Rebelution, the third album by the Soul Rebels, is not your father's brass band album. It begins with a snare drum and DJ Maxmillion scratching a man's voice saying, "It's been a long time." He then cuts a guitar figure into the laidback track introducing the band members and scratches under a concluding rap. Unlike some previous attempts to merge brass and hip-hop, it works here and sounds like the band knows rap.
"Winston (Turner), Tannon (Williams), and Marcus (Hubbard), they listen to all the latest hip-hop stuff," bass drummer Derrick Moss says over coffee one afternoon. "They're the younger cats in the band. They'll say, 'That's wack. You're not putting that shit on here.' We monitor ourselves."
Though DJs and rappers appear on almost half of the tracks, hip-hop is hardly the only musical influence. "Feels Like the Rebels" has a reggae lilt, and "Rebel Revolution," a reggae track with Corey Harris on vocals and guitar, "is not a brass band playing a reggae song; that's a real reggae song," Moss says.
"That was our goal. That was the goal. To not sound like a brass band. To sound like any band that you listen to on the radio." To that end, the Soul Rebels and co-producer Bill Summer of Los Hombres Calientes gave Rebelution's tracks a more pop, less street sound. "We wanted a tight, Earth, Wind & Fire sound," Moss says.
The band that was the Young Olympia Brass band until 1993, when Cyril Neville told them they played like "soul rebels," hasn't turned its back on brass band music. Songs like "Let it Roll" and "Shake Something" are the sort of party anthems generally associated with the genre, and live, it's definitely a brass band. For Moss, though, playing the traditional brass style became limiting.
"We started Soul Rebels so we wouldn't have to be the Young Olympia, going to Europe every summer, playing the same old traditional songs over and over and over, every gig, every year. For a young man, that's like slavery," he says, laughing. "We freed ourselves when we started Soul Rebels, and we took a lot of shit from people. 'What're y'all doin'? You're changing the tradition. Y'all are messing up the music.'"
Beyond the creative issues, Moss argues that the "tradition" isn't all it's cracked up to be.
"We had to make a choice years ago. Do we want to be a street band or a stage band? That street work is hard," he says. "You're out in the open instead of in a club where you can have some sort of acoustics. You don't even hear yourself playing. There're a hundred people all around you, jumpin' and bumpin' you. Guys getting their lip bumped. They're hitting my mallet, my arm, and it's three or four hours straight. You play for eight blocks, you stop for one minute, and people complain. 'What are you -- tired?' They're getting a free show and giving orders. They won't back up off you. That's the craziest thing, man. They've got a couple of beers in their hands and I've got a bass drum and cymbal I'm beating non-stop and what am I, tired?"
One change the band initiated when recording its debut album, 1994's Let Your Mind Be Free, was recording the tracks instrument by instrument, a practice it has continued since. "First we would lay down the rhythm," Moss says. "Normally it didn't take us but two or three takes, then they'd go back and lay the horn parts on top of that. We did it like R&B records."
Bill Summers' presence in the studio did bring about some changes.
"One of the first things he said the first day in was, every brass band he's ever heard has somebody playing out of tune at some point in the music," Moss remembers. "His goal was to record the first one, and I think we did it."
More than that, Summers' participation allowed the rhythm section to experiment. Playing a shaker while the band was cutting the basic tracks relieved Moss of sole responsibility for the tempo. "When he did that, he freed me from having to keep the time and that's why my mind was free to explore places I've never been," Moss says. "I hear beats I've never played before."
With Summers' help, "Work it Out" became a full-fledged Latin track. The horn line and basic rhythm already evoked a Latin feel, but according to Moss, "Once he heard it, he said, 'Man, that sounds like some shit I would play.' He was like, 'We're going to take this one all the way.' It's totally Latin, and I love it."
No one really expects a salsa or a track like "Disco Tech" with programmed beats on a brass band album, but that's not the Soul Rebels' concern.
"We want our music to be able to be mixed in with any other music, whether it's Steel Pulse or Ja Rule," Derrick Moss says.
For reviews of recent blues releases by Eric Clapton, J.B. Hutto and Corky Siegel, as well as Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough, click here.