**1/2 (out of 4)
In an alternate universe, Chicago rap duo The Cool Kids survives its insane hype in 2007-'08, avoids the "hipster rap" label that unfortunately followed the group at the time, cuts a classic album and stands atop the rap landscape as the best rap duo since Outkast.
What happened instead were record label conflicts and 2011's "When Fish Ride Bicycles" failing to hit as hard as it might have had it arrived a few years earlier. (The group’s follow-up, “Shark Week,” is expected later this year.) Now, less than four months after April’s release of Chuck Inglish's solo record "Convertibles," we finally get “Banco,” the first solo album from the other Cool Kid, Sir Michael Rocks (whose real name is Antoine Reed and who is now based in L.A.). It’s both fascinating and puzzling.
There are moments of excitement, like lead single "Bussin" (feat. Casey Veggies and Iamsu!) and the Blondie-sampling "Francois," and moments of fun creativity like "The Docks," an interlude that makes history as the only musical composition to feature both Do or Die's "Playa Like Me and You" and music from the underwater level of Super Mario 64. Rocks has a unique delivery; he might be the only rapper who can spit a line like, "My life like ‘Kingdom Hearts,’ my eyes good enough to see a fart" and not make me want him exiled to space. He's best when exploring unconventional topics.
Of course, when Rocks repeatedly spouts off clichés (taking your girl, getting laid all the live-long day, blah blah blah), he loses his impact. And while it’s understandable to want a hit, when the result is a song like "Ain’t Nothing Like"—which bites the by-now-stale sound of DJ Mustard-produced songs like YG's "My Hitta" or Ty Dolla $ign's "Paranoid"--the overall project suffers.
Still, when's the last time you heard a rapper take time to curse out SeaWorld on behalf of killer whales, as Rocks does on the appropriately named "[Bleep] SeaWorld”? If the song is a reference to "Blackfish," I applaud you, Sir Michael Rocks. It's about time someone addressed that on wax.
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