By Lane Claffee
April 15, 2018
Raleigh hip-hop veterans Kooley High have returned with Never Come Down, the full-length follow up to their 2015 release Heights. Consisting of Charlie Smarts (Alexander Thompson), Foolery (Thomas Kevin), Tab-One (Taylor Burgess), DJ Ill Digitz (James Meyer), and Sinopsis (Dennis McCarter), Kooley High has been an essential staple in the development of the hip-hop scene in Raleigh.
In the early days of the collective, up until 2008, Grammy-nominated rapper (Best Rap Album) Rapsody was also a member of Kooley High. Before her breakout moment with the appearance on Kendrick Lamar’s 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly, she made her recording debut on 9th Wonder’s album The Dream Merchant Vol. 2, who she met during her time with Kooley High. Since then, they have been frequent collaborators. “Without Kooley High, there would be no Rapsody,” she says during her featured episode in the Netflix docu-series Rapture.
Never Come Down shows the group branching out in several ways. During the recording process for their earlier works, like 2011’s Kooley High Presents… David Thompson, the entire group was living together. It’s a stark contrast to the process of recording Never Come Down, as the members were not only living separately, but most of the group is currently living in New York. “The distance made constructing this album frustrating at different points,” says Charlie Smarts. “During the years of creation there were times that I thought that if I didn’t move back to North Carolina, the album wouldn’t get finished.” “We had to figure out how to be proficient with sending drafts, similar to Foreign Exchange,” DJ Ill Digitz adds. “We also had to focus on making time for the crew. Traveling can be exhausting but it’s worth it.”
The distance both affected the process and the music itself. “Charlie and Tab write differently when they are together in the same room. This is how the back and forth on “Never Come Down” happens.” says producer Sinopsis, “This project is the only project that was made while most members lived in New York, and you can hear how living in the city impacted the writing and mixing process.”
Not only were the living situations vastly different, but so were the recording sessions. While David Thompson was recorded in a living room, Never Come Down was created at Bright Lady Studios with legendary hip-hop producer 9th Wonder as executive producer. “His tracklist and mood made a world of difference,” says Charlie Smarts.
Starting off with “We Don’t Care,” Never Come Down is consistently full of lush, masterful production, and tough, laid-back delivery. The single “Ceiling” features a catchy homage to Outkast’s “Elevators (Me & You),” and is one of the best tracks you’ll hear in North Carolina rap this year. “Voila” has a relatively lighter tone than “Ceiling.” As a chilled-out love song, it’s ideal for a North Carolina summer evening. Other highlights include frequent Little Brother collaborator Carlitta Durand adding her hypnotic voice to the track “Shambles,” and Rapsody’s robust return to her alumnus with her feature on “Grinning.” They flex their self-made status as independent musicians in “No Favors” boasting; “Never asking for a hand-out / Never need a co-sign to stand out.”
Never Come Down is another solid example of the thriving hip hop scene in North Carolina. “This is the biggest that the North Carolina scene has ever been,” says Charlie Smarts. “9th Wonder on the Kennedy Center Hip Hop Culture council, Rapsody nominated for Hip Hop Album of the year, J Cole’s Dreamville label is touring worldwide and recently signed Lute from Charlotte….North Carolina is a place to find authentic hip hop,” With all of these accolades to flaunt from this year alone, Never Come Down serves as another prime example of the bona fide, flourishing North Carolina hip-hop landscape.
Listen to Never Come Down by Kooley High and check out the video for “Ceiling.” Catch them on April 21 with G Yamazawa, M8ALLA and 3am at Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, NC.