There is a super-obvious comparison to be made about Joey Valence & Brae, that has been made with a fair amount of frequency, that we won’t make here. Let’s just say the Pennsylvania hip-hop duo throws down a brand of rap that suggests it was born in a smoky basement in Brooklyn circa 1981.
It wasn’t. Joseph Bertolino (Joey Valence) and Braedan Lugue (Brae) met as freshmen at Penn State and immediately began producing and releasing outstanding music. Theirs is a modality of rap that performs as an exceptional and instant time machine, transporting us to an era when hip-hop and punk could be sung off the same song sheet. That’s not to say there isn’t a modern spin to be appreciated—the aggressive and fast-paced layering executed within many of their beats assumes a common (and welcome) trend in today’s alternative hip-hop. Their ascension has been incredibly rapid thanks in part to modern avenues of exposure. They blew up on TikTok. They performed on the Ellen Degeneres Show after Bertolino’s mother submitted a clip. They graduated from college in 2021.
The music is exceptional—all you need are ears to know that. The effortless integration of vintage and contemporary is what renders these two such a thrilling addition to the hip-hop scene and is indicative of a virtuosic understanding of the specific bucket of hip-hop JVB plays. This is supported by their lyricism. In “Dance Now” from their latest release “Punk Tactics” (2023), we hear:
Lose Control, shout out Missy
All y’all toxic just like Britney
IShowSpeed, yes, I’m Messi
I don’t do Coke, I do Pepsi
A shout out to pop and hip-hop stars of the early 2000s like Britney Spears and Missy Elliott in the same two-minute-and-ten-second track as to a YouTuber and the 2022 World Cup winner—set to the backdrop of a nineties jazz/hip-hop beat that could score the soundtrack of NBA Street Vol. 2—encompasses everything Bertolino and Lugue are about. This exercise is repeated effortlessly across the entire EP.
“Punk Tactics” is an epic album. Bertolino and Lugue have been releasing music since 2021, but the album’s release in September of last year represents their first full album release, and it’s something they should be incredibly proud of. Highlights include “Dance Now,” “Hooligang,” and “RN.” Part of what makes this such a fun album to listen to is because you can tell Bertolino and Lugue had fun making it. It feels like two kids making music in their dorm room with nineties hip-hop posters adorning the wall, but don’t let that supposition fool you—all it takes is a few bars to realize these aren’t just kids—Joey Valence and Brae are the real deal.
Joey Valence & Brae perform at Subterranean, 2011 West North, on January 29; doors, 6:30pm; show, 7:30pm. This event is sold out; join waitlist here.