In January 2017, Marcus Lewis Big Band took the stage at The Blue Room. For this set, bandleader Marcus Lewis invited special guest Ryan Davis, also known as Kadesh Flow, to the stage for a surprise: to rap. “Everyone went crazy,” says Lewis, a Kansas City-based composer, arranger and trombonist.
“As an arranger, when I’m listening to music, I’m always adding things to the music in my head,” Lewis says. “I had been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s album, To Pimp a Butterfly, and the song ‘Alright’ just really resonated with me. I could just hear a big band arrangement,” Lewis says.
After the set, Lewis and Davis got to talking at the bar; they were onto something. Nearby, fellow friend and rapper Kemet Coleman overheard and was immediately brought into the fold as well. “I asked both of them to send me four of their songs to arrange,” Lewis says.
From there, Brass and Boujee was born, fusing Lewis’ ultra-modern big-band arrangements with bars from Coleman and Davis. “It was so organic,” Lewis says.
The group’s first self-titled album made waves upon its release in 2018, charting No. 15 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and peaking at No. 1 on the iTunes Jazz Chart. Now, Lewis is hard at work on the group’s second, full-length studio album.
This month, Lewis, Coleman, Davis and the eighteen-piece band will be back in the studio to record the final half of Brass and Boujee II, on track to release in Spring 2023. The album is composed entirely of original music, a collaborative effort between Lewis, Davis and Coleman.
The first single of the album, “You’re Very Special,” which dropped in late September, showcases an organic yet commanding interplay between the measured and fervent flows of Coleman and Kadesh Flow, dynamic horn lines and the powerhouse vocals of Kevin “Church” Johnson.
The next single from Brass and Boujee II, “Wavy Days,” will drop this February. “It’s a very positive, uplifting song,” Lewis says. “A lot of our content is socially conscious. We were kind of joking about it, like, all of this stuff is really heavy and we need to give our audience a break. We’re coming out with some more positive songs to add to the mix.”
Brass and Boujee is pushing the mold—and not just in Kansas City. They’re the first group to record big band jazz and hip-hop. “You know, when people think of Kansas City jazz, they often think of traditional swing,” Lewis says.
But KC’s jazz scene has continually been home to innovators who advance the ever-evolving genre further. Today, Lewis is one of the strongest representatives of this KC legacy, an integral voice in modern big band music alongside emcees Kadesh Flow and Kemet Coleman.
LISTEN: “You’re Very Special” by Marcus Lewis Big Band featuring Kemet Coleman, Kadesh Flow and Kevin “Church” Johnson is out now.