As the architect behind Lil Wayne’s “Hey D.J.” and Juvenile’s booty-loving anthem “Back That Azz Up,” producer and Big Tymer Mannie Fresh was largely responsible for crafting the Cash Money Records sound coming out of the South in the late ‘90s and 2000s.
Cool Kids, on the other hand, emerged out of the Midwest in 2008 with The Bake Sale EP, a seamless marriage of classic Hip Hop and bass-heavy beats innovative enough to really rock a party.
On paper, a union between Fresh, Chuck Inglish and Sir Michael Rocks doesn’t exactly add up, but A-Trak saw through any perceived boundaries and encouraged the unlikely trio to get together. In July, Sir Michael Rocks let the proverbial cat out of the bag and confirmed the Cool Kids were indeed working on a full-length album with Fresh. But what would that sound like?
Speaking to ROCK THE BELLS, Fresh was getting ready for a DJ gig in Midland, Texas when he explained how the initial idea came to fruition.
“I was doing a whole lot of gigs with A-Trak,” he said. “He mentioned they were over on his label [Fool’s Gold] and I was like, ‘That would be something cool. I would love to be a part of it.’”
But it turns out they had even more in common than they initially realized.
Intrigued by the Chuck Inglish solo single “Freaknik ’96”—which might as well be the modern day “Back That Azz Up”—Fresh felt linking with the Cool Kids would produce magic.
“I thought the video and everything was genius and it was just like, ‘Yeah, I checked y'all out,’” Fresh continued. “What I really like about it is, it's kind of authentic to what I do and what they do. So we didn't go crazy on it. We kind of did it with all analog stuff, like old drum machines, old keyboards and all of that, just to have that thickness of what it sounded like from way back.”
For Inglish, it was a “no-brainer.” As he told RTB, “That's one of my favorite producers of all time. I think he's one of the greatest ever. Working with one producer has produced a lot of great albums in the past year or two years. It's just been one artist sitting down with one producer. And since I've produced pretty much all The Cool Kids records, this was cool to let go of that responsibility and focus on some sounds that are reminiscent to me growing up.”
Fans of both Stranger Things and Rick and Morty should be pleased, too. Fresh described the record as sounding “really electro” and “synthesize driven,” not a far stretch for the Cool Kids. Their 2017 collaboration with Barclay Crenshaw, “U Are In My System,” was pure electro-funk bliss and proved, once again, their creativity truly knows no bounds. As for Fresh’s approach, he did what he’s always done with artists—studied them, figured out what makes them tick and got to know their senses of humor.
“For songs to be magical, you have to know something about who you working with personally,” Fresh said. “You got to get to know them to a certain degree rather than just… every now and then you'll get some magic when you sending somebody a song or whatever, but I think the best songs are really built on relations; when you get a relationship with somebody and you get to know they personality, they dislikes and their likes. I can build better. Once I talk to you a couple of times, then I feel you out. And the music is more designed to you than me.”
He added, “They’re crazy dudes [laughs]. Crazy, crazy, crazy dudes, and their imagination is out of there. So that's why the music has to reflect that. Just some of the wordplay, some of the metaphors and stuff that they come up with, I'm just like, ‘Yeah, I've been missing that for forever.”
It’s also been a much-needed break from the production board for Inglish. After producing the majority of the Cool Kids’ recent triple album—When Things Got Weird, Baby Oil Staircase and Chillout—it was the right ime for a little respite. Like 2020’s Layups with Alchemist and the upcoming Fresh project, there could be more projects like this in the future for the duo—but the timing has to be organic.
“It's fun,” Inglish said of stepping back from the producing. “It’s a series we want to do. So we got one with Alchemist, now we got one with Mannie Fresh coming, and I think that's a routine I would like to get in is we can make it around the bases and do albums and records with the people who inspired us to get here. I'm going to take that opportunity every single time.
“Not a series though, because that's just putting too much pressure on yourself. I think when it comes naturally or you run into someone, it's a good brand for people that we don't necessarily do it so it creates interest. It's like, ‘Oh Cool Kids got their own sound, but they decided to work with someone else that has their own sound.’ But it is extremely distinct and has history so it gives it more of a story. How we both feel about Mannie Fresh is equal, and for him to be a Cool Kids fan and want to do it is why we did it. I don't want to just start a series and see how many people will do it with us because then it'll lose a little bit of its base. It's one of those things that just happens so well when you just let it come to you.”
There’s a sense the timing was perfect for Fresh, too. Rap is flooded with more bravado and tough guy personas than ever, but not in the funny, Sir Mix-A-Lot “Swass” way. Fresh and the Cool Kids’ shared loved of Golden Era Hip-Hop was the bridge tying it all together and reminded Fresh Hip-Hop doesn’t have to be so serious.
“In the ‘90s, rappers could smile,” Fresh said. “You could actually make a song where it wasn't so serious. Everybody kind of know my personality; I'm the fun guy. And I always said when it stopped being fun, I'll step away from it. And it just got so serious to me until I was just like, ‘Nah, I don't know what's going on right now. Everybody gangsters.’
“To do this project is right up my alley, because I always want to have fun with music and I want that to reflect in the record. I want you to, when you hear it, to know, ‘Wow, they had a good time recording this.”
Citing “Swap Meet Louie” and Beastie Boys’ “Paul Revere” as examples, Fresh fondly looked back on that time.
“That’s when it was cool to rap about that kind of stuff,” he said. “You could have a story for them, and it could be the most craziest shit in the world. It just came from your imagination. Nobody questioned it. They actually knew it was a song to enjoy. It wasn't picked to pieces the way songs are now. Somebody’s like, ‘Well, he's not authentic. He’s not that.’ A lot of songs, great songs come from the artist's imagination. And come on, you put us three together and it's bound to be crazy.”
Fresh believes the lack of creative storytelling in Hip-Hop is evidence of a lack of real Hip-Hop artists. He explained, “I don't even think in Hip-Hop, there’s artists left no more because it's too much destruction in it. It’s crazy. And if you don't really want to do it, please step aside and let somebody who really want to do it. It's too real to life. And some of the beefs that these kids are having and some of the, it's just like what happened to rap? This is not even rap anymore.”
For now, there are zero features on the impending album—which is supposed to drop sometime in the first quarter of 2023—but both Inglish and Fresh said there’s a slight possibility that could change.
“There’s been people been reaching out to feature with us, so we want to go back down and sit in with Mannie and maybe write two more or create singles,” Inglish said. “We just wanted to let it be known that it's an actual thing that's 80 percent complete. We did it all by ourselves. The only person featured on it is Mannie. What we really wanted was just Mannie's hooks, Mannie's raps, his ad libs to make it something that was just us. We didn't really want to focus on the typical template of seeing who we can get on something that's already special in itself.”
“The crazy thing is we have no features and we got a nice little bit of songs,” Fresh confirmed. “After we finish it, we’ll revisit it. But right now we have no features. And part of the reason why we have no features is the cool factor. They're The Cool Kids and everybody else is just on some other shit. And I'm just like, ‘How do we find somebody else that's brave enough to do what we doing right now?’ And if we can't, shit, we’ll do it ourselves.”