This article previously appeared on Crossfader
The Cool Kids – SPECIAL EDITION GRANDMASTER DELUXE
Genre: Hardcore Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “The Moonlanding,” “Westside Connections,” “Simple Things”
As much as I hate to admit it, rap as we know it has become an extremely diluted genre. As recording and sharing has become increasingly accessible, essentially, anyone with a microphone and something to say is entitled to call themselves a rapper. As a result, we get Lil Dicky, Lil Pump, Mike Stud, and other garbage rappers to be sorted through before uncovering something worth listening to. Not wanting to be bogged down with the task of writing an incredibly negative review for an artist I’ve enjoyed in the past, my rap anxieties were tingling when I sat down to listen to SPECIAL EDITION GRANDMASTER DELUXE. When I clicked play and the first thing I heard was a cough followed by actor/comedian Hannibal Buress’s voice delivering a humorous intro, my anxieties were calmed. That’s when I knew The Cool Kids’ long anticipated post-reunion comeback, SPECIAL EDITION GRANDMASTER DELUXE, was going to be unique, at the very least.
The Cool Kids’ first album since 2011’s WHEN FISH RIDE BICYCLES is much more than just unique, it’s some of the best experimental hip hop of 2017 thus far, easily comparable to Vince Staples’s BIG FISH. Remaining friends throughout their musical hiatus, the group wanted to wait for the most opportune time to return to the scene. The Cool Kids originally met on MySpace (yes, this duo go back that far) under the impression that they would be making beats to sell to other artists, but soon realized their flows sounded better over the tracks they produced and thus, The Cool Kids were born. So it should come as no surprise that the production on the project is impeccable, and it comes equipped with an all-star lineup garnering features from blink-182’s Travis Barker, A-Trak, The Internet’s Syd, Ye Ali, Jeremih, and many more.
The first track, “Moonlanding,” comes in hot with a Run The Jewels-esque gust of intensity. This really sets the stage for the production style on the album: driving beats, futuristic synths, and layered horns. Unfortunately, this track also gives a preview to the lyricism on the project. While the lyrics are not horrendous, they are also nothing special. I don’t think anyone was asking for TO PIMP A BUTTERFLY PT. II, but I would have liked to see some themes with a little more substance. There is a lot of autobiographical nonsense depicting just how much, as the kids are saying, “clout” both Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish have. Bragging about clothing and overseas homes are nothing new to rap, but to spit, “Whether I be Nautica or Ralphing, Benetton or Calvin / Been around the world and I still ain’t found shit / That I ain’t had yet cuz I got the access / Offshore address to surf like Lapras” leaves me yearning for more. These are essentially just filler words that, unfortunately, are all too common in rap today. More talk of material possessions arises on “20/20 Vision,” with, “Everywhere I go, there I am dawg / Cut the check with the motherfuckin’ handsaw.” While I understand a lot of hip hop heads thrive off of this sort of flaunting, it really does not do it for me. Most of A$AP Mob’s last project COZY TAPES VOL. 2 boiled down to this; it’s not problematic, but the laziness of the lyricism compared to how stellar the production comes across is less than praiseworthy. In spite of the shallowness of the lyrics, Inglish and Michael’s rhymes are still delivered with confidence and perfect cadence, thus making the sub-par word choices easy to look past.
It’s a classic hip hop duo album, with no two songs sounding similar. There are traces of ‘90s west coast rap on “Westside Connections,” making it feel like Dr. Dre produced this song for Snoop Dogg in his prime; meanwhile, “The Motion” begins with a Euro club feel, then quickly readjusts to an island vibe, something less prevalent in hip hop. I wish the one-hour-and-five minute, 16 song tracklist was cut to about 50 minutes—it’s one of those projects that I know is good, well produced and sonically pleasing, but it fails to retain my attention at all times. Putting this and my brag-rap bias aside, this project hits the spot.
In the oversaturated genre that is rap, combined with the short attention span of any given internet user in 2017, it’s increasingly difficult to make an album that sticks for an extended period of time. Do I think this is a timeless album? No, but I do think it serves its purpose. With its creative, fascinating production, as well as a number of anthems you can expect to be hearing in a club near you, including “9:15PM,” “The Motion,” and “T.D.A.,” it will be regarded as a good reference point for future experimental MCs. Bearing all of that in mind, SPECIAL EDITION lives up to the anticipatory hype of cult fans everywhere.