The Soul Rebels have incorporated hip-hop in their brass band sound since the band was founded 25 years ago. It's now collaborating with hip-hop stars. In mid-April, the band traveled to the Byron Bay Bluesfest in Austalia to perform with Nas, adding a funky horn section to hits such as "Hate Me Now."
Local audiences get a chance to see Nas and The Soul Rebels reunite on the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival's Congo Square Stage at 5:30 p.m. Friday. The Soul Rebels join Talib Kweli for a European tour this summer.
"Hip-hop is rooted in soul, funk and jazz," says Lumar LeBlanc, percussionist and a founding member of The Soul Rebels. "We try to bring hip-hop music to life with our instrumentation, sound and collaborations."
The Soul Rebels have always been willing and capable collaborators, and in recent years, such arrangements have become a major focus. In a series of shows at New York City's Brooklyn Bowl in March, the band performed with guests including Rakim, Consequence, Raekwon of Wu-Tang Clan and Jarobi of A Tribe Called Quest. In recent years, it also has performed with Joey Bada$$, Mobb Deep, Pharoahe Monch and Macklemore.
"We love bringing a reimagined sound, fresh look and excitement to the music in collaboration with artists," LeBlanc says. "We just like to have fun and play great music with our friends and musical heroes."
It also has embarked on stylistic departures, performing with Metallica and Marilyn Manson (the band says it is in discussions with Manson about more live shows and a recording project).
The collaboration with Nas, which began with a show at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival last summer, had more personal appeal.
"The personal connection with Nas is what means the most to me," says trumpeter Julian Gosin. "His music helped me get through grade school."
LeBlanc and Gosin say these collaborations require a different approach for the band. "It's about connecting with the artist we're collaborating with onstage — and the process of collaboration is really about trust and mutual love of the music," Gosin says. Sometimes a connection must be developed in just a few rehearsals.
"We played and rehearsed in [New York City] last year, but (performing in Australia) was so special," LeBlanc says. "We talked music and its impact on life, and he's very inspirational for me and for The Soul Rebels."
LeBlanc and Gosin point to Nas' sound and lyrical message ("the funk and depth") as what drew the band to work with him. They say the band's emphatic horns complement the rapper's complex thoughts, and the band's penchant for a tight groove pocket enhances his music's funk.
"As a band, we've truly transitioned into integrating different musical styles and experiences, pushing the limits of brass music and popular music," Gosin says. "Our main effort has been to take our sound, (our) look and musical contribution to the mainstream. We're the foremost brass ensemble within contemporary music today; our band has the soul factor, which transcends genre."
"Our mission and main focus is to always stretch and present our own music and sound," LeBlanc says. "The Soul Rebels' musical journey continues to grow. Our music is very much inspired by the great musical friends and collaborators around us, but the main focus will always be to present our own creativity and songs."