Since the late 1990s, the Soul Rebels brass band has forged its own brand of New Orleans music. The eight-piece outfit may look like a traditional brass band, but the sounds emanating from its instruments are far from fixed. In late 2017 the Soul Rebels signature is the collaboration, whether it be with iconic names in rap like Rakim and Prodigy or the metal stylings of Marilyn Manson and Metallica.
Most recently, the group has taken steps towards becoming New Orleans’ most popular touring brass band in hip-hop, albeit through the export of its talent. With international gigs alongside Nas and Talib Kweli, the Soul Rebels continue to represent the Crescent City in ways that push the boundaries of what audiences can expect from a brass band. But the formula isn’t relegated to performances abroad; in December, the crew will perform alongside Kweli again, this time at the Joy Theater with New Orleans rapper Curren$y.
Audiences can expect to hear a mix of covers and original music during any given performance from the Soul Rebels, who routinely perform at Le Bon Temps Roule on Thursday nights while not on the road. What remains consistent in the band’s repertoire is an ability to bridge the familiar with the unexpected.
Trumpet player Julian Gosin credits the group’s singular focus on a particular direction with its ability to rise above the proliferation of brass bands in New Orleans on such a global, crossover level. “We wanted our music on a broader scale, and didn’t want any closed doors,” he says. “We don’t want to be boxed in and don’t want the instrumentation to label us. We can do what any other band at a concert can do.”
All eight current members—Julian Gosin (trumpet); Marcus Hubbard (trumpet); Lumar Leblanc (snare drum); Derrick Moss (bass drum); Manuel Perkins Jr. (sousaphone); Corey Peyton (trombone); Paul Robertson (trombone) and Erion Williams (saxophone)—support a mainstream trajectory, but there is a growing desire to foster a homegrown base they say is lacking.
Hubbard explains that incorporating so much hip-hop in its repertoire has made it somewhat tricky for the band to promote New Orleans rap. Though the formula has worked tremendously with New York rappers, the same can’t be said of local flavor. “It’s working for us a lot in New York and out of town right now,” he says. “But if we were trying to push it and make it happen [in New Orleans], it probably wouldn’t have got off the ground. [Audiences] don’t really look to New Orleans for hip-hop, and we’re trying to open the eyes of the world to let ’em know you got all different kinds of music right here, but there’s only certain kinds of music that get pushed to the forefront.”
“That’s why it’s important to just keep your head down and just keep pushing towards your direction,” says Peyton, who laments the pigeonholing that comes with the territory of being billed as a brass band from New Orleans, rather than a band capable of much more. Commenting on the frequency with which audiences outside of New Orleans bring preconceived notions to a performance from the Soul Rebels, Peyton places emphasis on the group’s desire to “just keep expanding” beyond the traditional jazz they may be expecting.
Hubbard echoes the sentiment. “There’s bands that’s doing that. All we’re asking is for the opportunity for us to be us. Lately, people have been really receptive to it. But still, some of the places we go now, soon as they see the Soul Rebels from New Orleans [on the marquee], they take out the handkerchiefs and umbrellas.”
“I don’t know why masses of people expect us to sound just like the other brass band who was here last week and the one before that and the one before that,” says Moss. “They expect us all to do the same shit. That would just be a clone. We not trying to be a clone. We trying to step out of the box and not just play 100-year-old songs.”
“You gotta connect with the youngsters, ’cause that’s the future,” says Hubbard. “You might hear brass bands do a hip-hop format on a second line beat, but our drummers actually play hip-hop beats.” With two decades of history behind it, the Soul Rebels brass band has the benefit of generational influence imbued in its roster, with members representing a cross-section of hip-hop generations. As such, it only makes sense that the band will embrace the sounds of current rap (including trap) as much as the sounds of progenital eras.
“Will the band do trap covers?” we ask.
“I don’t even know who that is,” responds Moss, inciting a wave of laughter from the other members.
“You’re fired,” jokes Gosin.