The first thing to know about Convertibles, rapper-producer Chuck Inglish’s first solo album, is that it has more surface appeal than anything he’s done as half of Chicago-founded duo The Cool Kids. In his work with Sir Michael Rocks, Chuck’s nostalgic approach has always been more organic than scholarly, featuring hearty drums and hooks beholden to the ’80s and early ’90s. It was a head-swiveling approach when the two showed up during the late ‘00s, and Chuck and Mikey’s influence stretched wide for a couple of years. But scoping out the rap world as we see it today, the artists who wield such revivalist notions are no less culturally submerged in 2014 than they were a decade ago.
Convertibles, then, finds the 29-year-old Chuck (born Evan Ingersoll) uncovering an aesthetic that only glances at his trimmer past work. For help on the production end, he enlisted Mike Einziger, who’s best known as Incubus’s lead guitarist and is currently enjoying the huge success of Avicii’s “Wake Me Up”, which he played on and helped write. Though Chuck has always been a fan of live instrumentation, it’s by his own admission that his collaborating affords the album much of its embellishment (check Einziger’s own fretboard riot on “P.R.I.S.M.”). Accordingly, a couple of these songs are practically sequined: “Legs”, featuring Chromeo, kinetically traverses its electro-funk runway, while sun-scalped closer “Glam”, featuring Chance the Rapper, races with horns to go along with buttery keys and glimmering vocals from Kids These Days’ Macie Stewart.
There’s a clear root to all this breeziness, namely Chuck’s move to California in April 2011, just before The Cool Kids were about to release When Fish Ride Bicycles. Here, Chuck lights up at the thought of a girl with “an L.A. face and an Oakland booty,” then grins at the goofy name of a weed strain he’d never encountered until exploring Cali’s world-famous verdure (e.g., LeChron James). As a rule, these songs revolve around girls, cars, and Cali, but it’s also likely that without the move, Chuck wouldn’t be recording material that sounds like the sweltering Cap Angels collab “Ingles (Mas o Menos)” or the catapulting “Came Thru/Easily”, with Ab-Soul and Mac Miller.
Chuck has also done some of his finest work producing smoggy instrumentals for guys like his cousin Boldy James, and a chunk of Convertibles acknowledges that specialty. “Elevators” and “Swervin’”, the first two songs here, are both skeletal thumps, with the second occupying a particularly sinister headspace. The BJ the Chicago Kid feature, “Attitude”, with its brass hits and silky hook, is the album’s barest stretch, and one of its most efficient. “Money Clip”, featuring Vic Mensa as well as New Jersey’s Retch, Chicago’s Sulaiman, and D.C.’s Hassani Kwess, is a success even without the panache of today’s biggest roundtable rap songs. Later, the gravelly “Gametime” needs just two minutes and an Action Bronson verse to be the album’s most quotable number.
It’s no secret that Chuck is more often contracted for his production skills than his rapping. He’s not a bad rapper, but he can be problematically nonchalant, delivering his bars straight where so many of his contemporaries would get figurative, in one way or another. Still, by the time we reach the largely dull “H.M.U.” in Convertibles‘ final third, Chuck has already established that he’s not interested in lexical stunts. Some songs here start with someone besides Chuck, and they’re presented like he wants us to know that, sure, lyrical trickery can help these songs (Ab kills “Came Thru/Easily”), but there’s a purpose behind his own unfussy language.
Given the different styles that pop up, Convertibles does feel disjointed, but only stylistically. Its cheeriness is what laces it all together. The gift of Convertibles is that it doesn’t want much besides a good time; Pharrell did something similar with G I R L, where optimism and simplicity of emotion reigned over realism. There will be days when even Convertibles’ biggest fans want to hear something with more feeling, or at least tension. But few recent albums are better for drop-topped afternoons, and that’s something.
Essential Tracks: “Legs”, “Came Thru/Easily”, and “Glam”