New Orleans' 'Brass-Hop' Sound

Charleston City Paper | September 20, 2005
In the wake of the success of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and other New Orleans groups who revitalized the brass band tradition, a new hybrid of highly rhythmic funk music has evolved out of the scene — a mix of styles that straddles several generations.

Like the traditional New Orleans R&B style, several modern brass bands maintain a decidedly good-time feel and groove over a percussion and brass foundation while venturing out from tradition and into new musical areas. Vocal melodies intertwine with horn melodies. Complex rhythms combine to create a deceptively simple groove and sway. The intensity of the beats and horn lines create a familiar Dixieland “party atmosphere” while veering with some heavy, new grooves.

Rising out of this fertile New Orleans scene are the young musicians in funky brass band The Soul Rebels, who draw from their musical heritage and deliver a hearty mix of traditional funk, reggae, and jazz, heavily flavored with various hip-hop styles. The band regularly refers to their sound as a “soul sonic stew” and a “wicked gumbo.”

The Rebels’ rock-solid back row features bass drummer and vocalist Derrick “Oops” Moss, snare drummer and vocalist Lumar LeBlanc, and tuba player Damion Francois. The front row consists of trumpet players Tannon J. Williams and Marcus Hubbard, trombonist Winston Turner, and saxophonist William Terry. The ensemble released their third album, Rebelution, in February on Barn Burner Music.

“Every day was different in the studio,” says Moss. “We didn’t have any set way of going about it. Some songs weren’t on there originally, but we let it flow like jazz and went through different tunes as we went along through the process of recording. We had about three or four tracks on there that were kind of formulated during the session — and they turned out to be some of the better tunes on the album.”

Anchored by their tight rhythm section, the songs pull from some vintage hip-hop albums by the likes of Run DMC, Fat Boys, and Grandmaster Flash, as well as a few ’70s hardcore funk acts. Most of the band spent time in a brass outfit called Young Olympia in the early ’90s, where they first started mixing elements of rap, funk, reggae, and rock in with their jazzier improvisations. In 1993, they shared the stage with hometown heroes the Neville Brothers and caught the drummer’s ear.

“Cyril Neville saw us,” remembers Moss, “and he said, ‘Hey, you’re a brass band, but y’all got funk and soul. Y’all are like ‘soul rebels’. We knew right then that was our name.”

Moss, 39, has been playing drums for as long as he can remember. He was a drum major at Southern University and a major player in the brass band scene ever since. He always felt like he related more with the drummers in bands than any other players.

“I’ve actually been drumming all my life,” says Moss. “I was beating on pots and pans before I could walk. We all came up through the marching band system in New Orleans, which was kind of a big deal. I’ve been like that all my life. I lock in on beats and rhythms more than with lyrics. Since I’m older now, I listen to more lyrics. But growing up, I was all about the drums and kickin’ the funk.”

Moss believes to truly experience their “rebel music,” one must witness the band in action up close as they stretch out on certain tunes, play off of each other, and interact with their crowds.

“I used to think that we were doing something wrong when I’d look at some of the faces in the audience,” says Moss. “But I’ve talked to enough of them after shows to know better. And we feed off the audience too. The more you move, the more we give you.”

“We bring authenticity,” adds LeBlanc. “We’re real people … real horns playing real hip-hop, rap, classical, country & western, Gregorian chants ... you name it: there’s nothing we can’t do. That’s why people have called us the missing link between Louis Armstrong and Public Enemy.” ��

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