The Bishop Kelly High football team hosts workouts throughout the summer in its weight room. To keep the Knights’ energy high, a Bluetooth stereo pumps out music above the clatter of grunts and weights crashing.
But one song turns heads. It’s by an up-and-coming hip-hop artist named Roo Nostalgia, who sits a couple of machines down.
The past year has been a boon for Bishop Kelly three-sport athlete Raoul Johnson, who released a music video and performed in March at Treefort Music Fest as Roo Nostalgia, all while earning and signing a full-ride scholarship with the Weber State football program.
“It’s crazy to think that that kid is a high schooler and is creating this music, and also has a full class load and is competing in sports,” Bishop Kelly track coach Jeff Carpenter said. “He’s very talented.”
A BORN STORYTELLER
Johnson, 18, remembers falling in love with writing. He wrote a story in first grade titled “The Queen and the Baby Eskimo,” about a queen who lived in a magical land with her Eskimo children. His teacher stapled the pages together to make it feel like a book, and that finished product ignited a passion for storytelling.
Johnson soon insisted on making his stories rhyme, then crossed the line into autobiographical work. He wrote about what he saw, heard and felt, and treated it like a journal. By the time he hit seventh grade, he put his journal to beats and realized he wanted to become a rapper.
“I was always that kid. I would go to parties and break dance and put on a show for the adults and rap,” Johnson said. “I would always rap for my friends when I was younger. I’ve always been that kid. It fits right now.”
He studied the voice patterns, lyrics and storytelling styles of his favorite rappers, ranging from Kanye West to Drake to Isaiah Rashad to Jay Cole. While others favor the beat or style of hip-hop, Johnson remains focused on the story, writing songs detailing relationships, the music scene and police violence.
“My favorite rappers, they told me a story in all their songs and they helped me get through certain things in my life,” Johnson said. “I want to do that for someone else, help them get through something.”
CREATING ROO NOSTALGIA
“Roo” comes from a childhood nickname, while “Nostalgia” is a feeling he often incorporates in his music.
“I always find myself reflecting on something in the past,” he said. “I think it’s important to stay in the present and focus on that, too. But I’m always like, ‘Wow, that was cool back then. Wow, I wish I could experience that again.’ Most of the things I write about are in the past tense.”
Johnson first started performing at parties and even booked his own senior prom earlier this month. But his first professional gig came in March when he performed at the Spacebar Arcade during Treefort.
After Treefort rejected him in 2016, Johnson spent the past year honing his sound and building his fan base with a merchandise line he designs. He released a video to his song “Dark.”
“After I made a music video, that was kind of the deciding thing,” Johnson said. “They saw I was on more forms of social media, and I think that really helped me too that they saw my fan base here.”
FROM IDEA TO SONG
Johnson pulls ideas from throughout his life, keeping a notebook on his phone handy for whenever inspiration strikes. But time is often short for the football, basketball and track star. So he’ll duck into the bathroom if necessary to get a line down before returning to it later.
“That’s why I take a lot of time to write and release my music. I’m really busy,” Johnson said. “Sometimes when I want to write, I have to sleep. And when I want to write, sometimes I have school and I can’t just pull out my phone.”
Johnson said he has about 200 song ideas in his phone and another 200 on his laptop. Ninety-nine percent are nuggets that never see the light of day. But they all help pull him back in the right state of mind.
Johnson recorded his first three songs as a freshman in a friend’s closet in Nampa. He’s since graduated to A New Level Recording, a studio in Meridian run by Blaine Johnston, who was Alicia Keys’ first studio engineer. The two co-produce a song before Johnson creates his own cover art and uploads it to SoundCloud, where he’s posted 23 songs and has 351 followers.
SPORTS OR MUSIC?
Johnson’s name is all over the Bishop Kelly athletic program.
He was a two-way starter and a first-team, 4A All-Idaho defensive lineman for the Knights’ football team last fall. He started on Bishop Kelly’s basketball team, which took third at state. And he’s the reigning district long jump champion, although an ankle injury from basketball season has slowed him this spring.
A college football career will put new demands on his time, but a record deal remains Johnson’s goal. While slipping into a bathroom stall isn’t his preferred way to write, he said he wouldn’t give up his sports career for his music, or vice versa.
“Right now, I really want to do music. That’s what I love, music,” Johnson said. “But I love football at the same time. I’m not going to push one out of the way.
“So I’m just going to go and give 100 percent to each one of them, and wherever life takes me, that’s where I’m going to go.”