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What Kooley High wants from its move to New York

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Since hitting the local hip-hop scene in 2006, Kooley High has been pegged as the rising star of Raleigh's rap universe. After building its local reputation with energetic shows and stoking the fire with a steady release of MP3s, mixtapes and an EP, Kooley—save producer Sinopsis and emcee Rapsody—moved to New York City in early March, hoping to expand its reach and fan base while making good on its promise with the release of debut full-length, Eastern Standard Time. We spoke to the group about the reasons for, and complications of, the relocation.

INDEPENDENT WEEKLY: What prompted your move to New York City, and what advantages do you hope it might bring your career?

CHARLIE SMARTS: We love North Carolina, but we wanted to make our network bigger. This is the media capital of the nation, and we just need more media [exposure]. Everybody that's heard us [here] said that they dig it. This is where hip-hop started, so we really want to get that seal of approval from the place where it started. We feel like if we get that, then we can reach another level, both artistically as well as in terms of notoriety.

TOM FOOLERY: There are also so many people up here that aren't connected but love music, so it gives us access to a much bigger target demographic. There's just a lot going on up here in terms of the arts and artistic people, so it's a good place to try to get more fans and more friends.

Without the full trio of MCs always together, has performing or recording been difficult?

RAPSODY: It really hasn't been too much of a problem. I think there've been two shows they've done without me because I wasn't able to make it. Since we finished with Eastern Standard Time and we're not working on anything new, it hasn't been a problem as far as making music. Even if we were, with the technology to e-mail verses back and forth, we would still be able to make music.

TAB-ONE: [Producers] Foolery and Sinopsis both have pretty much identical studio set-ups, so we can record down in North Carolina and up here, and most of the time it can be seamlessly spliced together.

Has it been hard to stick out in a crowded New York scene without all the connections that you have here at home?

TAB-ONE: Maybe a little bit, but fortunately, we had a good Internet following thanks to [hip-hop sites] okayplayer and 2dopeboyz, so there were a lot of cats up here that had already heard of us. But I mean, it's kind of like starting over. We had to build our name in Raleigh for three or four years, and now we're up in New York in a bigger market. Fortunately, we know cats up here, too, like some of the dudes from the AOK Collective, so we have ways of at least getting our foot in the door. We've got momentum on our side as well. It's definitely a challenge, but it's a constant reminder that it's not going to happen overnight. You gotta keep working, and you gotta do something different every day.

Why did you decide to release Eastern Standard Time for free?

SMARTS: We just want to be heard. With the current music climate, especially in hip-hop, it's best to release the music and let it spread. See what it did for Drake and the like. If people want it for free, they will get it for free anyways. If they want to pay, they'll pay.

Rapsody, was there a reason in particular you decided to stay in North Carolina?

RAPSODY: Because I'm working with 9th [Wonder] on an album and a mixtape, I didn't think it was a good choice for me to leave, because it would set me back a little bit. And, you know, it's New York: You can drive there, you can take the bus, you can fly. We can make it work so that everybody benefits.

You're only on nine of these 15 tracks. Is that because you had so much other work going on or did those just happen to be the tracks that were chosen?

RAPSODY: Some of the songs are new and some of the songs are old ones that we had in the catalogue but we wanted to pick the best songs for the project. It didn't matter if I wasn't on all of them—and the group felt the same way—as long as the project as a whole was a strong project.

What do you miss the most about North Carolina?

RAPSODY: They miss me!

SMARTS: It's like a baby's cradle, you know? When you leave, you always want to go back to the crib. I miss my mama and my family. I don't have much of a support system up here and it's a lot easier when you have that, but if you want to do bigger and better shit, you've gotta leave home. My mama always told me that people won't respect you sometimes until you leave and come back, so we're doing our little leave and come back thing because we're definitely coming back. We're always from there, and we'll always be there.

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