Brooklyn rapper Joey Bada$$ had never heard of the Soul Rebels before he was set to share a bill with them in his hometown. The rapper and the New Orleans brass band partnered for a show in August 2014 at the Brooklyn Bowl. When they played that night, he heard "soul, like genuine soul music straight from that NOLA, that 'Nolia clap," Joey says.
The Soul Rebels returned to the Brooklyn Bowl for three nights in February, alongside hip-hop pioneers Afrika Bambaataa, Black Thought and Rakim.
Joey Bada$$ — aka 20-year-old Jo-Vaughn Virginie Scott, the Bedford-Stuyvesant rapper and co-founder of the 40-something-members-deep Pro Era hip-hop collective — reunites with the Soul Rebels for two shows in New Orleans this week: Oct. 29 at the House of Blues and Oct. 30 at the Voodoo Music + Arts Experience.
"They're a really amazing, unique band," Joey says sleepily over the phone from the back of his tour bus. "When I first met with them at the Brooklyn Bowl, the chemistry was already there. I could tell they were into my music, and when I saw them live the first time I became a big fan of theirs as well. And they're just all-around good guys."
On the rapper's debut album, January's B4.DA.$$, he weaves deft wordplay and coming-of-age tales with goofball boasts ("like Zeus I enlighten 'em / kick flows until it's kung fu fightin' 'em"), buoyed by a golden-age hip-hop feel, all hiss-and-pop sampled loops and record scratches. He also samples the Soul Rebels on "O.C.B." ("only child blues"). He jokes (but not really) that it's his favorite album of the year.
He first performed with a live band when he made his late-night television debut on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon in 2012 (he was 17) alongside storied hip-hop crew The Roots, performing the soulful, low-key funk behind "Waves." He appeared with The Roots again on The Tonight Show earlier this year, performing "Like Me."
"It was great, it was amazing — it brought the music to life," he says.
His shows with Soul Rebels will be a departure from his current "World Domination" tour — no DJs, all live, and, likely, some surprises in the set. "I wouldn't tell you if there was," he says, with a laugh.
At their Brooklyn Bowl set, Joey dedicated "Hardknock" to Michael Brown, who was killed by Missouri police officer Darren Wilson a week before the performance. "One day I'm trying to have a wife and kids so I just can't live my life like this," he rapped as the band blasted a powerful four-note dirge. "And I ain't tryna learn what lifeless is, so I just can't live my life like this."
Joey says he'll likely continue performing with live instrumentation for as long as he's on stage — his most recent release is "Lose Control," a one-off single recorded with English indie rock band Glass Animals, adding an eerie, washed-out palette to a banger beat and Joey's bombastic raps.
"We kind of discovered we were into each other, then one random day in New York we had a studio session, and it came out of nowhere," he says.
"[Live instrumentation] is very important. It's a vital addition to the sound, to the music all around. It definitely makes you feel it."