The Sinopsis of the Story
Dennis McCarter just released his second solo project, and a 9th Wonder x Kooley High album is on the way
Whether performing on stage or simply posing for a photo, Kooley High has never been a quiet presence. There’s Charlie Smarts and Tab-One shouting lyrics or just bawdy jokes, Foolery messing around with props or grabbing a mic himself, DJ Ill Digitz getting the crowd involved. And then in the background, usually sporting either a devilish grin or a steadfast mean-mug, there’s Dennis McCarter, aka Sinopsis. The soulful crate-digger behind Kooley High hits like “All Day,” and “Where I’m Going,” as well as songs for Jamla artists Rapsody and GQ, Sinopsis has been in love with chopping samples ever since he first discovered it at NC State more than 10 years ago. In the run-up to the release of his second Kooley High remix album, Heights.Rx, we talked about work ethic, the history of Kooley High, and how that mythical album with 9th wonder is coming.
Sinopsis: When people write about the album it’s almost like they say, “Well we hear, we think, we know…” No it’s here, it’s here. It’s completely done. All the songs are on there, the whole thing is sequenced, the songs have names, album has a name.
Ryan Cocca: Oh shit. So I’m going to have to ask what the holdup is then.
S: You’re just not going to find out from me, that’s all it is. It’s just logistics. It’s logistical things where you really want to make sure that you’re giving yourself all the right windows to put it out exactly how you want it. With us getting vinyl again, you want the vinyl to be right, lead time, and also the scaling, like if you’re doing anything bigger than what you normally do, you have to make sure that logistically in terms of time frame that everything matches up. Not necessarily with just what you want to do, but does it make sense to do this right now, for everybody involved.
RC: Is it bigger because it’s branded as more of a co-thing with 9th (Wonder)?
S: I mean it is a co-thing — he executive produced it!
RC: But it’s not like a little note on the back. It’s like on the front: “9th is involved with this.”
S: I mean 9th is involved, it’s not like —
RC: As far as branding I mean, though, it’s not like it’s going to be hidden.
S: I haven’t seen the final art for the album yet, I don’t know. It’s one of those things where, people from Raleigh know, we all run in the same circles, and we always have worked together, but I don’t know what it’s going to look like until the cover’s done. I know his name will be on it as “Executive Producer.” Whether it’s front, back, or side, I can’t tell you. (Smiles) By far I’ll say I think it’s our best work, I think it’s our best work to date.
RC: Do you see all of your music like that? In your estimation, everything has gotten better as you’ve continued, from the start to now with this album?
S: Yeah, I can say that. This is crushing Heights. Heights was a situation where we made so much music in such a short span of time we were just like, “Let’s just put this out.” We knew we were not gonna put the album out then, but we had been gone so long working on it. Heights was like, “Here’s what we’ve kinda been doing.” And the new album is very much an extension and continuation of that.
RC: Well given the process behind it, it’s cool how it doesn’t feel like a throwaway thing — it felt like an intentional project.
S: Everything was intentional. We realized we were going to have time to let it be what it was going to be, and have a full album life, so… yeah man. But it’s very real. Cannot waaaait to put (the new album) out. Cannot wait.
RC: I wanted to just get you first talking about, from the beginning, how you started doing all of this. Digging into records, meeting Kooley, starting a group.
S: So I moved from New York to NC State back in 2004, 2005, and when I got there my work schedule was real crazy and I was in class with this kid, Chris Mills, and I used to play beats around him. I wasn’t really making beats, I was more so just a fan of people who knew how to make beats. He knew someone who made beats, so he said, “I have this friend, I’m gonna take you to meet him, and you can talk music and whatever.” So one day after class, we’re on campus and we’re walking down to Tucker Dorm on NC State campus, go down this long hallway, and into this dorm room, and it’s Foolery. And Chris was like, “Yo, this is Tom.”
One weekend, we ended up kicking it in his basement of Tom’s house, and he showed me how he was sampling off vinyl. I had never seen anything like it before. It was crazy because he used to make beats on this old, old program, I think it was called Magix or something. And from there, I was just trying to do whatever I could to get into it. So I would go record-shopping with him when he would go, and I didn’t even have a mixer or anything at the time — he let me borrow anything he had. One day when we were riding back he was playing The Listening, and he played “Speed.” I was like, “This is crazy.” He said, “Yeah, all those dudes are from around here.” And that was like the beginning for me before Kooley.
Several months later he said he was starting a hip-hop organization (H2O) with some other people he knew and he said, “Do you want to join?” I said “Sure, why not.” When I went to the first meeting, I didn’t know them at the time, but Charlie Smarts is in there, Tab-One is in there, Rapsody, Digitz. Through that whole time we were making music. And that’s how we got linked up with 9th. One day we finished a mixtape and 9th came through to Foolery’s house, and that day, it’s funny talking about it now, but that day he basically told us what we need to do as a group, gave us some feedback, and then pointed out Rapsody, like way back then, was like, “That’s your star.”
RC: What year is this?
S: It had to be like…. end of college for some and not for others, because some were enrolled earlier. So year-wise that had to be 2006?
RC: So way back then, 9th was at Foolery’s house?
S: Foolery’s house, 9th came through, was listening to stuff. That was still during H2O days. As time went on with H2O, people graduated and moved on and did other things. Charlie and Rap worked together at the time at Footaction, so they were cool. Charlie was also in Inflowential with Tab-One, so there was a connection there. They would come over to Foolery’s house and we would stay up all night. They would stay up all night writing songs, and we started making songs just as the five of us. We didn’t have a name, we just had songs. And I never forget the first song we made as Kooley High was a song called “Marching,” it’s still one of my favorite songs that we made to this day. And we just kept in touch with 9th. Me and Foolery would go to his house around that time, sit there and watch him make beats. He would make beats all day, sit down and make 10, 12 beats like it was nothing, boom boom boom, knock ’em out. He would stop to eat, we’d go out and get food, come back to it and we were just trying to learn and soak up as much as we could. So that was very much the early beginnings of Kooley High.
RC: As far as with the remix album, now you’ve done this album and The Skywalker remixes of David Thompson, and I wanted to ask, when you sit down with a group project to flip it and sort of make it your own project, what challenges come with that?
S: The hardest thing about those situations is that you’re taking a project oftentimes that people already have opinions on. It has a fanbase, they have favorite songs and favorite parts of the albums, so they’re very used to the sonics and what it sounds like, and you’re going to put a different spin on it. You want to do it so that it’s different, but it’s still very good. And so I think the question of, “Is it good, can it stand on its own?” is important. If someone were to hear these songs first and not hear the other ones, do they stand on their own as songs? You just want to give it a vibe that’s different, because there’s no sense in remixing it if it’s gonna feel like it’s the same thing or if it’s gonna feel like it’s more bland. You want people to be in a mood for one, and in a mood for the other one. And people can love both as two separate things even though the source material is the same.
RC: The first time you did this, with The Skywalker, was it something you brought to the group and said, “I want to do this,’ and they said, “Cool, put it out?”
S: Nah, they didn’t know about it. And —
RC: You didn’t ask permission you just presented it to them, like “I’ve done this.”
S: Just like, very much like when David Thompson came out, and I just heard a lot of what the end was, because it was mostly made in New York, it was the reverse of that.
RC: So you didn’t tell them until you had it basically done.
S: Yeah, it was like, “Here it is, guys.”
RC: But you still had to ask right?
S: Nah, just did it. Just put it out. (Laughs)
RC: But with this one, not to say any one person has to ask permission, but you operate as a group, you’re messing with the elements of something that was released as a group. Doesn’t any one person in the group have to come to everyone else and say, “Is it OK with you guys if I put out this flipped version of our work?”
S: I think in some instances some groups work like that. I know for the Heights remixes it was very much like, “I’m doing this.” And at the beginning there was some apprehension because like, again, when you know where the end of something is, the beginning makes sense. So I was already, I knew what it was going to be when it was done. Because I already had that vision in my mind. And explaining that to them, what they didn’t see or didn’t know, was the part we just had to go through. I was like, “This is what I’m going to do, I’ve got it, I’m gonna do them, I’m gonna send them to you, and you’ll know.”
Because like, all those scratch hooks? Digitz did those. So when a lot of (the songs) were done, I presented it to them, and they were like, “Yo, this is great, let us also just add some additional wrinkles to it, because it just feels so different.” Like they wanted to build on what I was already doing.
RC: What do you think has helped you grow or change as a producer and musician, in the last three or four years, especially between The Skywalker and now Heights.Rx?
S: I think the biggest thing is you learn from practice. One of the benefits of being in a producer community, it’s just that competitive element. You know, you may hear beats somebody’s playing, and you’re just like, “Oh that’s what you’re doing? I gotta go back and re-think what I’m doing.” And you just learn by listening, learn by watching and learn by doing. A lot of people saw 9th’s Mass Appeal episode and were like.. “This is crazy.” That’s every day. That wasn’t… it was special because people got to see it. And it’s incredible that he can do it. But that workflow, he’s always, as long as I can remember, has been able to sit down, and just…
RC: I remember when that came out, everybody saying “Did you see the 9th Wonder Rhythm Roulette video?” That got around, I think it was the most popular one in the series.
S: It’s the best one. It’s the best. It’s the best Rhythm Roulette without question. And the funny thing is, if you sat 30 records down in front of him, and you just were watching him, it would be non-stop. And when you’re around that work ethic, and that’s what you’re used to seeing, that becomes the standard. You want to be able to do the same things and learn from that, you’re like this is how it’s done. So it’s very much refining what you already were doing in a different way. It’s a community, man.
RC: When you say community, like, outside of the Kooley crew, who do you consider part of that group?
S: For me it’s just, everybody in the Soul Council. Me and Kash, we went to school together, we’ve been friends ever since NC State. Knowing 9th, and 9th knowing Khrysis. And Eric G, just the whole… you’re around people who are all creative, all the time. It’s good because it’s good to get out and share what you’re doing because if you stay in one spot and you don’t get out there, then where is the bar? How do you know what’s going on? It’s easy to lose touch when you’re doing that. You could just be in the twilight zone and not even know it. Sometimes that’s a good thing, but you also gotta come out the cave.
RC: At this point what does “success” mean for you and Kooley High?
S: I mean if you ask everybody in the group you’re gonna get a different response because they’re gonna come from their personal place. I think on the group’s behalf when you see the growth in the music and the sound. I think when people hear Heights, and they tell you, “I think this is your best project.” Like that’s what you want, because as long as you’re improving, you’re giving people a reason to also keep up and continue be fans, because this is a journey. Most of our fan base comes from a place where we all have went to school and have lived for some part of our lives, so I think the goal of the group is just continue to grow. And the crazy thing about these past few years is just — anything can happen. If you work, you have no idea.
RC: Elaborate on what you mean by these last couple years.
S: I mean it’s just, anything can happen! Even, for example, the fact of 9th Wonder executive producing a Kooley High project, period, that’s an amazing thing. A lot of people don’t get to do that, and that’s no matter how much work you do with 9th or what we’ve done in the past, for him to say, “I’m going to do a Kooley High project,” for me, that’s crazy. It’s still 9th. It’s a great thing, even from that. And just watching Charlie’s growth as an artist, from continually working. All the crazy things that Rapsody’s been doing. It all came from theoretically the same place. Just people had ideas of where they wanted to be and worked on it. If I had told you all these things were gonna happen two years ago, you would of been like, “Really?” I’m just happy for everybody. I’m happy, man.
Heights.Rx is now available on Apple Music, Spotify, iTunes and anywhere else you digitally get your music. No specifics whatsoever about the 9th Wonder x Kooley High album.
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