2.5 stars (out of 4)
Chicago’s Cool Kids -- Antoine "Mikey Rocks" Reed and Evan "Chuck Inglish" Ingersoll – would be rich if they had a nickel for every time they were name-checked by a music blog in 2007-08. A mix of sharp concerts and a steady flow of digital singles and mix tapes made them a trendy choice for next-big-thing status in the wake of Chicago-bred success stories such as Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco. A brilliant 2008 EP, "The Bake Sale,"affirmed the duo’s strengths: an abiding affection for Golden Age hip-hop with tag-team vocals, everyday subject matter, hard beats and minimal fussiness.
But legal entanglements with their former record label delayed release of the Kids' debut album, "When Fish Ride Bicycles" (Green Label Sound), a potentially fatal setback in an easily distracted culture obsessed with instant gratification. Reed and Ingersoll didn't try to reinvent themselves in the interim, instead soldiering ahead with the basic elements that first got them noticed. As with signature hit "88" three years ago, the group cruises the same streets once navigated by hip-hop’s second-generation giants.
Reed and Ingersoll flip clever rhymes that pay homage to vintage cars ("Rush Hour Traffic," "GMC"); smooth-talking radio DJs ("Boomin' "); pre-Lebron-era hoops and fashion ("Penny Hardaway"); Chicago winters ("Bundle Up"); Chicago summers ("Get Right," "Summer Jam"); and girls, girls, girls. The MCs never get particularly excited, keeping a cool reserve that requires listeners to meet them halfway. Ingersoll, who handles most of the production, favors midtempo beats and terse keyboard riffs, modest almost to a fault. A few guests (Bun B, Mayer Hawthorne, Travis Barker, Asher Roth) expand the sound slightly and beef up the hooks without resorting to gimmickry, though the Neptunes-produced "Get Right" could pass for an outtake from Pharrell Williams' N.E.R.D. It makes for a solid if unremarkable follow-up, the kind of release that buys a little more time for the Cool Kids to live up to their original promise.