Embedded with Game Rebellion in the psychedelic bunker of Jimi Hendrix’s fabled Electric Lady Studios, it’s clear that this brown punk band’s abiding creative aim may be that their shit never come off corny, but these brothas’ vibe is also imbued with a great deal of gravitas. What was never in doubt from the git-go is that this rock-‘n’-rolling sextet of Brooklyn youngbloods is the finest group in its genre the city can now boast. And their debut mix tape with J.Period, Searching for Rick Rubin, loudly declaims that it’s deep, too. Four years after they began to unleash the mind/metal fury along the Afro-Atlantic continuum, they’ve successfully worked out the aesthetic hot mess that is ghetto gothic. And, well, the Rebels are already wowing ’em from Puerto Rico to the PCH—and beyond to the Old World, which is always so much more receptive to black artists who would do their own transgressive thang. For those about to rock at the fourth annual Afro-Punk Festival, throw ‘dem horns with my dear friend, a New York native son and beloved music-biz veteran who, upon first seeing and hearing Game Rebellion at Don Hill’s back in January, told me they were ready for the Garden.
Now, Game Rebellion will doubtless consider the Afro-Punk bacchanal—featuring veterans like Tamar-Kali and more recent arrivals like meteoric space-rockette Janelle Monaé—to be a true Emancipation Day, fanning the flames of incendiary change revived by the band’s “Halfrican” hero in this election year: B-rack Obama. It seems kismet that the group emerged into prime time just as the official 50th anniversary of rock ‘n’ roll hit, with their simultaneous renovation of rock essentialism and seeming refutation of the racial and cultural ambivalence threading the networks of post-black, post-liberated indie bands so trendy now.
Searching for Rick Rubin is something of a miracle, trumping Game Rebellion’s fear and loathing of The Corny by matching an intellectually rigorous concept to densely layered sonic dexterity, riding on its Rubin- and Bomb Squad–informed wall of sound. Rhyme-spitting seamlessly saturated with street sense and an activist’s awareness links these bros’ flow to such immediate predecessors as recently incarcerated Mobb Deep rapper Prodigy. And, just as the formerly most intriguing rap-rock theorists in Royal Trux often channeled vital rap and punk ancestors like Betty Davis and Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, black beauty ex machina abounds per lead axman Yohimbe citing the Rebels as acolytes of Bad Brains, Mos Def, Dead Prez, and Rage Against the Machine. Tattoo-emblazoned redbone frontman Netic delves into the aesthetic tension at the heart of his band’s sound on “Freedom Ring,” wherein he breaks down the ways young men of color like himself are exploited for the strength of their hydra-headed, street-spawned subculture and purposely kept in the dark about ways to overcome in the world of white power. Yet he also convincingly expresses his love and hate for hip-hop, while pursuing The Real by unflinchingly laying out how his peers are complicit in their own volunteer slavery.
The mix tape is a hybrid that works flawlessly, nodding to the 1990s apotheosis of rap-rock experiments while simultaneously dismantling that troubled legacy single-handedly on the starkly beautiful Red Hot Chili Peppers rewrite “Under the Brooklyn Bridge,” recorded with Yay Area soul rebel and Brer Beatlemaniac Martin Luther. Almost all of Rubin’s production sources are mined save, alas, Sir Mix-A-Lot (my father’s favorite rapper because he, y’know, enunciates). Cleverly, Game recoups gloriously big-mouthed Dixie Chick Natalie Maines into their musical meditation on “Back Down” (featuring W. as an unwilling guest hype man), citing her as a Voice of Their Generation to limn their political bent in a time where sexism has re-seized rock in force—while also presciently reclaiming country as mainstream African-American folk music just as the Carolina Chocolate Drops and our local Ebony Hillbillies are resurrecting sepia twang.
With the album they recorded at Electric Lady still to unfold, the mix tape is the powerful manifesto to get with for now, as it underscores all the directions in which Game Rebellion are stalwartly (re)building community. And they’ve even got their own Pedro Bell in street artist Miguel Perez (a/k/a Bounce 1) to deftly illustrate the message in their music. Not to mention the dirty dozen Mosh Generals who follow the band around the circuit and conduct rock-steady workouts at gigs with the serious, disciplined dedication of the S1Ws or the long-ago Ghetto Brothers.
At last summer’s Restoration Rocks Festival—put on under the aegis of my fellow Chocolate City transplant, black progressive art promoter/Shrine for the Black Madonna leader Brian Tate—the black- and brown-skinned moshers were out in force, but so were gaggles of fierce young children who took the stage with Game Rebellion and rocked out hard while their parents fondly banged their dread-and-‘frohawked heads in pride and pleasure. These young soul rebels, with volume-dealing members spanning the African Diaspora from Haitian keys spokesman Emi to Egyptian rhythm guitarist Chief (Ah)Med, most effectively made of that unforgiving stone plaza in Bed-Stuy an illusory multicultural wonderland.
I like big butts and I cannot lie, so I must ‘fess up that what first caught my attention about Game Rebellion was the beautiful women arrayed around them on the stone plaza at Restoration Rocks. Folk forget that rock ‘n’ roll was once not about a hip colony so much as true style (not to mention sex), so this was an important deciding factor in sussing the group’s relevance. This mental jiggering of equivalents would not be lost on Molotov metalist Yohimbe, whose father survived Altamont to enjoy a career in reggae and impart the mysteries of the six-string to his ebullient sophist son. Some Negroes ain’t skurred of guitars, see?
As our conversation in the temple that Jimi built ranged from the sacred Aleem twins who supported the Voodoo Chile hisself to Yohimbe’s nonprofit organization to Spike Lee’s Malcolm X to a Voice cover story about cops vs. rappers, the breadth and depth of Game Rebellion’s science richly demonstrated that they possess the stuff necessary to overcome. Now, these boys ain’t saints: They’re not above appreciating the myriad pleasures of European groupies, nor any of the other sacraments wholly holy to rockers since time immemorial (or around about 1954 CE). And they definitely want to make it to high times. Still, not for nothing are they the self-proclaimed and self-evident heirs to the polemical torch of Public Enemy and Rage. And there’s definitely a lot of space for the badass feminine in their cultural revolt: Jean Grae guests on “No Sleep Til BK,” and they just might have the grace and sense to undertake Searching for Betty Davis next. The men of Game Rebellion are keenly aware of the sacrifice and single-mindedness inherent in their project. They’re not just the spawn of the icons and lowlifes who comprise New York hip-hop’s canon, but also of the Diaspora’s supermen, from Nat Turner to Obama. Game Rebellion’s “gangsta-militancy” is not mere shuck-and-jive: Their fiery innervisions are firmly grounded in 400 years of African struggle upon these shores, plus five decades’ worth of Afro-futurist cultural revolt.
July Game Rebellion perform at the GGMC Parking Lot July 9 as part of the Afro-Punk Festival, afropunk.com
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on June 24, 2008