"I came out in that knight costume to God Save The Queen...The Queen died like a week later.” A conversation with Joey Valance & Brae, the duo finally bringing some fun back to hip hop

Joey Valance & Brae
(Image credit: Press)

“We talk about fire all the time, pyro!” squeals Joey Valence, one half of fast-rising hip-hop duo Joey Valence & Brae. “I want to shoot people in the face with fireworks! That whole front row, they come out looking...Yeah, never mind.”

We’ve just asked the pair about their plans for their already energetic live show should the impressive trajectory of their career continue. The Pennsylvania duo - real names Joseph Bertolino and Braedan Lugue -  react excitedly, which is pretty on-brand; quite frankly, they react excitedly to everything.

Sitting on a Zoom call with both rappers bouncing around animatedly on their seats, enthusing about everything from old school hip-hop to dressing up as knights for their set at Reading Festival to...er...Ellen DeGeneres, is a dizzying and highly enjoyable experience - much like the music the pair make.

Since getting together in 2021 after meeting at “a naked Twister Party”, according to a definitely serious Joey, the lads have been making fantastically instantaneous, nostalgic party rap that recalls the classics of the 80s and 90s, brought up to modern standards with some stellar production. Their superb debut album, 2023’s Punk Tactics, has quickly been followed by the equally excellent No Hands. That record takes their sound in new directions, features an appearance by the critically acclaimed Danny Brown and keeps the joyous, fizzy, bouncy fun that made them such a breath of fresh air in the hip-hop world to start with.

We caught up with rap's new favourite duo ahead of a UK tour in November that promises to be one of the biggest parties of the year.

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You guys met in college, right?

Joey: “His cousin was my neighbour. And then, long story short, we met each other through acquaintance and we just had a really similar sense of humour and we'd fuck around so much. And that fucking around just turned into making music together, and that music turned into [debut single] Crank It Up and now we're here.”

What were the initial musical similarities the pair of you bonded over?

Brae: “Joey was making a lot of EDM at the time when we first met, and I was kind of into that stuff too, so we had a similarity there. But then, the more we became friends, the more we realised that our music taste was pretty similar when it came to just all genres of music, whether it was electronic or hip hop, especially old school hip hop. We had a pretty similar sense and taste there.”

Joey: “I basically only listened to electronic music until I was, like, 20, like Skrillex and Knife Party and Pendulum and like all this, dubstep and stuff. I'm so into rave music and so obviously I grew up with hip hop influence and listen to that as well.  Braedan was very much into hip hop. But anyway, that's not even what brought us to making music together! It was just the urge to want to have fun. We would go in and be fucking around writing dumbass lyrics on these beats that I was making, and they turned into actual songs. We were like, ‘Let's just fucking release them!’ So, we did that for our first song, Crank It Up and it got like, I don't know, 300,000 views on TikTok. And we're like ‘All right, fuck the EDM stuff, let's just go!”

You do bring a lot of fun to an increasingly serious, lower energy hip-hop scene

Joey: “We both really like modern hip hop, but there is something to say about there being a missing fun factor, an energy factor, in modern trap music. It wasn't the intention to bring anything back, it was just the most natural thing for us to make. We were like, ‘Holy shit, we're actually kind of in our own lane right now!’ and when we realised that, we just really leant into it. There is a gap in modern hip hop of just fun, corny but energetic fucking music. So, yeah, I think we kind of hold this place that is there for people who either miss it or have never heard it before.”

Brae: “We're just not those guys. We're just here to have a party, you know. We come out on stage, you hear Crank It Up, we get the whole crowd jumping and moshing, that's what we're here to do. It's a good-ass time.”

You guys have been compared to the Beastie Boys a lot - in fact, almost all of your sound seems to come from music that's older than you are!

Brae: “Oh man, shout out to our dads! Our dads are the OGs now. For real. For me specifically, my dad, he was just playing a bunch of old school hip hop all the time from when I was super young, like three, four years old. My dad had big speakers next to the TV in the house, and he was playing Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown, Black Eyed Peas and Jay-Z, all that stuff. That's just what I grew up with that ear. So, you know, when I started making music with Joey, that's just what I was listening to already. I had a huge catalogue of old hip hop. It just came natural.”

Joey: “When I was a kid, I was just always listening to oldies. Like 80s electro funk, old Chicago house, stuff like that. My dad got me on to Daft Punk and really early Kanye West, it was just random. A lot of the old school influence, obviously the Beastie Boys, The Pharcyde, Tribe Called Quest is a huge inspiration for us, Gang Starr, Onyx, you know, so we, we have, like, a lot of these inspirations. We get compared to the Beastie Boys, mainly because I just have a higher vocal tone, but obviously they're a huge inspiration for us. They were fucking awesome, legendary group.”

Danny Brown is on the new album as well, how did that come about?

Joey: “I literally just DM'd him on Instagram and he's like ‘Yeah, let's go.’ He had followed me, and that was like a big deal for me because I personally am a big fan of his music. It's abstract and hype and he has a lot of energy to him. I was kind of afraid to reach out. I was like, ‘Fucking Danny Brown! I don't know how to raise the question that I would love to make music with him or if he even likes our music!' After a few months I was just like, ‘Uh, we have this beat. Can I send it to you?’ He's like ‘Yeah, it's awesome.’ And then we fucking went to his show in Philadelphia, and after his show went to his hotel room and he recorded his verse in literally 15 minutes, then we left. We just said hi to him after the show, we hung out and then went to his hotel room and he’s so professional. Just did it and it was fucking perfect.”

Your live show is not only super energetic; it also feels like you guys do things on the fly quite a lot. I’m thinking about Reading in 2022...

Joey: Wait...I forgot...was that when I came out in that knight costume to God Save the Queen?”

Brae: “And then The Queen died, like, a week later.”

Joey: “Oh shit! I do remember. We didn't expect anybody to be at that fucking show, it was the first show of the day. We were like ‘whatever’, we were obviously brand-new artists, we'd never been to the UK before. Five minutes before, we open up the little curtain and there's nobody there, and we're like, ‘All right. I mean, we're still gonna have a good time.’ And then as we come out on stage, the whole fucking thing is packed, then we start going and people are flipping out. There's like instant mosh pits already. People are screaming the words. I don't know if they're just making it up or if they actually know who we are or people are just ready to party. Regardless, it was awesome. And that was our first festival experience in the UK, and it was a blast. We'll remember that show forever.”

It feels like the rock scene has really embraced you as well, playing with Limp Bizkit, Sum 41 and doing Download.

Joey: “I think both of the crowds really respond to energy, and that's what metal people, that's what rock people like about music. It's energetic. They want to mosh and have a good time, and they can do that with our music. So, there's a lot of crossover there and we have this punk vibe to our music. So, I think people will respond to that. It's not so much as the genre or the sound you're listening to. It's more just the energy we put into it that connects with these crowds. So, to see that there's this crossover is fucking awesome.”

Brae: “This coming fall we’re playing Louder Than Life in Kentucky. It's like literally just a giant rock festival; Slipknot, Motley Crue, like it's like heavy stuff. When we played there last time our set went over pretty well. I mean, we were kind of still pretty new and not a lot of people knew who we were, but we had the crowd jumping. They like that shit as soon as I'm screaming, like, ‘Open the fucking pit!’ Everyone's stoked. It all just revolves around energy. I have a feeling if you put us at a fucking orchestra festival, we could probably turn people.”

Also, you guys made your television debut on The Ellen DeGeneres Show...

Brae: “We sure did.”

Was she...alright?

Joey: “Obviously, she had us chained up in the back, and she was whipping us. Yeah, yeah. [laughs] Everyone was really nice to us. That was a really fun experience. It was the first real experience we ever had in the music industry, which is crazy to say, but yeah, everyone was super nice, and we had a good time. So, we stole everything from the green room, like food and snack wise.”

Brae: “This very laptop right here that I'm zooming off, she gave us it for free. Very nice lady!”

No Hands is out now. Joey Valance & Brae are touring North America and Europe through the rest of 2024

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.