On BANCO, Sir Michael Rocks is still finding his way to separate himself, both from the Cool Kids' sound, and to some degree, former versions of himself.
As a member of the Cool Kids, Sir Michael Rocks helped pioneer the current “cool kid” rap and fashion swag, since borrowed by a number of your favorite artists. They were the next big thing, even featured in a nationally aired Rhapsody commercial, with future star Sara Bareilles. Unfortunately for the duo, the steam from their almost certain runaway train to stardom ran out halfway down the track. It may have been the product of bad timing, along with clichéd “label issues” with the second release, When Fish Ride Bicycles. Fortunately, the time out of the mainstream limelight has served the young Chicago MC well, as he has managed to maintain the buzz while diversifying his sound and look.
Rocks starts BANCO with a short life update, and an immediate Japanese anime reference, in “Intro.” These sorts of references are not a surprise, given his prior work, and they occur throughout the album. This track, however, has a surprising southern/Houston rap feel, seeming to be the start of an exercise in how he can sonically separate himself from his hometown, and perhaps shed some of the Cool Kids perceptions out front. This continues on “Memo”, a song for which the video puts a different light on the lyrics, perhaps as a fun, very subtle satire.
The Twista-assisted “Some Ish” displays Rocks’ hedonistic side, appealing to the women who like women, with the smooth "Do or Die" flow over reverb-laden guitars. “Bussin'” is a straightforward banger, with a slight Triple Six feel, featuring a couple of strong verses from Casey Veggies and IAMSU!. In the middle of the album sits the most volatile track, “Kill Switch”, which has an appropriately infused roman candle sound throughout, and Robb Bank$ and Pouya delivering a pair of tough verses. The mixdown is knotty on most of the album, and specifically on this track. The vocals, as well as more subtle sounds, aren’t necessarily drowning in bass, but are barely above sea level. A lot of interesting sounds end up muddled, and slightly overpowered.
“One Time” is the “smooth and sensuous sound” of Rocks, a new take on 90’s Quiet Storm FM, with its velvety synths, the deep low end, and a Holy Mountain reference. You will not see many mentions of Alejandro Jodorowsky films in any genre (unless of course we're talking about the "Yeezus" tour or a recent song by Asaad and Ab-Soul). The oddest inclusion is obviously “Fuck Seaworld”, a track most similar to the older Cool Kids productions. Partly awkward brag swag, it’s an equally unusual H.A.M-out on the people running SeaWorld for their alleged mistreatment of animals. His flow is both hilarious and bizarre, mentioning his pet monkey is coming out with its own mixtape.
Along with the good lie the bad, namely “Drug Dealer” and “Playstation 1.5.” There is also the questionable: the Mac Miller and Trinidad James co-feature, “Lost Boys.” On the surface, the former Mikey Rocks and Miller are an ideal collaboration match, in terms of rap sensibility and aesthetic, as previous shown on 2012’s “Great”, from Lap of Lux, and “Aliens Fighting Robots” from Macadelic. It's not a horrible track, but production is fairly forgettable -- unusual when you consider the quality of Miller’s work, especially of late. “Ain’t Nothing Like”, the one track featuring fellow Cool Kid Chuck Inglish, also includes a vintage Too Short verse, over a vintage Too Short track. “Beeeittcchh.”
The skits, some of the best in recent memory, lend a lot to the surrealist feel of the album. “Dino Feeding Skit” has Rocks leading an unnamed friend toward a casual feeding session for a dinosaur, which eats leather-clothed humans. “Cold Sore Skit” flips from a hilarious cold sore story into an unreal showdown with a hood video game boss.
By the album’s finish, the incoherent nature has evolved into something with a little more context, a flimsy satire – which may not have been purposeful. Lacking is the crucial intangible that puts artists at Rocks’ talent level over the top: cohesion. Rhyme or reason is lost for the ideas he puts forth, using only the skits, the cat and dog sounds, and the '6 cell phone' motif to pull the album together from end to end. The production, while mostly solid across the board, doesn’t deliver anything particularly notable. Sir Michael is still witty, brash, and consistent with the flows, which carry the album, along with the mostly quality features.
It is not a concept album, unless the concept is creating a soundtrack to an unknown hood B-movie made by late surrealist film director Luis Buñuel. Rocks’ life is clearly dominated by video games, women, a newfound love for Eastern philosophy, and staying high. He mixes the all of these components, with some occasional tough guy bravado (that you really don’t believe) into the gumbo pot. The results will vary, as the current formula’s parts inevitably change. There are some strong points, but the alchemy on BANCO works more efficiently as an interesting art project than an album.