Chuck Inglish (left) and Mikey Rocks hunt for treasure in Los Angeles.
Antoine Reed grew up in south suburban Matteson, a setting the 20-year-old now jokingly describes as “the black Wonder Years.” His parents, an occupational therapist and a steel factory foreman, passed their love of classic rock and retro rap to their youngest son, who spent most evenings cruising down the streets on BMX bikes and picking up girls.
Those days behind the handlebars inspired Reed (a.k.a. Mikey Rocks) and his music partner Evan Ingersoll (a.k.a. Chuck Inglish) to write the hip-hop anthem “Black Mags,” a BMX homage that became a surprising hit on the Web last fall. Surprising because Rocks and Inglish, who call themselves The Cool Kids, hadn’t even released an album. Surprising because, with little knowledge of the music business, the two inexperienced Chicagoans managed to parlay an online media blitz into appearances in all the right places: After a packed performance at the Pitchfork Music Festival last summer, they opened a fall tour for the rap star M.I.A.
In March, The Cool Kids finally roll out a debut EP (a full-length album will follow later this year). Their music takes listeners back to the club-friendly 1980s, when upstarts like LL Cool J and The Beastie Boys matched bratty rhymes to irreverent beats. “I’m not going to talk about a bunch of jewels because not everybody has a bunch of diamonds,” says Rocks. “We’re just talking about the regular stuff that people actually relate to"—"Black Mags,” in particular, which talks about life as seen from the handlebars. “Everybody rode bikes when they were younger. No one was excluded,” says Rocks.
The up-and-coming rapper was a high-school senior in Richton Park when he stumbled upon his future partner, Inglish, on MySpace.com. Now a digital media major at the Illinois Institute of Art, Inglish had posted some of the homemade beats he created in his bedroom. Rocks’s query about prices led to a face-to-face meeting; Rocks free-flow rapped, Inglish listened. “He was the missing piece to the puzzle,” says Inglish, 23. Two hours later, a partnership had formed. What they share, the pair says, is a similar mission: to keep the music simple. “We just make what doesn’t suck,” says Inglish. “‘Good’ is personal and not everybody can agree on that. Everyone can agree on what doesn’t suck.”
Photograph: Hayley Murphy