From viral meme sensations to hip-hop’s rising stars, it’s been a busy year for 22-year-olds Joey Valence and Braedan Lugue. What started as the pair writing funny rap songs in Valence’s bedroom over a year ago has led to them gaining millions of fans from all over the world, and they’re only at the start of their career. In the last six months alone, they’ve released four music videos, played live on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and booked a world tour with appearances planned at major festivals, including Leeds and Reading.
Like any successful hip-hop act, their music takes inspiration from the things that they love the most. In this case, it’s old-school hip-hop, fucking around and video games.
“I think what’s setting us apart from other artists, and what our fan base is noticing and really liking, is that our music comes from a genuine and raw place. It’s super laidback and carefree,” Lugue tells NME over a video call. “We’re not taking ourselves too seriously. What you see is what you get, especially when it comes to the glitz and glamour side of things. You’ll never see us pulling up in a Bugatti with stacks of cash in our music videos.”
Valence jumps in. “We’re pulling up in a Honda Civic!”
“Yeah, he actually spits that in a song,” Lugue laughs. “It’s like, that’s not who we are. I think that’s what people really dig about us.”
Of course, it helps that Valence has spent the last 12 years writing and producing his own music, a mix of electronic, dance and drum & bass tunes. This has given Valence plenty of time to develop the sampling chops and vocal skills he needs to create authentic, old-school hip-hop beats, drawing influence from the likes of Beastie Boys, Heavy D and Quad City DJs, as well as modern drum & bass and dance artists that shape his production style.
The pair met during their first year at college and eventually moved into an apartment together. They quickly became best friends, although Valence jokes that Lugue didn’t like him when they first met. “It’s not that!” Lugue jumps in. “It’s just that when I first met him, he was super quiet and weirdly stand-off-ish. But then I saw him making music on FL studio one day and was just like, woah!”
“We just had a very similar sense of humour and a shared sort of idea about life in general, Valence says. “As well as just a huge love for goofing off and messing around.”
There’s a running joke where Lugue and Valence tell fans their music videos are recorded using outdated video game hardware. Valence promoted the release of ‘Punk Tactics’ on his Tik-Tok by saying they filmed the entire video on a Nintendo DS. He drummed up hype for their latest track, ‘Hooligang,’ with a video of Lugue spitting bars in front of an Xbox 360 Kinnect. The 360 was unplugged, as many viewers pointed out, but this didn’t stop the short video from racking up over four million views.
These video game references are more than just a funny joke, though. Take a quick look through Valence’s Tik-Tok, a gallery of Gen-Z humour and meme culture at its best, and you’ll notice the Snorlax-sized Pokémon backdrop in his videos. And similar to how Biggie, Busta Rhymes, Eminem, Lupe Fiasco and other hip-hop legends paid tribute to video games throughout the years, there are plenty of nods to video games in Joey Valence & Brae’s music.
“You put a lot of your culture, personality and things you grew up with into your music,” Valence says. “For a lot of people, especially those like us that grew up in the ‘90s, gaming is such a huge part of our identity. There’s always going to be a link between video game culture and music culture, and it’s always fun to hear it come full circle.”
This constant exposure to video games – and video game music as a result – has shaped how the pair approach their music. Both of them grew up with PlayStation One consoles (although Valence eventually moved to Nintendo) where games of that era such as Wipeout, Ape Escape and countless racers were filled with pumping drum & bass and breakbeat soundtracks.
“I didn’t even realise how much of an effect it had on me,” Valence says. “Drum & bass is probably one of my favourite genres of all time, and that’s probably why I enjoy it so much. You’re just sitting there playing a game and flipping out because of all this high-energy music. That’s definitely something that stuck with me.”
“I’ve loved video games for the longest time,” Lugue says. “It’s interesting to think about how video games have influenced my music taste because now that I think about it, they definitely have. In ‘Punk Tactics’, I reference Mortal Kombat a couple of times, and I was ripping that game back in the day. I played all of the Skate games too, so I think a lot of the punk songs I like definitely came from Skate and stuff like that.”
As well as the Mortal Kombat references in ‘Punk Tactics’ (Shootin’ out thе spike chain, Megadeth tether, get over here like Scorpion, put you to sleep, Kevorkian), you can hear shout-outs to Super Mario Bros. in the aptly-named Double Jump, and Valence spent a painstaking amount of time recreating the ‘ready, go!’ sample from the announcer in the Super Smash Bros. Melee games, which is so on-point we just assumed it was a direct sample.
“That’s amazing you thought that was the OG sample,” Valence laughs. “Man, I spent so much time trying to figure out the vocal processing and getting the right hook, I must have recorded it like 200 times.”
Why didn’t Valence just rip the sample? You can’t sample music without permission. Clearing them properly costs a load of money (if you could even find the right contacts within the gaming industry to do so) and companies such as Nintendo are getting a lot stricter with clamping down on unauthorised uses of their music. There’s a reason you no longer hear Wiz Khalifa rapping over Chrono Trigger beats or Childish Gambino spitting bars to the music in Donkey Kong Country.
“At the beginning of our new song, I wanted to sample that [GTA] San Andreas quote where CJ goes ‘ah shit, here we go again,’ but we can’t use that either because we’d get in trouble,” Valence explains. “It sucks, because you wanna have those subtle callbacks and samples but can’t because of the current state of sampling and copyright.”
Given video games have been such a constant throughout their lives, it makes sense that getting their music into a video game would be a “dream come true.” Take a listen to any of Joey & Valence’s tunes and you’ll probably agree that their tunes would be the perfect accompaniment to tearing it up in the next Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater or Skate game, or bombing around corners in a future Need For Speed or Forza instalment.
“That’s all I’ve ever wanted, to be in a Skate game or FIFA or something like that,” Valence says. “We’re starting to sync our music more to get it into games, but honestly it would be a dream come true. The music in video games is so timeless, especially with something like GTA and what it’s done for hip-hop, and I feel like our music is the perfect fit for games.”
“I’d freak out if any of our music was in a racing game,” Lugue agrees. “That would be like the perfect thing for me. It would be such a cool opportunity and we’ll have to see what the future holds.”
Given Joey Valence & Brae’s career seems to be cruising just as fast as any sportscar in a racing sim, you can probably count on that happening sometime soon. These boys might love fucking around, but as the last six months prove, they get shit done.
Mat Ombler is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to NME.