NAS WITH GUESTS THE SOUL REBELS: FRIDAY, APRIL 28—CONGO SQUARE STAGE, 5:30 P.M.
When New Orleans’ own Soul Rebels aren’t holding it down at their steady Thursday night Le Bon Temps Roulé gig, they’re hard at work traveling both the physical world and the wide ocean of music. They’ve become a brass band version of the Roots: They have a blossoming solo career, and they’re also versatile enough to collaborate with artists as varied as Metallica, Rakim, Talib Kweli and Green Day. At Jazz Fest, they’ll be backing Nas, the legendary poet of the streets, for only the third time.
Nas, who continues to be an innovator, is riding high as an executive producer of Netflix’ The Get Down and has an upcoming BET biopic. “Nas often explores different interpretations of his music in performance settings. Throughout his career, he’s performed with a wide variety of bands, and even a few symphonies,” said his DJ and musical director Green Lantern.
As for the Soul Rebels, they’ve also been steadily at their craft since 1991. “Cyril Neville let us open for the Neville Brothers,” said co-founder and co-leader (with Derrick Moss) Lumar LeBlanc. “He said, ‘You all sound like rebels with soul in this music. Why don’t you be the Soul Rebels?’ We loved that name. It was really freedom music that exemplified the Black Power stance at that time as in Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ and Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing.”
Though they are now regularly fronted by sharp lyricists such as Black Thought, Melle Mel, and Raekwon, LeBlanc and Moss were savvy from the band’s inception. “From day one, we always wanted to be a main college act, so we had vocals. College bands, especially the marching bands we were a part of, had a very military-type structure about it. We brought that to the brass band genre. It wasn’t there before,” revealed LeBlanc.
The band kept building and the profiles of the musicians they worked with started rising. “All of the artists we collaborate with are not for commercial effect,” stressed LeBlanc. “We have to have a poignant vibe together where both are satisfied. We don’t just say, ‘That’s gonna be a good promo or career move.’ It has to work artistically.”
He emphasized, “We really see ourselves as a Metallica in our own right, as stellar artists of that nature. It just so happens that because we’re a band that’s brass, we have to prove to people that this can come off as a marketable mainstream-type commodity.”
That they’ve been constantly working, in particular with a who’s who list of elite rappers, didn’t escape the notice of Nas. In fact, the New Orleanians were stunned to find how they’d been in his ears. “Green Lantern sampled our version of ‘Sweet Dreams’ and had been using it for a while as a lead-in to ‘Street Dreams,’ but we never knew it,” said LeBlanc.
The Nas/Soul Rebels collaboration debuted and thrilled the crowd at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival last June. “The Soul Rebels adding their unique brass flavor to the show is another exciting chapter for Nas,” said Green Lantern. Songs crafted by famed producers including Pete Rock, DJ Premier and Large Professor were transposed by what LeBlanc calls “a Soul Rebels spin with a professional air to it.”
How did the band go about taking jazz, funk and soul samples from stellar musicians including Donald Byrd, the Gap Band and Olu Dara (Nas’ jazz musician father) to make them live and breathe organically? LeBlanc enthused, “We go all the way in—dissect these songs. Most of the time we listen to the original track so that we can hear where it comes from to where it’s going.”
Picture the quintessential New York rapper, arguably the G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time), unveiling a New Orleans brass band playing songs woven with the Big Apple to a crowd on the streets of Brooklyn. It was a gutsy move, LeBlanc agreed. “That was a big step for him. Nas is a straight up 110% professional guy. You’ve got to realize where he’s from. It had to come correct. And I have to say hats off to him and hats off to us.”
The polished merging of a still-vital MC in Nas, DJ Green Lantern on the turntables, and the Soul Rebels’ horn and drum sections promises to electrify the Jazz Fest audience. Expect an Illmatic-heavy greatest hits overview of Nas’ artistically rich career transformed in a way you’ve never heard before—heady and visceral at its best.
The sky’s the limit for the Soul Rebels, but LeBlanc asserts, “We’re here to make a statement to the world with our music, not just to make money and sell records. We’re gonna keep doing what we do. 26-odd years have passed in a blink of an eye. That’s when you know you’re doing something you love.”
The Soul Rebels consist of Lumar LeBlanc on snare drum, Derrick Moss on bass drum, trumpet players Julian Gosin and Marcus Hubbard, trombonists Corey Peyton and Paul Robertson, saxophonist Erion Williams and sousaphonist Manny Perkins.