Bored and wanting more than four walls, regurgitated lectures and research papers from the classroom, Charlie Smarts, Tab-One, Foolery, Sinopsis, Rapsody and Digitz came together in 2007, at North Carolina State University, with one common thread: there has to be more to life than this. Somehow, through the streets and classrooms of Raleigh, NC, the crew stumbled upon each other and formed H20, a hip-hop organization on campus, which eventually evolved into Kooley High.
While it may seem like a storybook ending, the journey to living a creative lifestyle wasn’t as straight to the point as it seems. Charlie Smarts, one of three MCs in the group, dropped out and moved back home after deciding college wasn't for him. But after a few serious conversations with his mother, he returned with a new attitude: “If I go back, I’m gonna do it my way, and this time I’m gonna start organizations so I can meet a bunch a hip-hop people—like minded individuals.” Upon Charlie’s return to the land of higher education, he shared his ideas with Tab, Digitz and Rapsody, and “everybody else came together from people knowing people,” says Smarts.
But Charlie wasn’t the only one who felt indifferent about going to college. With a major in parks and recreation, Tab-One, another MC in the group, says, “I think I initially went to college because that’s just what you’re supposed to do after high school.” Starting his college career in textiles, and making his way to academic probation, music was always in the back of Tab’s mind. And while it was parks and recreation that helped him graduate, it was his love for true lyricism that got him through school.
Kooley High got introduced to famed producer and fellow North Carolina representative 9th Wonder via Foolery, one-half of the group’s production team, who met 9th while he was judging an on-campus rap battle. It was after meeting the producer that Foolery believed “somebody from North Carolina could do music for a living” and make it. Now, the six-member super group sits with a handful of collaborative projects with 9th Wonder, shout outs from Greensboro, NC rapper Phonte—one-third of Little Brother—and performances alongside Wale, Skyzoo, Ghostface and J. Cole.
Understanding that music was a passion no one member could live without, Kooley High released their first EP, The Summer Sessions, in 2008, and have since dropped a number of individual and group projects, including their latest LP, Kooley High Presents… David Thompson. With a put-the-convertible-top-down, Sunday music vibe, David Thompson represents the longevity the group looks to maintain in the music game. “It’s just feel-good music,” says Sinopsis. “We definitely try to make sure that we keep it honest and we keep it light…it is part of who we are…it’s longevity music.” And as Sinop, as his NC clique refers to him, looks for the best words to wholly describe Kooley High’s sound, Charlie quickly adds, “We make classical, underground hip-hop.” He continues, “We’re trying to make the classics like the De La Souls, A Tribe Called Quest…The Fugees, Digable Planets. That’s what we try to emulate in the field of the group. The greats.”
Looking to be around for the long haul, North Carolina State’s rising crew hopes to work with the likes of Kanye West, Mos Def, Rick Rubin, The Roots, ?westlove, Black Thought and DJ Premier, but in the meantime, Charlie Smarts says, “We’ll make classic music that will stand the test of time."