When Sir Michael Rocks’ new album, Banco, reaches the masses on today, it will have been a little over three years since the last joint effort with producer Chuck Inglish, his initial confidant from both artist’s introductory group, The Cool Kids. The two-man venture, which was abruptly thrust into mainstream recognition back in 2008 after startling the hip-hop contingent with a hypnotizing mid 1980′s-ish boom-bap sound, has since dismantled as both members have placed emphasis on their own solo endeavors.
In The Cool Kids three year hiatus, the more lyrically inclined of the two, Sir Michael Rocks, has unveiled six solo projects, with the collective reception to those generally being lukewarm. While his solo releases have surely had some successful aspects to them, they have largely resonated within only a limited domain of consumers, those being enthusiasts of The Cool Kids previous material, as they long for a similar gratification that the duo’s work once provided them. Certainly the 26-year-old, Chicago raised MC’s anticipated project to date, Banco is the most essential component to Sir Michael’s ongoing solo catalogue, as he continues his efforts to establish his own identity aside the shadows of The Cool Kids success.
We are introduced to Banco by Sir Michael explaining on the first track “Stevie,” that he recorded the initial stages of the album in his home city of Chicago, but in need of a change of scenery, moved to Los Angeles and finished up the recording process there instead. While the geographical transition was immense, we learn early on in the album that Mikey’s lyrical subject matter hasn’t endured the same drastic transformation from his previous projects. Always one for using his flows to address his affinity for an affluent lifestyle, we hear on the second track “Memo,” which is the album’s first single, that Sir Michael’s main point of focus is still channeled in the pursuit of the finest materialistic possessions and way of life. The chorus on “Memo”, which professes, “I’m hanging out the fucking limo, I’m out the window, I’m balling, did you get the memo?”, accurately sets the tone for the entirety of 16-track Banco.
The most constant theme throughout Banco is centered around Mikey’s fondness for the endless quest of female companionship. Every single track on the album, aside from the three skits, makes reference in some fashion to Sir Michael’s desires and conquests regarding the opposite sex. Littered in with his immense appreciation for the female anatomy, Sir Michael also consistently reverts to his close relationships with the drug trade (“Drug Dealer”, “Lost Boys”, “Some Ish”), among the other commonplace subjects we’ve become familiar with in his discography such as cars, clothing, guns, and cell phones. While there was definite room for growth of audience coming into this album, it’s evident that Sir Michael was comfortable catering to his already established demographic of listeners by re-visiting the recognizable and somewhat mundane topics, that after three years of affirmation, have now become predictable.
Albeit the topical focus and production (which was handled by Remo, Young Chop, and Sir Michael himself) is somewhat generic and repetitive throughout, where the album succeeds is in the presence of a handful of established guest features scattered amongst it. On the album’s third track, “Some Ish,” Sir Michael is accompanied by Chicago’s own lyrical authority, Twista, who spits an impassioned verse reminiscent of his Adrenaline Rush days. Also featured on the album is Casey Veggies, who joins Sir Michael and Iamsu! on the album’s fifth track “I’m Bussin.” Another legend blessing Banco with his presence is the iconic Oakland MC, Too $hort, who dawns a verse on the most club-friendly track, “Ain’t Nothing Like,” which was constructed by the flourishing Los Angeles based producer, DJ Mustard. Alongside Sir Michael and Trinidad Jame$ on the record “Lost Boys,” Mac Miller navigates perhaps the best verse on the album, as he proclaims “Don’t make the mistake of thinking I wasn’t living fat, that’s Little Richard cash/It’s Baghdad in the booth, yeah I’m bombing it/Rocks, James and Miller, that’s a conglomerate.”
The difficulty that Sir Michael Rocks has endured in his solo releases, and one that will seemingly and understandably never escape him, is that while The Cool Kids were flawlessly cohesive as a musical unit, their strengths couldn’t have been further displaced from one another. The prosperous engine of the proverbial Cool Kids vehicle was the mesmerizing simplicity of the production, which was mainly accredited to Chuck’s ingenuity as a producer. Sir Michael’s lyrical acumen has never been praised, but the lack of substance in his lyrical content truly wasn’t of importance when paired with that specific production that married well with his laid back, confident flow. Once you remove the ideal backdrop for that specific style of lyrical expressionism though, and replace it with uninspired elements of production and album assemblage, the lyrics become infinitely more measurable, which doesn’t play to Sir Michael’s benefit.
There are undeniable moments of prosperity within Banco, and it’s impossible to not vibe with Sir Michael for owning his lyrical distinction as confident as he does his luxurious wardrobe. But upon completion of the album, Banco unquestionably leaves the listener yearning for a certain type of production that more appropriately suits his lyrical capacity. With confirmation from Chuck Inglish as recent as April that The Cool Kids impending Shark Week project will be released at some point in 2014, the hip-hop faithful can only hope that it comes to fruition, as that specific sound and style they create together, described by Mikey himself as “the new black version of The Beastie Boys,” provides Sir Michael the optimal platform to flourish at his highest capabilities.—Michael Blair