Charlie Smarts is feeling very confident these days.
Friday evening, the Greensboro-born, Brooklyn-based MC will hit the stage with Raleigh hip-hop collective Kooley High – fellow rapper Tab-One, producers Sinopsis & Foolery and DJ Ill Digitz – over at downtown Raleigh establishment Kings, celebrating the release of their latest project, the nine-song EP “Heights.”
Although the EP (their first project as a group since “Kooley High Presents ... David Thompson” in 2011) came out last October, this release party will celebrate the album’s release on vinyl. And the 30-something Smarts is quite sure he and his crew will be able to properly “rock faces off,” as he would say. “We’re very confident in our ability to rock faithfully, if you put us at a live show,” says Smarts (real name: Alex Thompson), calling from Brooklyn.
As evidenced by the tracks on “Heights,” Kooley High is still a finely tuned unit. With Foolery and Sinopsis producing six of the nine tracks and minimal guest appearances (the only two people who appear on “Heights” are Chicago rapper Add-2 and Greensboro vocalist – and Smarts’ mom – Sandra Gell), “Heights” has Kooley High continuing to join forces and be proudly old-school with their hip-hop compositions.
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“The main point was to maybe make somebody get nostalgic, but also make people think that we make good music at the end of the day,” admits Smarts. “But we just wanted to have our own style. And if we just continually change it and try to just, I don’t know, make something trap-based, then who are we if we’re trying to – I’m not saying that’s bad. Because, I mean, the trap thing has been going on for years now. Even the R&B guys are doing it. That’s the top music now. But if were to do that, we kind of lose what we are.”
One thing the group lost on “Heights” is the voice of female MC Rapsody. Since signing with Triangle hip-hop producer 9th Wonder’s Jamla label a few years back, Rapsody has been making some major solo moves lately. Last year, she was featured on a track (on which Wonder was an engineer) from Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” which won the Best Rap Album Grammy this week.
Although Rapsody is on her own these days, Smarts still has love for his hip-hop sister. “Before we were doing music, she was a friend of mine,” he says. “I mean, we worked at Footaction together in Crabtree Valley Mall, dog … I’m just happy for her. Like, every time I see a bit of new stuff – she was on Jimmy Fallon and (expletive), bruh. I mean, she just did her thing so crazy, and she’s really putting on for the area. She’s putting on for women in general and, then, women rappers too.”
Rapsody may not have made any vocal contributions on “Heights,” but Smarts says she started the ball rolling on the project. “I was in Brooklyn, chilling,” he remembers. “Got a call from Rapsody and she was like, ‘Do you wanna work?’ So, that’s basically that.” He and his Kooley partners went on to record “Heights” at 9th Wonder’s Bright Lady Studios in Raleigh. “He gave us permission to work at his lab, which is really a huge blessing that he bestowed on us.” (Smarts says Kooley High will be working with Wonder on a future project.)
Recording “Heights” reminded Smarts that, no matter how long he and the rest of Kooley High have been apart, no matter how rusty their skills might be when they return to the studio, once they get together and do the work, Kooley High becomes a hip-hop crew that flows with beats, rhymes and confidence. “It’s been so long that we’re trying to kind of rebrand ourselves and let people know that we’re still one of the freshest out there, we feel,” he says. “We’re still fresh. We’re still dope.”
What: Kooley High “Heights” Vinyl Release Show, with Ace Henderson, Elevator Jay and J-Scienide
When: 10 p.m. Friday
Where: Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh
Info: 919-833-10911 or kingsbarcade.com