As the world collectively drowns in an unrelenting sea of releases and content, Midwest-raised, L.A.-based rapper/producer Chuck Inglish refuses to get caught up in the whirring cogs of the machine. If you were paying attention in the mid-late ‘00s, you’ll recall he’s one half of The Cool Kids—the Chicago hip-hop duo who led the first generation of internet rappers—so he’s seen it all firsthand. And while his solo work has transcended far beyond the digital landscape—he's produced for the likes of Kid Cudi, Travi$ Scott, Big Sean, 2 Chainz, Chance The Rapper and Curren$y—he has Myspace to thank for his initial rise.
Flashback to late 2007 in Chicago, when Inglish and his Cool Kids partner Mikey Rocks (aka Sir Michael Rocks) first sparked a tidal wave of online hype—and worldwide tour dates—with just three tracks in their Myspace player. Their sound was a mix of old-school rap and bass-heavy club jams, but it was their savvy use of the internet—and videos like this—that helped them earn all-important co-signs from Diplo, Fools Gold, Flosstradamus, and Lil Wayne.
Today, Inglish is seen as an elder statesman for the new digital age: younger artists flock to work with him, often years before they break out. Mac Miller, Chance The Rapper, Vince Staples, Da$h, Retch, Vic Mensa, Casey Veggies and Earl Sweatshirt have all called him for advice—or crashed on his sofa—at some point over the years. (As Inglish’s close friend and creative collaborator for the last eight years, I can vouch for it all.) His winding journey can be summed up by one of his own bars: Forever in the moment, I bend a couple corners, from 2013’s “See The World”. But through his whirlwind moments and harshly bent corners, he’s learned to become as independent and unapologetic as possible. This summer, he’ll be releasing his second solo album on his own imprint Sounds Like Fun, which he’s aptly decided to call Everyone’s Big Brother. Here Chuck explains what it was like being at the eye of the internet rap storm, and how his view has changed since.
CHUCK INGLISH: Around 2002 in Chicago, I was living in an apartment dorm in college, and there were three computers in the living room. One had Acid Pro, which was for editing, and the other had Fruity Loops. And that was it: I started making beats religiously. Every single day, even on my 22nd birthday, I never left my room. Fruity Loops clicked with me because it had linear step production, which made sense in my head, because I make drum music. I grew up playing the drums.
Then, when "Can't Stop, Won't Stop" came out from Young Gunz, I remember trying to make the beat. I did make it, almost perfectly—that’s when I knew I was onto something. And once I got into being able to emulate beats, I wanted to make my own versions. I remember always wanting to make that groove in the beats of old school rap. No matter how musically inclined I became, no matter how much I would learn and progress through music theory, I always wanted to have that skill and groove.
I’m from the East Side of Detroit. We’re only seen for our geographical perils—we’re just a tough city—but you don’t see the groovier side. Most of my memories come from hearing DJ Magic Mike at East Side skate rink when I was 8 or 9. Hearing "Drop That Bass" when I was learning how to skate, it was that era of Mustang rap. When I was little, the East Side of Detroit looked like a scene out of Paid In Full —I was seeing some cool ass shit. Not just bad ass shit, not just depressing ass shit, but I was seeing motherfuckers with three or four gold chains on them, in the barber shop. I remember hearing MC Breed’s "Ain't No Future In Yo Frontin’" riding down the East Side of Detroit, passing Dimby High School, and the whole school was covered in graffiti. All of that shit I would see listening to music for the first time—it was over-influential. I didn’t hear words; I wanted to be these songs I heard.
That’s where the foundation of The Cool Kids came in. I was introduced to Mikey in college through another friend—we didn’t meet on Myspace, like everybody thinks. He’d just graduated from high school at the time. We were just two kids that had very striking similarities. On the weekend, Mikey’s mom would drop him off at my crib in Chicago. He would bring a book bag, his inbox and a microphone stand. We would sit there making songs the whole weekend. Mikey and I wrote about how we lived. I wasn’t writing about pagers to be ironic, I really had a pager out this motherfucker! I was a Special Ed video, 24/7, all day. My talk was that, my vibe was that. But no one was wearing what we was wearing. The Adidas jackets and baseball jerseys were at the bottom of the thrift store bins back then. People weren’t wearing big aviators, and picture-graphic T-shirts. We took all the backlash of the internet; everyone tried to box it in. What the fuck is hipster rap? Hipsters are kids that are into cultural re-appropriation. I ain’t no suburban black kid trying to bring back some shit that I wasn’t there for!
I remember posting up the first couple of our songs and we had about 1200 plays a day just off my Myspace page. After that our friend PJ was like, “Let’s do a show at Gunther Murphy’s.” We came up with The Cool Kids name that day. We posted the shit up on Myspace and low-key we had a line around the block for our first show. We got up there and only knew half the words, we did way too long of a show—we had interludes—but it was one of those things that I would never take back.
When things first kicked off with The Cool Kids, I happened to have a few alliances with people that were on the come up. For instance, in the summer of 2007, me and Flosstradamus lived in the same house. Doing parties with them and that whole circle—from Diplo to A-Trak, the Fools Gold and Mad Decent era—the Chicago music scene was very close. When Flosstradamus were doing their "Get Out The Hood" parties, that’s where my friends and I would go after school on a Wednesday. I remember hearing a Nirvana song mixed in with a Ludacris and Pharrell song at the same time, at a party with pitchers of beer and jello shots, and everybody I knew was there. It was something that I felt was me. I remember going to the third one and brought Mikey—he didn’t even have no ID—and I told him, “Yo, at the next one we’re rocking this bitch.” I had a talk to Josh [from Flosstradamus], and we played the next one.
“Myspace was very visual—you saw what your friends were listening to, so it connected even more. Diplo had “88” on his Myspace page, that’s really how things got going for us.”—Chuck Inglish
I think it all came down to the timing of shit. More than anything it was the fact that, at that time, Myspace was worldwide. And it was very visual—you saw what your friends were listening to, so it connected even more. Diplo had [The Cool Kids’ track] "88" on his Myspace page, that’s really how things got going for us.
The funniest thing is me and Joe Kay [from Soulection] were friends on Myspace in 2005. I can attest to a lot of the attention I got on Myspace [being from] him. He was just a kid in high school in California that always bigged me up about my beats, and always told people to check my shit out. I remember when me and Mikey started posting music, Joe was like “Yo, I’m gonna get you 2000 or 3000 followers!”
Things traveled faster back then. Social networks have since diluted the travel speed. If a YouTube video popped in 2005, you’d have to wait to check it out when you got back home to your computer, which made it a bigger deal. Instant access isn’t the best thing. As of recently, I realized that music has lost its way. Once people figured out how to access everything, they had no more goals for how to push it forward. You can see every movie, you can listen to everything, [and] now nobody wants to see shit or listen to anything. Our brains are not designed to have every option. There are articles about how some of the most successful men in the world wear the same thing everyday, because it alleviates their brain from making choices. The worst thing you can ever do is hand me a Cheescake Factory menu; it’s big as fuck, and everything’s good. We ain’t never gonna order! You feel me? In & Out is the best experience you can have for fast food, because there’s only three options. I’m not saying people can’t evolve past being able to process that many choices, but why do I want that much?
“If a YouTube video popped in 2005, you’d have to wait to check it out when you got back home to your computer, which made it a bigger deal. Instant access isn’t the best thing.”—Chuck Inglish
I was watching an old episode of Martin today, and in the background I was staring at his stereo set-up, all the tapes. I was making this comparison in my head that music used to be more of a sit-down type of medium. Even on the go, people planned out their trips musically; before you left the house, you’d grab three or four CDs that you were gonna rock with. Music wasn’t just thrown around. Now it’s so out of control that artists have dumbed down their process and way of thinking, like, “Let’s just pump this shit out.” This is not the artists’ fault—this is the fans’ fault, and the media’s fault, for being greedy. It’s like taking the NBA players and being like “You just played a game, now play another game, because we wanna see it, all the time.” “You just won a championship? Play that shit again!”
With Spotify, Apple Music, and Soundcloud, there are so many radio stations, and you can listen to any album in the world. But where is the streaming industry going? It’s not physical—there’s nothing to be held. Music is a physical thing; regardless if it’s in the air—or in a cloud—if you put your hand next to a speaker and the bass is coming out, you feel it. When I first listened to J Cole’s "Forest Hills Drive," I put my face up to the speaker and I sat there the whole time. It just so happened that I ate mushrooms three hours before—but I heard his whole shit that night! I really felt that album from top to bottom. It’s a disservice to everybody to not do so. But instead we’re trying to sell music through little bullshit ass [laptop] speakers. Me? I’m not going, dawg. Everyone else can try to keep up with the post, post, post, post. But I’m old school. If you don’t slow roast this shit, no one will last.
The Cool Kids weren’t brought in by nobody. We were helped but there was no piggy back, there was no label that was putting us on. So to protect my own interests, I tried to do things my way. C.A.K.E. Records was my creation, as a holding house for Cool Kids’ works. I had this whole vision I wanted to create, something bigger than music, which was Create Art for Kids Everywhere. I was reading the news that they were stopping art programs, and art and music classes in schools. I’ve always felt that I can do—not a big splash—but I’ve always tried to do my part silently in improving the world.
“Everyone else can try to keep up with the post, post, post, post. But I’m old school. If you don’t slow roast this shit, no one will last.”—Chuck Inglish
By the time we got to [The Cool Kids’ debut EP] The Bake Sale, the crazy thing was I thought I was going independent in the first place. The perils of the industry at that time had gone a certain way that the labels had caught up, like, “All these kids want to be indie now. Let’s make our shit look indie, but have major paperwork.” So the one thing I was trying to avoid I slightly fell into, and I can’t blame anything on that, besides some trial and error shit. There was a lot of learning that came from that. I definitely learned to not believe that everyone who may believe in you always has your best interests, and not just wants to be a part of what’s moving.
These days, I want to build Sounds Like Fun as a boutique label. Basically I want to be the black Rick Rubin! That’s who I’ve wanted to be since I first I listened to [the Red Hot Chili Peppers'] Blood Sugar Sex Magik. With Sounds Like Fun Records, I never thought about the first person I would sign, but I just met him. It’s a dude from Detroit named Helios and he’s got a song called "Confetti." It’s the realest shit I ever heard. He only got like 149 followers on Twitter. But my connection with that song is real; I’ll do my best to get it out there.
If you know you have the identity to be one of those people that shifts shit on this earth, this is the time to exist. People will find you. There’s too much nonsense out, so the stars will shine. It’s like the theory of the Big Bang being the cause and effect of a black hole: for every black hole that’s happening, there’s a Big Bang happening outside of it. So I’m always optimistic.
And I got a lot of help for people. It’s a love for the whole sport of hip-hop. I got love for people going for what they see to improve this planet. That’s why it’s always a thing for me to be in the mix: if I like something, I want to see it shine. I don’t care if I have anything to do with it or not, I just wanna see it.
The first time I met Chance, he was a kid with some dope music that was in a scene full of kids still in high school. I had the ability to tell who really knew what they were saying, the ones who really felt themselves: Chance knew what he was talking about. He came out to L.A. right before he released 10 Day. I gave him a beat and I remember watching him write to it—he didn’t want to listen to anything else but that. His music was so important to him. Watching certain kids when they listen to their shit, they zone out like it’s medication. I know how to help them, because that’s how I am too. For me, the gauge isn’t just knowing that they’re gonna blow. The recipe is one thing: authenticity. Not a facade of it, not just being connected with something, but authentic to the point that you are exactly what people hear. And Chance is one of them kids.
Mac Miller was 18 or 19 around the time we met. He’d hit me up to say he wanted to work together. I told him, "You get a ticket here, and you got it.” If the kid was willing to do the work like I was willing to do the work, I met them halfway. I can always see it in them. And it just so happened that a lot of these kids ended up doing it—Dash, Retch, Vince, Earl, Dom, all the Save Money cats. I’m always surprised by the ascension of where they are now, from where they started. But nothing is really a surprise, because I believed it from the jump—I heard them say it and I believed them. And I’m not an easy person to sell, you know what I’m saying?
I’m a Libra, I can understand everybody; I can feel which step up that you need, or what you don’t need, or what makes you the best you. So who better to do that with than myself? That’s why lately I’ve been focusing on producing myself, and putting out my next album, Everybody’s Big Brother.
I wanted to name my album something that meant something—what do I represent? Who am I to the world? What have I always been? And through this phase of years that I’ve taken to redevelop and redefine what I am, I realized that’s what I’ve been. My last album Convertibles was [made] over a long period and I dragged it out in its artistic process. It was representative of a change: it was me being on my own. The Cool Kids was the car and I had to take the top off, you feel me? But now with Everybody’s Big Brother, it’s more like, who’s in that car?
Everybody had a guy like me in their neighborhood growing up, being like, "Nah, don’t shoot the ball like that." Or "Leave that girl alone, let her come to you." Someone that taught you some fly shit. Cool ain’t something you can fake, you gotta be born with it. But you gotta be down to check yourself too. I have the complete dream of never being the dude that used to be fresh.
Chuck Inglish's Sounds Like Fun Records will release his new album, Everyone's Big Brother, later this summer.