Track By Track: The Soul Rebels, ‘Poetry in Motion’

Dean Budnick on December 20, 2019
Track By Track: The Soul Rebels, ‘Poetry in Motion’

“This record has been a long time in the making,” trumpet player Marcus Hubbard explains, while describing the genesis of The Soul Rebels’ guest-laden new album, Poetry in Motion. “We started discussing what angle we want to come from on our new record in 2013-2014. We’re always trying to figure out ways to push the envelope even further than what we’ve done on the last one. Another thing is that—when we’re in the studio—we’re always learning different methods of recording and different ways to make our sound different. We spent a long time trying to figure out how to bring all those different pieces together, between the collaborations and how the record sounds, sonically—especially with our instrumentation.”

His fellow trumpeter Julian Gosin adds, “We also wanted to make some songs with some really memorable hooks that people can sing along to. If you ask someone, ‘What’s your favorite instrumental song?’ a lot of times they would have trouble answering that question. But when you ask them their favorite song, right off the top of their head, they can name 10 songs that they can sing. So we just wanted to have some songs that people can relate to and sing along with. Particularly during Mardi Gras season, people like us to play New Orleans music, which is cool, but we want to known for more than just that.”

Poetry in Motion, The Soul Rebels’ first album for their new imprint, Rebelution Music Group, is the follow-up to 2011’s Unlock Your Mind. Over the intervening period, the eight-man outfit performed over 250 dates per year, making them festival favorites and solidifying their reputation as one of New Orleans’ finest brass exports. They’ve also worked with an impressive list of artists across several genres, including Katy Perry, Metallica, Nas, G-Eazy, Portugal. The Man, Robert Glasper, Pretty Lights, DMX and Joey Bada$$.

“We have been collaborating with tons of guests for the past six or seven years, and some are pretty prominent in the music industry,” Gosin adds. “We just wanted to take that approach, show people what we’ve been doing and actually put it on wax.”

Blow the Horns
(feat. Passport P, Julian Gosin & Sean Carey)

Julian Gosin: “Blow the Horns” is basically a testament to who we are. We’re a horn band and it’s our statement out of the gate. We’re letting everyone know that the horns are here, the horns are taking over. Normally, when you see a huge touring act, the horn players are in the background and they’re just playing horn parts. But in our band, the horn players are the act. We don’t just play horns; we sing, we rap, we entertain the crowd. So “Blow the Horns” is the opening statement, letting everyone know that the horn players are in the forefront: “The horns are here; we’re present.”

(feat. Dee-1, Alfred Banks, Julian Gosin & Sean Carey)

Marcus Hubbard: Growing up in New Orleans, you run into all kinds of obstacles and stuff. You also have doubters. We’ve always believed that if we can make it through any of that stuff— from a musical standpoint and from growing up in the city— then we can get over anything. This song speaks to that and says, “No matter how much you all doubt us, we are still becoming greater.”

Down for My City
(feat. Emeril Lagasse, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffins, Mia X, DJ Jubilee, Cheeky Blakk, Tonya BoydCannon, New Orleans Citywide Youth Choir, Jaelyn Langston, Wild Wayne & Kango Slim)

MH: We wanted to put a record together where we could grab everybody from the city and everybody could speak about what makes our city unique. We figured the best way to do that was by bringing in a lot of MCs and singers from New Orleans. Then we said, “Man, we’re always talking about food, so why not bring one of the top chefs.” We’re demonstrating that all of the New Orleans musicians are together. It’s basically a unity record.

When you’re in New Orleans, certain things are forced on you. If you don’t like music and food in New Orleans, then you’re going to struggle. You’re constantly passing great music and you’re constantly seeing great food. If you decide that you want to alienate yourself from any of that, then you’d do better just living in the woods somewhere away from everybody because you can’t get away from it in New Orleans.

Slide Back
(feat. PJ Morton & Julian Gosin)

MH: This is a tune that we cowrote with Sean Carey. He’s been a great friend of mine for a long time; we’ve written music together and collaborated quite a bit. What happened with “Slide Back” was we needed an R&B-type tune that speaks to the ladies. So we worked up an idea that we thought would fit PJ Morton really well—both his voice and his keyboard playing. Sean wrote the chorus and then PJ wrote the verses.

Good Time
(feat. Big Freedia, Denisia & Passport P)

JG: This is another one that pays homage to the city. It’s got two local bounce artists and it’s co-produced by one of the bigger bounce producers. It’s a song for a summer cookout. And, if you’re in a bad mood, you can just put it on and it’ll definitely turn things around.

We try to take advantage of what’s locally, traditionally and naturally New Orleans, and bounce music is naturally New Orleans, so it only made sense to incorporate Big Freedia and Denisia on that track.

Bounce music has been going on since the late-‘80s, early-‘90s but there’s finally awareness on a national scale. That says a lot about the city and the people. We make music for us—and we make feel-good music—so we never worry about the masses. We’ve just been making good music and it finally caught on.

Rebellious Destroyer
(feat. Branford Marsalis & Brandee Younger)

JG: I’m a super YouTuber, like I’m one of those people that could be on YouTube until 4:30 a.m. I had an idea that it’d be cool if we incorporated a harp player on the record, thinking way outside of the box because a harp player on a New Orleans band record is not the most common thing you would hear. I started researching and I ran across this young lady by the name of Brandee Younger on YouTube. I brought it to the band and I was like, “Yo, can you check this out? It’s totally different and we can arrange it to how it would fit us.” And it just so happened that our manager knew who she was and had been working with her. I was like, “Damn, that’s a coincidence.”

MH: Nobody has ever put a harp on a brass band record. We’re trying to be innovative and open our minds up. You can put all sorts of instruments together, you just gotta figure out how to make them mesh. This song was perfect for that. [In terms of ] working with Branford Marsalis, we’ve all looked up to him for years. We’ve been trying to get him to record with us, so it was a blessing to get him on that one, too.

It’s Up to You
(feat. Kes, Kayla Jasmine & Julian Gosin)

JG: “It’s Up to You” was inspired by a good friend of mine who was really into soca music, Trinidad carnival music, and that scene. I wasn’t too well-versed in it, but I had been listening to it around her. Some of it reminded me of New Orleans: super upbeat, super festive, very dance-worthy. She mentioned this guy by the name of Kees [Dieffenthaller, co-founder of Kes]; I was unfamiliar with him at the time. After I checked out his music, I was like, “Wow, this guy is really popular in the soca world.” She was like, “Yeah, he’s kind of a superstar of soca music.”

I had an idea for a soca tune, and I was able to get in contact with him. We talked on the phone for about 30 minutes and he gave me a brief history of it. And when we talked about the original concept of the song, he was like, “No, you don’t want to do that because on the Island that phrase has been used so much and people will find it kind of cheesy.” I was like, “Cool, definitely give me all of the constructive criticism because I am not the most well-versed person in that style of music. I just know what it sounds like.”

Then I was like, “Would you be willing to add something to it?” and he was like, “Yeah, man.” He came up with the hook on it. It sounded bangin’. His voice gives it that authentic soca feel with a New Orleans take on it. It’s not 100% soca, but it’s soca mixed with New Orleans.

Sabor Latino
(feat. Trombone Shorty)

JG: “Sabor Latino” was influenced, believe it or not, by the Netflix series Narcos. I’m a superfan of that show, and I was like, “We need a Latin tune.” After I made the tune, my manager came into the studio and was like, “Guys, we need a Latin tune,” and I was like, “Already got one!” We worked on that one and the idea just came to me. The Narcos thing definitely inspired it, watching that show every night.

I thought it would be super dope to get Trombone Shorty on it. He is one of my best friends, so I was like, “Troy, I need you to get on this track,” and he said, “No problem.”

Count Your Blessings
(feat. Matisyahu & Julian Gosin)

MH: This one was from a conversation Julian and I were having. We were talking about all the things that’ve been happening to us in our career, how blessed we are. We feel like sometimes we weren’t appreciating a lot of the stuff. Maybe what we want to do is not happening at a particular time, but we gotta sit back and just appreciate what’s happening right now. We need to live in the moment, without worrying too much about what happened in the past or what we’re hoping will happen in the future. We just basically need to appreciate what’s going on right now.

Real Life
(feat. Passport P, Julian Gosin & Sean Carey)

MH: This is another tune I wrote with Sean Carey. It’s about real-life things that someone might be going through. With a lot of our songs, we are trying to speak to that. It’s basically about having dreams and focusing on making those dreams a reality. You’re always going to have what we call “dream killers.” When you’re pushing toward your dream, they’re telling you that your dream is not possible. If it’s your dream, it’s possible for you to do it, so don’t let the dream killers take you down.

Blush (Poetry in Motion)
(feat. Robert Glasper, Tarriona “Tank” Ball & Fabriq)

JG: We did a show with Robert Glasper in New Orleans. You know how those keyboard players can be—they can just play for hours. I forgot what tune we were playing but, at the end of the tune, we just started vibing out. He was playing some stuff and the horns were just riding on top of it. We probably did this one tune for seven or eight minutes. So the concept we did that night kind of stuck. We changed it up a little bit when we got into the studio, but the concept came from that musical standpoint.

The lyrics—that was a random episode. We were flying to Vermont and I got a like on Instagram from a group called Fabriq in LA. They just liked my photos and I checked out their page. I wondered, “Who are these dudes? They sound pretty good.” So I sent them a message and, at the time, “Blush” didn’t have any lyrics. We were talking about a poetryin-motion type of vibe and it felt like that. So I explained to the guys, “Yo, we’re doing this tune with Robert Glasper, would you guys be interested in writing too?” They were like, “Hell yeah,” and the next day, they sent me something with lyrics and everything. I guess the whole Robert Glasper aspect made them speed up their process. We gave them the concept and they ran with it.

This article originally appeared in the December 2019 issue of Relix. For more features, interviews, album reviews and more subscribe below.