Thoughts of Raleigh: Talking to the duo behind Sincerely, Tab
Posted on 07 May 2016
After a years-long hiatus, North Carolina rap collective Kooley High emerged from the shadows in 2015 to hit us with Heights, a diverse EP of tracks that showed the group’s range to be wider than ever, from the cocksure antics of “Suave,” to possibly Kooley’s most heartfelt work yet, “Carry On.”
Less than a year later, we now have Sincerely, Tab, the long-awaited collaboration album from Kooley rapper Tab-One and producer Sinopsis. I talked to the album’s creators separately about what went into the album, why now, and what comes next.
RC: This is a project that has been in the works for a long time, like at least a couple years, right? When did it actually begin to take shape, and what were the main things that drew it out?
Tab: I was in BK around 2011. I don’t know if I ended up with beats from Sinopsis that maybe he had given us for David Thompson, or if I had just asked him to send me some. I just remember, like, “M.O.B.” for example. I remember having that in my headphones and writing to it in the subway, had to be around 2011. And then when me and Sinop started talking about a project, I knew I wanted to call it Sincerely, Tab. I just liked how it played off both of our names.
If you go back even further when we were in H2O at NC State, me and Sinop had always talked about doing a project together. For whatever reason, it just never happened. So we finally started, and he was sending me some beats and stuff while I was in BK. We had planned on putting it out around like 2013. There’s an image back then from Kooley High on Twitter that actually says “Sincerely, Tab coming 2013” (laughs). I think it got put on hold because Kooley stuff took precedent. Anything that came with the group we wanted to push more, just because it’s more mutually beneficial for everyone, and for the most part still is. I think in the long run it was better that we waited. If we put out in 2013 I don’t think it would be nearly as good as it turned out to be.
How long were you in Brooklyn?
I think I moved there in June of 2010, and then I think I moved back to Raleigh in like, September of 2011.
Did you go there to pursue a music career?
Yeah, Kooley had moved up there to pursue music. That’s how we got our connection with Fat Beats, did some shows, met some people, but I was doing a long-distance thing with my (now) wife, and that was hard. And just being up there in general was kinda hard. More power to the people who wanna stay up there, but I came to the point where I was like I don’t really see the point in being up here, barely paying bills and buying food, when I could go home to North Carolina and be with my friends and family.
What were you doing by day? On “Thoughts of BK,” you talk about a “PA gig” and “cleaning up weed from a shoot with Khalifa.”
I was a production assistant for part of the time, that was probably the best job I had up there. I had a little walkie talkie, and mostly what I’d do was pick up a van at like 4 in the morning in Manhattan, then pick up the stylist from whatever hotel they’re staying at and drive them out to wherever we’re doing the shoot. We did shoots for Hilfiger, some actresses, but yeah one of the shoots was for Wiz Khalifa. I had to go get this ridiculous rider of sour cream and cheddar Ruffles and crazy shit he wanted, a bunch of white t-shirts. But at the end of the day, they left weed crumbs all over the table and I had to clean it up, so I scooped it up and took it home. And later that night Kooley High enjoyed the fruits of my labor.
So much of the album feels even more reminiscent of 90’s albums like Like Water For Chocolate than much of the Kooley catalog, which skews more towards a party vibe. To what degree did you and Sinop have a conscious conversation about making something more subdued and introspective?
I think it’s just the nature of me when I’m left to my own devices — I tend to be more introspective. It’s been my style, always has been. With Kooley, Charlie is so talented with coming up with ideas and hooks for songs, I mean honestly a lot of times his mind kinda steers the direction of certain projects, and I hop on board and help out, and occasionally, I might come up with a hook. I feel like hooks personally were never my strong suit, I just like writing. I’ve always tried to work on it, and as long as I’ve been doing this, I feel like I’m just now getting comfortable with that. Charlie’s just fucking amazing how good he is with that shit. I think the next Kooley album you’ll probably see a difference. We’re all maturing and getting older as we write. I think even if you listen to The Tabloids, my old shit, that’s where I come from, introspective. It wasn’t anything thought-through.
I love the change up on “Back On Up,” particularly the second half. How did that come together?
He (Sinopsis) played it for me, and when it just changed halfway through I was like “Hell yeah — that’s the type of shit I want this to do.” Sinop is a funny guy. He’ll add something on his own and I’ll ask, “Where did that come from? Who the hell played that?” On that bassline I find out it was this dude (George) Pettus that he met at Brightlady (9th Wonder’s studio). Or on “M.O.B.,” I guess (King) Mez was over at Sinop’s one day, and he played it for him and Mez just put a verse on it.
“M.O.B.” both sonically and lyrically is one of the strongest total songs on the project, I think. That beat is crazy. And Mez recorded his verse without you knowing?
Sinop had played me that beat obviously a long time ago. I liked it at the time, and even now, even in an album, that beat stands out. Sinop is always getting better and better in my opinion, and is always making new beats. I love when I hear him play something unexpected from him, and I think that was one of those beats that was like, “Oh shit! Didn’t know you had that in the stash”! So yeah I gravitated towards it, I feel like he had played it for Act Proof or someone in JAMLA and no one had picked it up, and when I heard it I was like, “I want that.”
Even Mez jumping on it, all I know is he was there at some point when I wasn’t there and laid it down.
Did you talk to Mez about it before you dropped the album?
I was kinda worried about where he is right now, so I didn’t say anything, because I would rather ask for forgiveness than for permission. He hasn’t said anything so I assume he’s cool with it.
Mez is the type of artist inclined to usually not like his old stuff, for sure.
A lot of people are like that. A lot of artists are perfectionists. I don’t see myself as that type of artist. I feel like I know in my head if something is wack, and I won’t put it out if it’s wack. I’m not a perfectionist by any means — I’m down to put shit out and see if people like it.
Through the success of Kooley, you and Sinopsis are in a minority of hip-hop artists in the Triangle with any sort of connection to a physical distributor like Fat Beats in New York, which you mention on “Thoughts of BK.” Is there more to that story? You said: “Hit up Fat Beats, see if they want to run our tracks like some athletes/They were down, but them bed bugs creepin’, call my lady, tell her that I’ll be home by the weekend.”
So it’s kinda like summing up my whole experience in Brooklyn in three short verses, you know? So it’s not all linear, maybe, but it’s talking about how we made David Thompson when we were up there, so we met with Fat Beats. They loved it, they had already re-distributed Eastern Standard Time on CD, and they agreed to put out David Thompson, just digitally. They were down, they did EST, David Thompson, and now Heights, so we still have a relationship.
The bed bugs was a true story too. The 2-bedroom we had four dudes in ended up having bed bugs so we were packing all our clothes into garbage bags, taking them down to the laundromat, waiting for them to try, put them back in the garbage bag, duct tape them. Last couple weeks I was there I was sleeping on an air mattress with no blankets and a towel for a pillow.
So that situation was the catalyst for leaving?
It was the final straw definitely. I wanted to be home with my girlfriend, back in North Carolina and with my family. New York was cool and I think I could have stayed up there but I didn’t see the point for me personally. I love it down here. I don’t see why we can’t do what we do from NC and travel elsewhere.
Speaking of family, “Sugar” sounds so much to me like the classic MURS style of love song that I feel like he has a million of, Common too, and they all sound great. Are those at all an inspiration for the song, by chance?
It’s funny you mention Common because yeah, Mos Def, even Black Thought on like “You Got Me,” from Things Fall Apart, stuff like that I always loved. I like hip-hop love songs that aren’t like, I don’t know… don’t come off cheesy, just feel honest. And pure. So I wanted to do something like that. And I wanted to do a love song that was more uptempo, and not like a cliché downtempo kinda vibe. Something different.
Is the 9th Wonder-executive produced Kooley High album ever going to come out? There’s definitely an interesting dynamic going on when you’re partially relying on him, and ostensibly his most time-consuming project right now is the solo career of someone who used to be in your group, and now isn’t, in Rapsody.
I don’t think there’s anything weird. I think if there’s anything that has put delays on it, it’s us. The relationship is cool, everything with us and Rap is very cool and I’m not saying that just to say that. We all still talk to Rap regularly. I think it just got to the point where it was like… we saw that coming. It’s almost like a sigh of relief because everyone was thinking it: “You should be doing your own thing with 9th. You deserve to do it, you worked your ass off.”
I mean we all started off as friends and we all want to stay that way. If you can’t be happy for your friends’ success what does that say about you? That’s fucking awesome. We’re all super supportive of Rap, and actually the album was her idea. She hit us up and was like would you want 9th to executive produce the album?
I imagine the executive production by 9th is helpful both from the standpoint of the music and the marketing — is that something you discussed as a group?
His involvement has definitely helped us piece together a really good album, and getting input from somebody who’s been doing this for so long and worked on so many classic albums. Obviously, since his name is attached to it, it’ll get us in some lanes that we’ve never been in, which would be a huge plus, but you can’t expect anything. I guess if I’m being honest I would hope so, but I’m not going to expect it by any means.