Sideline Spotlight: The Soul Rebels and New Orleans’ Modern Brass Wave

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The eight-person New Orleans brass band, The Soul Rebels, dropped their first studio album in six years titled “Poetry in Motion” in October of 2019. Through boasting studio collaborations with cultural icons such as the Wu-Tang Clan and Talib Kweli, as well as appearances in world-class concerts and their performance on Tiny Desk with GZA, The Soul Rebels have crafted a gripping discography and collection of remarkable accomplishments that any band would be ecstatic to experience. New Orleans and the city’s electric brass music scene are often but not always the focal points of the astounding collective’s sound. Following the release of “Poetry in Motion,” the Sideline Observer was able to organize an interview with trumpet players Marcus Hubbard and Julian Gosin to discuss the band’s history, inspiration, love for NOLA, and their collective progression over the years.

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Talk to me about New Orleans. How does it feel to rep the music of your city across the United States?

MARCUS: Being from New Orleans, we always feel like before leaving any city, we need to make sure they truly know the real 504 was there. We always need to leave our mark and stamp. Knowing that our dear city of New Orleans was almost destroyed forever after hurricane Katrina, we feel the drive to let people know that New Orleans is here, and ain’t going anywhere!  

JULIAN: New Orleans is an amazing city. The culture pours into the streets, and music, dancing, and food are sacred. Although some of our music has a quality connected with New Orleans, we are very much a hybrid type of group. We don’t only produce music associated with the city and New Orleans, our music has a much broader scope, characteristics, and quality as well.  

Tell me about your house bar in NOLA, Le Bon Temps Roule. 

M: Le Bon Temps is our home. It’s our test kitchen. It has been there since the beginning. We’re able to try out new music before we take it on the road. We feel no pressure when we’re at Le Bon Ton. It’s been there with us through our complete musical journey as The Soul Rebels. We are forever grateful for what they have given to us. 

J: Le Bon Temps is what we call the “Thursday Night House Party.” It’s a music venue and bar put into one. The feel is very local, and what some might say “Naturally New Orleans” it’s an overall good vibe that can easily turn into a 4 a.m. Uber ride home.

You’ve clearly made some good friends in Hip/Hop over the years. Tell me about what it’s like to work with veteran greats like GZA, Talib Kweli, and Rakim — and how that differs from work with guys like Joey Bada$$. 

M: It’s always great to finally meet someone you have admired your whole career, and then find out that they are great people too. You can’t ask for anything more than that. The MC legends we work with truly love and appreciate music to the core. I feel that’s why we connect so well. They love where music started, and where it is now. Joey Bada$$ is like a throwback artist to me. He has an appreciation for all music — his openness allows him to work in any space as well.

J: Working with hip hop cats is always a pleasure. They bring a different level of energy to the stage that you may not see on some of their normals sets. When MCs work with us, it sometimes takes them outside of their comfort zone. And that’s a good thing. The great MCs we work with, ranging from Nas, Rakim, GZA, Slick Rick, Black Thought to Talib Kweli, are like jazz musicians. We connect with great artists, we’re blessed to work with the best of the best within hip hop. 

What’s the favorite show you guys have ever played?

M: For me, every show has a special place because every show has something unique, different, and special. It’s great to just be able to play music. 

J: My favorite show was some years ago in Montreal, Canada where we played for over 50,000 people one night. We played in Brazil a few years ago, also, for about 40 to 50,000. Playing for crowds of that size is indescribable. 

Your music often aligns with and serves as an ode to a variety of genres. Talk to me about the “Power = Power” mixtape. 

M:  We’ve always been a band that experiments with putting our own spin on our favorite songs, which is what fans love about us. “Power = Power” was the first record we worked on with the sole purpose of flipping some great tunes of our favorite artists while also throwing some different remixes together. “Power = Power” is more of a hip-hop mixtape style — but reversed. Instead of just rapping on top of somebody else’s track, in some cases we put their vocals on top of our horns and drums. We basically create our own dream collaborations. It was fun and that help lay the foundation for “Poetry in Motion.”

Talk to me about “Unlock Your Mind” and what this project means to the whole group.  

J: “Unlock Your Mind” was basically a new start as the band was transitioning to new members. It was a good project that involved original music from each member of the band.

M: The Soul Rebels’ sound has always been a reflection of the members in the band at a particular time. “Unlock Your Mind” was the first record for this regime. The younger guys helped shape the direction of that record. That also was the first record we collaborated with outside artists on. Before then, everything was done in-house using only the musicians in the band. 

Tell me about the creation of “Poetry in Motion”. As the first project in six years, what were you hoping to achieve with the album? 

M: During our time between “Poetry in Motion” and “Unlock Your Mind,” the band had grown a lot. For a musician, six years is like a lifetime. When it came time to start working on “Poetry in Motion,” we had a lot to draw from. We’ve worked with many artists over the years that have influenced us creatively and personally. Our thought process on writing and creating songs has evolved over the years. Just as technology progresses, artists do as well. Our recording techniques have kicked into another gear. 

J: “Poetry in Motion” was an album we’ve been trying to accomplish for some years now. We wanted to have songs for the people that they could actually sing along and dance to! It was a dope project to create because we had no boundaries in the process.

Talk to me about some of the collaborations on “Poetry in Motion.” Some of the biggest names are Robert Glasper, Big Freedia, PJ Morton… 

J: All of the collaborations were great. Some of them are household names, and some are hungry and talented artists doing their thing. Each collaboration kind of made sense for the songs they were selected to be featured on. Hence, Glasper on a neo-soul vibe, Freedia on a bounce vibe, PJ on a soulful vibe, and Kes on a soca vibe.

Tell me about the track “Down for My City.” How did it feel to assemble such a large group of NOLA personalities? 

M: We wanted to take the “We Are the World” approach with that song. New Orleans is a unique city with many different personalities and gems. Our goal was to put together an anthem-like song honoring our great city — but for the people of New Orleans. We wanted to create a song that really speaks to who we are, featuring local legends of New Orleans — a cast of New Orleans icons that probably would never be able to get together at one time in any other setting. The musicians in New Orleans have a lot of love for each other — it’s always fun to be able to work on a record together.

J: It only made sense to feature some of the New Orleans legends on one song. We always like to pay homage to the city. From being co-produced by Manny Fresh to one of the most famous chefs on the planet, Emeril Lagasse, rapping, this was our way of doing that. 

What was the best part about being a collaborative brass group in this past decade? 

M: It was great to bring what we do to artists that probably didn’t know what a brass ensemble is capable of. We worked with artists ranging from Marilyn Manson, DMX, Bob Weir, Metallica, Maceo Parker to Pretty Lights, Suzanne Vega, and Roy Hargrove. This decade and era showed our potential to transcend genre and style. I feel that we’re breaking down a lot of walls and opening doors. Last year alone, we performed with Katy Perry and opened for The Rolling Stones and the Wu-Tang Clan. 

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All in all, The Soul Rebels are one of the most exciting collectives actively producing music at the moment. While they have garnered popularity and accolades from elite collaborations to Tiny Desk appearances, The Soul Rebels stay committed to their city and the house bar that has continued to cultivate their sound since the beginning. Their latest release, “Poetry in Motion,” brings together all of the elements that make brass music and live hip hop stunning. Check out this stunning eight-person New Orleans band!


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