Arts & Entertainment

Too Cool for School: A Conversation with “The Cool Kids”

Sir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish talked to the Phoenix at North Coast Music Festival before their set on Saturday.
Owen ConnorSir Michael Rocks and Chuck Inglish talked to the Phoenix at North Coast Music Festival before their set on Saturday.

Chicago-native Antoine “Sir Michael Rocks” Reed and Michigan-bred Evan “Chuck Inglish” Ingersoll met in 2005 after Reed discovered a beat on MySpace produced by Ingersoll. The two formed their hip-hop group “The Cool Kids” to produce easy-going, smooth rap ballads.  

After its formation in 2007, “The Cool Kids” went on to produce their first album “When Fish Ride Bicycles” and extended play (EP) “The Bake Sale,” which gave the duo momentum in their hometown of Chicago and worldwide.

The duo was on a hiatus from 2012-2016 when Reed and Ingersoll worked separately on individual projects. To its fans’ delight, “The Cool Kids” reunited and released “Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe,” a 16-track album produced entirely by Ingersoll.

During North Coast Music Festival, which took place Aug. 31-Sept. 2, The Phoenix sat down with the duo and talked about their beginnings and latest ventures.  

Where did your nicknames “Sir Michael Rocks” and “Chuck Inglish” originate from?

Mike: “I really made it up out of necessity to have a cool name when we first started this group. I was always interested in Michael Jordan, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson — all the great Michael’s — and I wanted to add my name to that list. [The Michael’s] were real inspirational when I was a kid. I always wanted it to somehow be my name, so I changed it when I got into a rap group.”

Chuck: “‘Chuck’ is my grandfather and his father’s name. I adopted that nickname because I resemble them, and I look up to my grandfather. Not too many people pick a rap name that’s their family name.”

What inspired you to create music and form “The Cool Kids?”

Mike: “I was always just around it in some way as a kid. I got into writing raps since I was, like, 9 [or] 10 years old. I had a cousin … who came and stayed over the summer with us, [and] he was rapping really early and him and my sister would make little tapes, and it made me want to try it. … I wasn’t really good at anything else like sports and stuff, so I found what I was good at and applied myself.”

If you wouldn’t have been a musician, what career path would you have chosen?

Mike: “Probably journalism or zoology or something. I was a journalism major for the year that I was in school — I only went to [Columbia College] for a year.”

Chuck: “I wrote raps since seventh grade. I’m really good with writing, [and] I’m really good with language. I came in trying to produce and not just be a record producer, but be one of the greatest of all times.”

Why did you name yourselves “The Cool Kids?”

Chuck: “Back when we first started the group, there were a lot of cheeky-ass punk bands and indie rock bands, and it was, like “The … Kids” — all these different “the” and “kids.” That’s what was taking over the magazines and shows at that point. I thought it would be funny to take “The Cool Kids” because you didn’t necessarily see that as a rap group. If you would’ve seen that billed in ‘07 or ‘08, you would’ve thought we were some punk or grunge band. We lasted through, and that’s what that stands for — us.”

What are your thoughts on the song by Echosmith with the same name as your duo?

Chuck: “Now they’ve got a TV show called “The Cool Kids.” Motherfuckers act like they don’t see us but we’ll still be here. The Fox show [“The Cool Kids”] even took our font and our name and made a TV show about the old people. … When something is something, you don’t just go out there and call a TV show “Led Zeppelin.” … Respect our minds. This is what we built, and if it feels like it’s infringement, I’m going to say something. Don’t act like you don’t know who we are.”

“The Cool Kids” was inactive between 2012 and 2016. What happened during that time period?

Chuck: “Shit was weird — it wasn’t about us. We had a whole bunch of cooks in the kitchen. The identity of what was going on didn’t have much to do with me and [Mike’s] opinions. There became a time when [Mike] wanted to make a certain type of music, and I wanted to make a type of music — jazzier, non-hip-hop shit. The hiatus is literally to control public perception. If we just went off and did [things] without a narrative, what’s the point? … When we did put [The Cool Kids] back together, it was the time we thought it was, we had a sound idea for it [and] we had a look idea for it. At that point, we had gathered enough knowledge and different skills to add and create another sound.”

“The Cool Kids” released its first album, “Special Edition Grandmaster Deluxe.” How did you get Hannibal Buress to do the introduction for the album?

Chuck: “He’s a friend of ours. We did a podcast with him and told him I had an idea to do a little piece before the album started. He’s an iconic figure right now, and I don’t think people have caught up with how influential and important Hannibal will be in the next ten years.”

Hannibal actually had a set at Loyola last year, and minutes into his routine, his mic got cut off after making a joke about the Catholic church. He kept going, though.

Mike: “Funny thing about Hannibal is it doesn’t matter what you say or do to him, he’s going to be funny. You can’t really stop him even if you cut the lights off, cut the mike off, he’s still going to be funny as hell. You can’t really stop him. That’s the thing I’ve always admired about him. … This guy doesn’t get thrown off when people act weird or do some weird shit — he just turns it into another joke.”

Who inspired you as artists?

Mike: “I was a normal, music-listening kid until about high school. I would just take what was given to me by the radio, TV, my friends and family. I started doing my own research when I got to high school. A lot of kids nowadays get a lot of flack for [not knowing] what’s happening now. They don’t know any other artists from any other generations, and they get a bad rap for not doing any research. … With rap, a lot of kids, they’ll come into it, and they don’t know anything about the “greats” or who built this. It’s not really their fault, they just weren’t given anything unless they’re the type of people to go do research. I got a lot inspiration from video game sounds. … That’s the main thing of how I used to look at beats and why I was attracted to certain beats. Stuff like Tekken, Final Fantasy and early Sonic games. I was getting a lot of my creativity from those games because I had a big imagination as a kid. Sitting down, listening to music — I  had [attention deficit disorder] A.D.D. — that wasn’t enough for me. I needed a picture, I needed to hear it and play it at the same time to feel something.”

You’ve performed at Lollapalooza and North Coast on several occasions. What’s the best part of performing at festivals?

Mike: “Festival crowds are usually ready to have fun. They already paid $300 to get in, so there’s no reason to get stiff and hold your arms. You already paid, you might as well have fun. I think a lot of people at festivals are open-minded like that and willing to see new stuff, and willing to have fun with artists they might not know. Or just try something new because the environment is conducive to that.”

In honor of their critically-acclaimed 2008 album “The Bake Sale” turning 10, the duo is releasing a vinyl of their album mid-October.

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