Kooley High is without a doubt one of the most comprehensive and heterogeneous hip hop groups of this generation. It is at the University of Raleigh North Carolina that the members of a small campus association created a crew which, a few years later, would share the stage with some of the biggest names of the US Hip Hop Scene. With three MCs (Charlie Smarts, Tab-One , including a female MC, Rapsody), two producers (Foolery and Synopsis) and one Dj (Dj Ill), this team (like a Fugees throwback) will make you rediscover hip hop, taking up the ingredients that exalted this discipline: a universe brimming with samples of the finest choice, well groomed boom bap beats, all against the background of crackling vinyl that we love so much. We had a word with Charlie Smarts and Foolery to learn a little more.
J / How did you meet ?
Charly Smart / We all attended NC State University in Raleigh, NC. I was president of a student club we created called the Hip Hop Organization (H2O). Upon graduation we decided to keep doing music with core members from H2O and that’s how Kooley High was formed. Rapsody came to us with the name one day and we all liked it... so it stuck.
Foolery/ That was an organization that we started as a means of throwing parties and hip hop events on and off campus. It featured a lot of people from the Raleigh scene at that time period. Sinopsis and I had been scheming for a while to steal Tab-One and Charlie Smarts from their other band Inflowential that was quite prevalent around campus then. And then after H2O booked some studio time and recorded a compilation album we began to see what a talent Rapsody was. All of us were very energized after that compilation, and I bought a mic and a pre-amp and we began recording songs together at my house with the intention of being a group.
J / How is the hip-hop scene in North Carolina ?
C / Its growing. There are several artist with Big names like J. Cole, Phonte, and 9th Wonder, but there are also artists on the come up like Kooley High, Deniro Farrar, and King Mez. Rapsody from our group is about to be featured on the BET Cyphers this year ! Its a place that is dominated by Pop and Country music, but Hip Hop is making a name for itself more and more. At the end of the day, kids just want to have fun. When Hip Hop delivers that... more kids stay in tune.
F / There were guys, such as the Justus League, making music and throwing shows before we ever started. They really played a big role in our excitement for making music and helped pave the way for the whole area. They inspired us to get involved and try to keep things moving forward. Nowadays there are a lot of artists emerging that are younger than we are, and they’re continuing what we’ve been striving towards for the past seven years. I think we have a special thing in Raleigh-Durham. And I’d like to see more artists around here learn to make a living off of their art in a similar fashion to artists of other great music scenes such as Los Angeles and Detroit.
J / What are your inspirations, which artists made you want to rap ?
C / I am inspired by my life and the lives of others. The good and the bad, from the triumphs to the failures. The Black Hippy Crew makes good songs. We want to be at a place where we all can shine as individuals as well as a group.
F / The music of DJ Premier initially made me want to rap. It pulled certain feelings from me. Then upon getting into production I realized that I could potentially create that feeling with my own beats. At that point I changed my focus towards the musical rather than the lyrical aspect of hip hop.
J / You and DJ Ill Digitz live in Brooklyn now, what was the change from North Carolina like ?
C / It was a big change. So much diversity, culture, and people in general. We still dig it. There’s beautiful women everywhere. Its also the birthplace of Hip Hop. If you are not on your A Game, people will let you know it.
F / Tab and I lived there as well for a period, but we moved back to North Carolina in 2011. It’s an international city with people from all over the world living right next to each other. So you get a lot of wonderful things all mixing together. That being said, it’s crowded as fuck, and the rent is too damn high. That’s one of the things that drove me away, and being the type of producer that requires both physical and emotional space from which to create things New York was not a good fit for me. Also, I think we all kind of expected to find a thriving hip hop scene when we arrived in New York. And there are definitely some great artists we got to witness or become friends with in New York. But all in all, from my perspective, the hip hop scene was somewhat fragmented and hard to identify. I find myself much more inspired to make music in Raleigh, North Carolina where I can afford to have a studio and where there are a number of other local studios to visit and see what people are doing. Plus, I love greenery and plant-life. New York has taught me a lot. And I still love her, but I prefer to visit, soak up the energy, and then bring it back home with me.
J / You did lots of interesting featuring, which was the most important for you ?
C / When I finally did a song with Phonte, it meant a lot. He is from Greensboro, NC which is where I’m from as well. Dude is an NC legend, so it was awesome to be on the same song as him.
F / I was really happy with how the song with The Kid Daytona came out on David Thompson. Upon arriving in New York he was one of the artists I found inspiring, and I’m still looking forward to seeing what he does. Aside from that I would say working with Median has been really great. His The Path to Relief EP is one of my favourite works of music ever. And so getting to become friends with him and having him featured on our music was really special for me. I also love the collaboration we’ve had with the emcee HaLo over the years. He’s like a brother to me, and a real talent.
J / How do you see Hip-hop’s evolution ?
C / Hip hop changes just as the world does. As cultures mix, the sounds mix, and people continue to tell their stories. With that being said, hip hop seems to be coming back to a place where the talent of the MC is being respected once again. Its about to be like the 90s all over again.
F / Hip Hop’s evolution has been really interesting so far. At this point it’s almost multi-genre. There are genres within Hip Hop that almost seem more different than they are alike. But I like a lot of it, and there are a lot of talented people releasing music and using the internet as a lunching pad to play a role in that evolution. I’m excited to see where hip hop takes us, or where we can take it.
J / Tell us a bit more about the collaboration with 9th wonder.
C / 9th Wonder is executive producer of our next album. Kooley is currently in the studio crafting some of our best work to date. This is a process that will take time. All parties are trying to make sure the best possible album comes out of this collaboration. I would say we are about halfway done at this point, and its looking lovely.
F / Yes, 9th’s involvement has been an added boost of inspiration and I think we all are playing at a higher level than before. I’m excited to see how it turns out.
J / A last word to our readers
C / If you really enjoy something in life, tell someone. Whether its a joke, a picture, a song, a film. It just makes the world a better place. Stay up with the crew at KooleyHigh.com.
F / I would say hit us up @KooleyHigh on twitter, or me personally @fffoolery. And just thank you for taking the time to read this. The world is changing rapidly. Please keep your eyes and ears open, but more importantly keep an open mind. Make informed decisions, and, above all else, spread Love.