Rebelution – Soul Rebels
If you're like me, you can't get enough of football in the fall. The competition in both the pro and college game is captivating, but there is one annual college matchup where the game often plays second fiddle to the marching bands. Yes, I'm talking about the Bayou Classic, a yearly clash between Grambling and Southern Universities. Both of these black colleges have a longstanding football rivalry, but while their football programs have faltered in recent years, the marching bands remain at an elite level.
In fact, it could be argued that the Bayou Classic's halftime Battle of the Bands is the only reason this game always makes national television. As each band high-steps on the field, scantily-clad dancers gyrate to music that is largely drawn from today's hip-hop canon. Rapping and marching bands seem like unlikely bedfellows, yet Grambling and Southern make it work. A little over ten years ago, graduates from both schools took their collegiate marching band knowledge and started applying it to New Orleans' brass band culture, pissing off a lot of traditionalists in the process. The result was the Soul Rebels, a New Orleans brass band that shreds tradition and embraces all things new. Their latest album, Rebelution aims to take brass band music into the next century.
The Soul Rebels started this album out on the right foot when they enlisted the help of Los Hombres Calientes' percussionist extraordinaire, Bill Summers. As co-producer of Rebelution and performer on all but three tracks, Summers is able to guide these young lions through many different genres with the aid of several special guests. Utilizing Calculus’ tasteful turntables, "Feels Like the Rebels" serves as a defining R&B anthem, while Skerik’s sax and Josh Roseman’s trombone help to create a fierce Latin party on "Work It Out." "Rebel Revolution" hits a reggae groove, courtesy of Corey Harris’ dub guitar, and "It’s Our Time" drips with ’70s funk. By the end of the disc, any semblance to the traditional brass band sound is completely erased, thanks in part to a stunning collaboration with a gospel choir and Scratch on "Change My Life" and the thick programmed beats of the closing "Disco Tech."
Any time an artist attempts to break new ground, a massive hype machine is usually fueled by hyperbole-spouting critics. The Village Voice has called the Soul Rebels "the missing link between Louis Armstrong and Public Enemy," a statement that is a slight stretch. For all of their attempts to shred genres, the Soul Rebels feel more like a hip-hop and R&B act that has embraced brass band music than a brass band that plays hip-hop and R&B. Moreover, by singing songs that primarily serve as party anthems, Rebelution isn’t exactly ushering in a new lyrical revolution. Regardless, despite a handful of mediocre tracks, the album has plenty of high points, and it succeeds in making hip-hop much more palatable to a traditional New Orleans audience. The Soul Rebels’ goal of creating a new form of music is lofty, and right now, the blend of styles isn’t completely fluid, but in due time, this band will grow and may very well find the unique audience it craves.