Maybe nostalgia is catching up with me, or The Cool Kids continue to tap into a soundscape that elevates Sir Michael Rocks’ swagger in his flows and unique contrasts between two eras. Well, maybe it’s the former as it became a struggle to finish their new album Before Shit Got Weird. If you remove the production, you’ll hear a paradigm shift in quality – Sir Michael Rocks has taken minimal steps back as a lyricist, and Chuck Inglish has grown into consistency with his writing. Taking influence from the golden age of hip-hop where we had acts like Eric B. & Rakim, Gang Starr, De La Soul, LL Cool J, The Cool Kids found a balance between the old and the modern in their production style, which complements their foundation behind the microphone. Sir Michael Rocks has fun with it, and Chuck Inglish plays lyrical games, and as they try to deliver a good product – somewhat – on Before Shit Got Weird, which misses the spark, especially from Michael Rocks.
When The Cool Kids returned, they didn’t hold back. Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe is a fantastic album that feels well-rounded to fit both artists’ strengths while allowing room for growth within the foundation of the sound, like “Break Your Legs,” featuring Travis Barker and HLXT. Before Shit Got Weird is the opposite. It’s a bloated, boring mess that carries with it great highlights, but a pace that wanes your boredom scale. But as I was listening, I started wondering when I’d get to certain points on the album, like the Chance the Rapper feature, but mainly that middle sector, where there is a blend of solo tracks and ones with great features (on paper). Unfortunately, most of this area slows down from a solid opening, eventually becoming lost as they weave the narrative together.
Before Shit Got Weird contrasts eras in society, or rather the parameters which affect The Cool Kids, like in “HIBACHI,” where Sir Michael Rocks creates his Venn-Diagram for the value of monetary gain. In the track, he argues the idea of someone’s self-worth by their material goods – and using weird analogies in the process. In it, he raps, “Global warming ain’t real, then why they got the better ice/Let’s go, used to think rich was an Audemars….’Til I met a nigga named Hanz with a bodyguard/N***a great-granddad designed on the Autobahn.” He has a poignant idea and immediately misses the mark by diluting it with ear-popping lines like the global warming one. However, sometimes their lines come in the form of confusion as it feels like I haven’t been this aware of it. In “DAPPER DAN LEATHER,” Chuck Inglish raps, “Up in King of Diamonds like let me get that pasta/Oh, it’s on the floor, baking bread, we need a lot of dough” or on “I’m Coming Over There,” where Michael Rocks poorly deliver a checklist methodically.
It leaves me questioning the direction. Most times, The Cool Kids focus on the now while barely differentiating complexities in hip-hop culture. I revert to “HIBACHI” and “TOO BAD,” which do little with their premise and are otherwise filler. It continues with slight redundancies that I wondered if this is before or after “shit got weird.” It’s a simple mess that would have gotten saved by some more effort, unlike the production, which Chuck Inglish and Beat Butcha. As well, the skits and interludes barely move the needle for its identity. They bridge what is rarely there and truncate the progression of the pace. Chuck Inglish and Beat Butcha keep the production interesting by playing with the percussion while offering something fresh each time.
However – beneath its problems – there are some fun highlights, like Atlanta rapper KEY!, whose energy turns “HIBACHI” from being another boring track muddled within the tracklist. Many of the features are fun and offer a little more than Sir Michael Rocks and his retreat into mediocrity. Gabby!, Pac Div, and Chance the Rapper stood out amongst the many, but more so Chance, who dives back into his bag and pulls out one of his better flows in a while.
Before Shit Got Weird doesn’t have the usual Cool Kids charm. It leads to a stagnant path drawn by an inebriated person as you make way with what feels authentic and what feels mundane and just there – if there is any feeling left, after listening to the album, it is to load up their 2008 EP The Bake Sale and 2017’s Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe and replay them again. Even with solid production, from smooth electronic-centric drumlines on “HIBACHI” to nuances of mid-2000s kicks and claps on “Strictly Business,” you hear something captivating in each production. Unfortunately, it can’t buoy the album any higher than a level of mediocrity.