In 2021, at the height of the pandemic, Pennsylvania rap duo Joey Bertolino and Braedan Lugue, who perform as Joey Valence & Brae, scored a TikTok viral hit with their song “Crank It Up,” an audacious celebration of rap music’s early boom bap sound at a time when the world failed to offer much reason to celebrate.
The strength of the song led Valence and Brae to an appearance on the Ellen DeGeneres Show, where they performed yet another infectious single, “Double Jump,” and won a $10,000 talent show grand prize. The retro rap sensations perform 8 pm Monday, Feb. 27, at WOW Hall in Eugene.
Valence calls that early success unexpected. The duo met while enrolled at Penn State University, and their full-length debut record is still in the works. Longtime fans of early rap innovators like Biz Markie, Eric B. & Rakim and Beastie Boys — think Kangol bucket hats, tracksuits and breakdancing — Valence had produced music for years, mostly EDM, but neither Valence nor Brae had much performance experience.
Valence writes in an email to Eugene Weekly, “It really was a huge pivot for us going from something we were just doing for fun to an actual career. We both have a knack for public humiliation, so we were never really nervous to perform for the first time after that.”
Another Valence & Brae hit, “Punk Tactics,” with a music video posted on YouTube that pays homage to skateboard home videos, is like Beastie Boys rapping over Public Enemy, with humor, hard-hitting beats, adolescent energy and East Coast urban style.
On their songwriting approach, Brae says Valence typically builds an old school hip-hop beat before Brae jumps on the mic and says something funny. After Valence joins in, the two rappers trade verses.
“That process is what sparked our first song, ‘Crank It Up,’ and that process just kinda evolved into how we work today,” Brae says. “Joey makes a crazy beat and we get stoked, lyrics get written in a day or two, and then the song’s done — super fast pace.”
Heavily indebted to breakbeat and boom bap and the points when rap music of that generation intersected with hardcore punk, Valence says nostalgia for those sounds and styles has worked in their favor.
Rap music’s early days, Valence says, are “something people want to feel like they’re a part of. We use it to our advantage and mix it with all our favorite genres as well. It’s really just a huge melting pot of stuff we grew up listening to and our current musical tastes.” And with the current state of affairs, the sheer simplicity, joyful abandon and fun of Valence and Brae’s music feels like a kind of protest.
“The live show is wild. We treat it like a huge house party. All you need to know is backflips, breakdancing, mosh pits and lots of jumping,” Valence says. “We take much pride in being able to create music and take inspiration from amazing artists that have made history in the hip-hop music world.”
Joey Valence & Brae perform 8 pm Monday, Feb. 27, at WOW Hall; $17 advance, $20 door, all-ages.