesn’t suck. ‘Good’ is personal and not everybody can agree on that. Everyone can agree on what doesn’t suck,” said Ingersoll, 23. “We want to be the music that, when you’re sitting in your car flipping through CDs, you say, ‘oh yeah, throw that in’.”