Judging from how they see themselves, as well as the title of their latest mixtape, “Nerds at the Kool Table,” the hip-hop duo known as The Koolest sure don’t think of themselves as the hippest guys in the room.
“‘Nerds at the Kool Table’ is kind of describing how we feel in, like, the music scene or, at least, North Carolina’s music scene,” says Daniel “Danny Blaze” Watkins, one-half of the Durham-based team. “There’s like this mold of artists we have here, or in general – we felt like we didn’t fit in that mold. But we still want to be part of the industry here, part of this music scene we have… We’re being ourselves. We don’t exactly fit. We’re kind of outcasts.”
While Watkins and Brooklyn-bred partner Daniel “Dinero P” Pressley, both 24, may see themselves as outcasts, they often surround themselves with some of the state’s most valuable hip-hop players. “Nerds,” which was released on April Fools’ Day last year, features guest shots from Rapper Big Pooh and Thee Tom Hardy, among others. And on Friday, you can see them at Kings in Raleigh on a bill with Drique London and headliners Kooley High.
But it’s not just local hip-hop stars they’re mingling with. As they mention on their Twitter page, they’ve opened for such artists as Juicy J, Big K.R.I.T. and ASAP Ferg.
Watkins and Pressley have been grinding for nearly a decade, beginning when both men found out they went to the same high school in Durham. “I used to work with his sister and she told me she has a brother who went to my school,” he remembers. “I never saw the guy. And I just happened to go to the house one day and he was there, and he was making beats and stuff.”
The two bonded over their mission to become hip-hop artists. They originally joined a group called Diverse with three other guys. (“That was a big failure,” remembers Watkins.) They eventually became a duo, releasing a 2011 mixtape called “Same Difference: The Miss Tape,” which Watkins prefers you don’t track down. “It’s that one project you’re not really too proud of,” he says. “Everyone has that joint they made when they were just starting out. And that was really poor quality, and I don’t know – poorly made, in my opinion.”
For Watkins, hip-hop was a way to keep from getting into trouble with the knuckleheads he grew up with in Durham. “I’ve been shot at on three separate occasions,” he remembers. “So, yeah, there were definitely a few of those moments.… I wasn’t as committed to it as they were, but I definitely think music kind of saved me from that too.”
Despite Watkins’ gritty upbringing, the urge to go full gangsta in their music is something The Koolest rarely indulges in. Even though they’re from Bull City, they don’t want to be seen as another thug-rap item.
“Everyone expects you to be, like, this really tough guy or whatever,” he says. “Despite where we come from, we’re not either of those. Especially P – he’s from Brooklyn, man! He moved down here in ’06, ’07 and he’s far from what you’d expect a Brooklyn guy to be like.”
The Koolest still continues to associate with some impressive, hip-hop talent. For their latest project “CrazySexyKool,” which is slated to drop this summer, expect them to trade rhymes with Raleigh’s King Mez and Charlotte’s Well$. They’re also going to be opening for Long Beach MC Joey Fatts in New York and Chicago.
“I want to accomplish, and I’m sure P feels the same, getting in the industry, whether we’re independent or on someone’s label,” says Watkins. “I want to make this a career. I want this to be my life.”
For guys who consider themselves nerdy outsiders, the boys of The Koolest make sure they hang with the right people – so they can be at the right table.
Who: Kooley High, with Drique London and The Koolest
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh
Info: 919-833-1091 or kingsbarcade.com