Charlie Smarts, one of the lead emcees in Raleigh expatriates Kooley High, has lately seemed most busy pampering his solo endeavors, pushing himself from a grassroots B-boy to a nouveau riche rap artist. Meanwhile, the group's leading lady, Rapsody, has taken a different strategy by recording three solo albums alongside 9th Wonder. Combined with most of the crew recently relocating to New York, those differing opinions of career development help explain why David Thompson—Kooley High's new LP, named after the N.C. State basketball legend—sounds different from all the other Kooley High outings. Rapsody only phones in verses for the homesick ode "Dear Raleigh" and the oblique "Regular Shit." To make up for her absence, Tab-One and Charlie Smarts invite a huddle of guest rappers; on the airy, piano-driven cut "Unfound," New York's Homeboy Sandman adds a verse. Median joins for the antagonistic "Yeah Yeah." The extra help is an improvement and impetus for some of Kooley High's best material yet.
Indeed, Tab-One and Charlie Smarts left a lot behind in North Carolina, including producers The Sinopsis and Foolery. On David Thompson, they let frequent big city collaborator DJ Prince handle the majority of the production duties. His efforts are more fertile and varied than the usual Kooley lot. DJ Prince even throws in a snarky verse on the album's second single, "Big Headed."
Raleigh is still on Kooley High's mind; the album is named after N.C. State royalty. Tab-One's shout-outs to Wolfpack alums Zach Galifianakis and other basketball standouts like Chris Corchiani and Rodney Monroe show that Kooley's hometown is more than just the start of their story. At the end of "Freak It," Thompson himself comments that, although he was an explosive jumper, he wasn't necessarily known for his hang time. As it relates to Kooley High, hang time means relevance and continued musical growth—two things they accomplish here, even if the crew is a little fragmented. Sure, this might not sound like the typically buoyant Kooley High album, but David Thompson becomes their Siddhartha—a journey away from home where Tab-One and Charlie Smarts find their own glow.