Like everybody else in the control room of Cambridge’s Bridge Sound and Stage, Dutch ReBelle has her head in a laptop, where she’s organizing final tunes for her promising third project, ReBelle Diaries. But before the speakers boom with her latest hip-hop tracks, the rapper joins producer Janos “the Arcitype” Fulop and the others in swooning at the idea that Radiohead once rocked that room.
“I don’t ever want to be stuck in one genre,” says ReBelle, who grew up listening to opera, dancehall reggae and No Doubt as well as the Fugees, Goodie Mob and Wu-Tang Clan. “With all my projects, I feel like there’s gonna be a variety because that’s who I am. That’s what I mean by ReBelle Diaries. I used to rap over beats that made no sense with hip-hop, like Tina Turner shit.”
That’s evident in a polar-opposite pair of advance tracks from ReBelle Diaries heard in slick videos on YouTube. ReBelle ticks off relationship woes over a swelling neo-soul bounce in “Love Is,” snapping syllables with melodic inflection to ice the phrase “I don’t think we got much left for dis-cus-sion.” And in the hard-edged “Yen,” she breaks down the money game over a spooky, electronic pulse that wouldn’t be out of place on a Radiohead record.
“For me to keep moving forward to the music I want to make, you need to know where I come from,” says ReBelle, born Vanda Bernadeau in Haiti. She also raps about family dynamics, from her parents to a brother who lives in a tough part of Miami. “Some people think my music is aggressive or in your face, but to me, this is just what’s around me.”
That brother helped set her course when the poetry-minded ReBelle was still in elementary school, having her freestyle about household items as he’d point to them. “We never knew that it’d be anything serious, but that’s the game we played,” she says. “Being able to do it was what made me pursue hip-hop.”
After graduating from Penn State with a journalism degree in 2009, ReBelle refocused on rapping, honing her skills at local and national showcases where crowds don’t always expect a female MC to walk out. “That works in my favor,” she says. “The flipside is [they’re] super-critical. You’d better get it right within that first 30 seconds.”