Raleigh rapper finds his home and follows his dream

CorrespondentFebruary 7, 2013 

Napoleon Wright II.

COURTESY OF KATHRYN KEVIN

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    Who: Kooley High, with Napoleon Wright II and Laura Reed

    When: 9 p.m. Thursday

    Where: The Pour House Music Hall, 224 S. Blount St.

    Cost: $8 ($12 at the door)

    Details: 919-821-1120; www.thepourhousemusichall.com

Thursday night will mark a momentous occasion for Napoleon Wright II (yes, that’s his real name). On that night, he will perform his music live for the first time, as the opening act for Kooley High at the Pour House Music Hall.

For freelance animator/videographer Wright, music has been more of a side hustle, something he does on the fly while dealing with more day-to-day, adult matters. “Me and my wife have a house,” says Wright, one cold, Friday evening at a downtown Raleigh bar. “I have work I gotta do. But I also have these passions. I knew I, at one point, wanted to perform my music live. But there were certain things that took precedence over that at the moment.”

His stage debut will mark a turning point for the California-born Wright, 30, who has been secretly sharpening his musical skills ever since he moved to Raleigh in ’06. “I’ve always explored just creativity, whether it was music or art,” he says. “When I was young, I messed with that all the time, you know. And, then, I just think when I got here, because I was more around it, I just started to get more serious about it.”

It all started when he was a youngster and his parents paid for him to get piano lessons. “What they started realizing is I was playing by ear as opposed to, like, learning it,” he says. “And, so, they canceled piano lessons, but they brought me a keyboard. And I used to sit and listen to songs on the radio and try to play them off the radio.”

The hip-hop-loving Wright never stopped dabbling in music, even when he graduated from East Carolina University – majoring in graphic design – and snagged a job at a Raleigh PR firm. “At my job,” he remembers, “there was a commercial that I was working on where I was like, ‘Hey, you know, I can probably make the music for this.’ And they were like, ‘Sure, you can try it.’ So, I did and they liked it a lot. And so, I start – actively at work – making more music. But, then, I didn’t necessarily want to keep making corporate music all the time. And I started to jump into more collaborative things.”

Wright may have been a working stiff by day, but at night he ventured out to the clubs, immersing himself in the Triangle’s hip-hop scene. One night, he met a woman who not only would later become his wife, but would introduce him to her brother, who is also known as Foolery, producer for local hip-hop collective Kooley High. “He used to play me some music of his and I was like, ‘This is really dope,’” he recalls.

Wright would go on to do a short documentary on the group, called “One Day – Introducing Kooley High” (which can be viewed on Wright’s Vimeo page). “I was coming at it from a perspective of just meeting them, and I feel like they didn’t really realize a lot of the amazing things that they were doing,” he says. He’s also directed a few of their videos, as well as appeared on the solo projects of Kooley High MC Tab-One.

Eventually, he would venture out and create beats and rhymes for himself. In 2011, he dropped his debut album, “HOME,” which can be downloaded for free on his Bandcamp page. It’s basically his love letter to the state’s capital city, a place that’s welcomed the former military brat with open arms. “The reason it was titled ‘HOME’ was because, like, Raleigh is the first place that I’ve been able to call home and the longest place I’ve lived ever,” he says.

On the album Wright doesn’t just show off his skills as a producer and an MC, but also as a vocalist. “There are some beats that I’ll make where sometimes I just love the instrumental and it just feels like there doesn’t need to be anything on it,” he says. “But, then, there are some songs that just kind of pull lyrics out of me and I’ll just do something on it. Whether it’s singing or rhyming, it’s more like the song determines what it should be as opposed to me saying, ‘Alright, I’m this. So, I’m gonna do this over everything.’”

He’s working on another album, “The Napoleon Complex,” due for release this spring. So, whether it’s working on an album, filming a video or even performing live in front of a crowd, Wright is always willing to do whatever will let him indulge in his creative talents. “I left my full-time job primarily because I couldn’t not listen to what was inside of me, telling me to follow my dreams,” he says. “And I’ve always been a creative person. I’ve always explored. I’ve always been an artist.

“I listen more to what the universe tells me than anything, man,” he says. “And, honestly, creativity is something that I just do.”

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