The Soul Rebels’ résumé is stacked — and that’s putting it lightly. The eight-piece New Orleans brass ensemble has collaborated with a laundry list of notable Hip Hop artists — from Nas and Wu-Tang Clan to DMX and The Roots’ Black Thought.
Comprised of founders Lumar LeBlanc and Derrick Moss, trumpet players Julian Gosin and Marcus Hubbard, trombonists Corey Peyton and Paul Robertson, saxophonist Erion Williams and sousaphonist Manuel Perkins Jr., the colorful collective has been pumping out albums since 1995’s Let Your Mind Be Free.
Their latest, Poetry In Motion, arrived last month and is bursting at the seams with their signature gumbo of Hip Hop, soul, jazz, funk, rock and pop. It also boasts appearances from the Grammy Award-nominated Tarriona “Tank” Ball of Tank and The Bangas, Robert Glasper, Matisyahu, PJ Morton and Trombone Shorty, among others.
In a recent interview with HipHopDX, Lumar, Julian, Corey and Erion chopped it up about the new album, working with the late Mobb Deep MC Prodigy and their immense love of Hip Hop.
HipHopDX: I feel like naming songs or albums has to be the hardest thing. How did you land on Poetry In Motion?
Lumar: Yes, we went through great lengths to come up with a title for the album. We wanted a title for the CD that was fly, sleek and captivating all in one. This CD was so intense and creativity engaging, that naming it was just as demanding as making it. Our mental processes in naming this CD required capsuling all of the elements of creativity and imagination that each soul put into this record.
A lot of great talent came together, with spontaneity and flow being paramount on this record. When you think of the title, you should feel that this takes you on a continuous musical journey that makes you feel awesome, makes you feel enthusiasm anticipating what the next track will be. Each song builds on the other creating a type of dramatic Poetry In Motion that makes sense of it all. In true Soul Rebels form, the CD title and the different naming of songs were well thought out and planned together.
Julian: Talking with Robert Glasper on the song idea for “Blush,” it was the initial concept for the song and it just stuck.
Erion: When we had the songs in hand, we thought that would be the best title to express how this album sounded to us and hope that it sounds like poetry in motion to the masses.
HipHopDX: When did you first get into music and, more specifically, Hip Hop?
Lumar: I was into music from as early an age as I could remember. In New Orleans, particularly in the Lafitte Housing Projects, music was all around me in the Treme. In kindergarten, I performed at our graduation play. My performance was on drums, and I remember it vividly, something stuck inside of me with that experience, so at 5 years old I began my journey in music.
Hip Hop began much later in my life. Fortunately, I was there when Hip Hop first hit the scene as we know it. In the 70s, I felt like the turntables, the rapping and the DJ made me feel empowered, it seemed to resonate naturally with my street element I was engulfed in in these New Orleans streets. You see, our street music was parades and second lines, but it was raw like early Hip Hop and had an intense persona provided by bass and drums or should I say tuba (sousaphone) and drums.
Corey: Around the age 10 or 11.
Julian: I started listening to Hip Hop in the early 90s. I remember citing Coolio’s “Gangsters Paradise” as a little kid.
Erion: I remember listening to my brother’s Eric B. and Rakim albums back in the day [laughs]. So probably at about 8 or 9 years old. And now we work with Rakim all the time.
HipHopDX: The list of people you’ve collaborated with is nothing short of staggering. Why do you think artists are so drawn to working with you?
Lumar: I feel like artists love to work with us because we are original and different, and our music sounds and feels good. We bring the music to life. The collaboration element of our game has many facets, one must be highly skilled in order to execute it to perfection, and you have to study the artist you are collaborating with. Timing, sound, style and vibe must all be locked in at all times in order to make both parties feel comfortable and spontaneous.
As Soul Rebels, we accomplish this routinely. We’ve worked with a lot of Hip Hop artists ranging from Nas, GZA, DMX, Talib Kweli, GZA, Black Thought and Melle Mel to Rakim, Slick Rick, Pete Rock, Styles P, Bun B and the young guns Joey Bada$$ and Curren$y. All of the artists we work have deep soul, emotion, style and are extraordinary artists and poets. We like to think we connect with the greats because we share a quality of artistry and openness, and love for music and art. Hip Hop is a fine art.
Corey: The authenticity of the sound is like no other. Also, it’s a opportunity for both sides to create something special.
Julian: We are musicians and we are Hip Hop artists at its most organic form. Hip Hop is a lifestyle. It’s our lifestyle. Also, we love Hip Hop and we’re students of the music, the culture and the style. It’s in our DNA. Artists connect with artists.
Erion: I think it’s something different to them. The movement of live instrumentation with Hip Hop has been sweeping since the MTV Unplugged days with JAY-Z, The Roots, etc. It’s one thing to have a DJ but, from what we hear, to see your music reproduced with live instrumentation is astonishing to most artists and they’ve gravitated to it over the years to give that unique sound.
We’re a group very much rooted in funk and jazz and so is Hip Hop music. When we perform with the great MCs we work with, we breathe life into the music. We bring the music to life and the great MCs we work with. Nas, Rakim, DMX, GZA and Talib Kweli all love that about our collaborations.
HipHopDX: One of those collaborations was with the late Prodigy. What was it like working with him and how did you feel learning he had passed?
Lumar: We lost a great soul when we lost Prodigy. Besides being the dopest of MCs, he was cool as ever. Prodigy grew up around jazz, blues, dance and the arts. His family were musicians and artists, and he had a love and appreciation for jazz. We vibed with Prodigy right from the very first time we worked together. Literally within the first minute, we were all hooked on working together. The relationship with Prodigy lasted for years, and he even brought Havoc into the equation. Right before Prodigy passed away, we brought out Mobb Deep at our show in Brooklyn.
Prodigy was so gifted musically and that transcended perfectly with the band. One intense session was a practice we had at Red Bull studios in Manhattan. I remember him saying, “Man, let’s try this.” It was “Keep it Thoro.” It was amazing! I mean, his flow and feel was amazing. In that session, I had time to absorb why he’s so great. He naturally fits in to the musical piece and becomes one with the band. Blessings to you Prodigy. We miss him a lot.
Corey: It was like losing a good friend, a legend in the Hip Hop world. He was always easy to work with.
Julian: He was an absolute pleasure and professional. That professional relationship definitely turned into a personal one, and he’ll be greatly missed.
Erion: Man, it was a tough blow to lose him. Playing on stage with him and the energy he brought was one of a kind and we miss him to this day.
HipHopDX: In “Blow The Horns,” part of the lyrics go, “Everything we go/we working hard for…right now, we’re making history.” What makes you wake up every day and give this your all?
Lumar: The journey and the daily grind. I can’t turn my mind off sometimes from the whole entity Soul Rebels. The music, style, flavor, concepts keep growing and growing every time I wake up. This CD was no exception. The music penetrates your whole life.
The thought process is crucial always from the beginning we keep pushing. The only answer I can see is a love and passion for music and the brothers I perform it with that keeps me going more and more this whole journey is spiritual for me. I was born to do this.
Corey: Knowing your why and continuing to strive for greatness, knowing you get out what you put in.
Julian: When you’ve spent your entire life dedicated to your craft you can’t have it any other way than waking up every morning trying to make it better than it was the day before. It’s all or nothing!
Erion: It’s worth it. You see the impact you’re having, especially being a brass band from New Orleans. We’re trying to stretch the boundaries of what people think our music is supposed to be. Any impact that we can have on people is motivation enough.
HipHopDX: What’s your favorite collaboration and why?
Lumar: Wow. My favorite collaboration and why? Hmm, that’s a tough one. I would have to say all of them are special. I put my heart and soul into each person I collaborate with so they all have a special energy that brings something different out in me. That’s what fuels my spirit.
Corey: My favorite would be Curren$y. Being from New Orleans is the first reason, and I feel like the melodies and vibes of his music just works for us as collaborators.
Julian: Nas for sure. He’s my favorite MC. I remember walking to school with Nas in my CD player.
Erion: Nas for sure because he is a legend. He’s easy to work with and it was just a super fun time.
HipHopDX: What makes music magic?
Lumar: Music is life and life is power. Music breathes a certain energy into the universe for all to be part of. I’m just fortunate to be one of its disciples who brings it to the world. I feel blessed everyday day that music found me and took me in, letting me live with it and keep creating it for the world to experience.That’s magic to me.
Corey: It’s a feeling. It says what can’t be said and it makes you feel what can’t be explained sometimes. It’s a healer. It’s the perfect prescription.
Julian: Everyone can make music that’s the magic of it. It’s everyday life you do it without even knowing.
Erion: Energy. The magic happens when everyone is in sync and the vibe is right. It translates in an album or in a love setting.
HipHopDX: What do you have cooking next?
Lumar: Well, for sure we have our constant touring schedule that keeps us razor sharp. We are moving into some more marketing and publicity endeavors with The Soul Rebels and personally, I’m engaging in some fashion and sneaker culture opportunities. I’m personally looking forward to branching out with my ideas on sneaker fashion/lifestyle. I have a show on Sunday nights at midnight on 90.1 KPFT Houston called “The Taste” and I do a sneaker and fashion segment. I hope it keeps growing and flowing.
Corey: More touring, more music and more collaborating with the dopest, biggest MCs of all time and alive.
Julian: Big album release in New Orleans, some heavy touring coming and some really big shows ahead. Stay tuned!