Billboard Hot 100 Fest

Meet Virginia's Rising RBLE Crew: Ced Hughes, Artel Carter, Gabe Niles & Max Fullard

Quentin Felder
RBLE is Gabe Niles, Vince Jones, Ced Hughes, D.R.A.M., Mass, Bub Ruth, Artel Carter, Max Fullard, Thomas Karbo and Butters the Based Dog.

The Tidewater area of Virginia is highlighted by many things. It has a grand military presence that brings together cultures from all walks of life, and a disturbing, if not rich, history rooted in segregation and civil rights. Separatism is an ironic trait of the area, as it is divided into seven cities (Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Newport News, Hampton, Suffolk, and Chesapeake), yet melts every piece of them into a legendary piece of music history -- from Teddy Riley to Pharrell Williams to Missy Elliott. It is also the same connective tissue that brought together a few friends from different sides of the same city in Virginia Beach to form RBLE, one of the most promising new groups in music.

RBLE (pronounced "Rebel-E") consists of a ragtag group of Virginia Beach born and bred twenty-somethings, who all met at different times but shared the same visions: "It's ironic how we all went to different schools in different sides of the city, but it was God's plan that we all found each other," said member Artel Carter. Their founder, 30-year-old rapper Ced Hughes, created the group as a means to get his rap career off the ground, while bringing his buddies with him. They started out as Rebel Entertainment, which he founded with his friends during his time attending East Carolina University: "I was just trying to make a collective of dope people, with creative ideas," he said. The posse would only grow bigger when he met members like Max Fullard, Justin Battle, and Gabe Niles when he moved back to Virginia after college. RBLE's reputation grew far and wide in the Ghent community of Norfolk, VA, where they are known for their crazy house parties and open mic events that served to shine a spotlight on the more "hip" community of the Tidewater area. "[Our events] just raised awareness, and opened the door for us," said producer and artist Niles, explaining that the group "wasn't trying to impress anyone in Virginia," but actually forged their own path.

Hughes's first project, Ced Hughes and the Technicolor Soundwave, is largely credited as the event that brought a lot of the group members together. Hughes's witty and vivid raps were painted in broad strokes by Nile’s rebellious production. The project is largely an example of the blueprint for the expansive sounds that the group uses now: "Regular hip-hop was boring to me, and I wanted to do something different," Hughes said reflecting on the project, "I wanted to do something outside the box." Word of mouth spread quickly, and soon the members became connected with a number of people within the industry, and the members quickly started touring and traveling around the country, far from their homebase of Virginia. Hughes described those first few tours as the first taste of being able to do "what we want to do."

RBLE has ballooned into a multi-headed monster. Since their early days, Niles has co-founded eclectic duo Sunny & Gabe alongside enchanting singer Sunny (born Alison Gicz) and has produced feel-good anthems for D.R.A.M., who is undoubtedly one of music's most sought after newcomers. No matter how big they get, Hughes (referred to as the "old soul" by the rest of the group) remains hands off on their growth, only making sure that the other members choose their paths wisely: "I don't manage them so much as I ask them questions that they wouldn't normally ask, or to clarify their situations," he said adding that their growth is the result of learning from his own situations. Even though he is rightfully cautious about the state of an industry where artists are here today and gone tomorrow, Hughes is still in awe of how far they have come saying: "When I think about it, I never thought it would have been these people [that I grew with], and I'm glad it was. I know that even without me they would be okay, but I'm just glad I can be along for the ride."

RBLE is a massive, ever growing group of exceptional talents from Virginia, and here, alongside Ced Hughes, are a few of the key members that you need to know:

Gabe Niles: Niles is more than just the main producer for RBLE -- he could also be considered the nucleus that fuels the group creatively. "Gabe tries to push the envelope," RBLE member Fullard says emphatically about the colorful and eclectic producer. Founder Hughes agrees, calling him a major influence on the group someone who has always been "ahead of the curve." Gabe doesn't label himself any of these things, however. The 27-year old who produced D.R.A.M.'s hit single "Cha Cha" labels his own style as "genre-less." He started off making beats on MySpace, when he met the members of RBLE through the Internet. His introduction to Hughes and his contribution to Ced Hughes and The Technicolor Soundwave created an elastic and beneficial relationship with everyone in the camp. His musical influences span across a number of different sounds, from jazz to electronic music, and he credits a lot of it to his move to Dallas, TX as a teenager: "Dallas is the reason I made beats," he said. "I moved from Tallwood High School to Deep Creek High School, and then I moved to Dallas." He described idle time as a creative outlet: "There was nothing to do but make music, during my 45 minute rides to school I would just think of music." He doesn't just settle with production for the RBLE camp -- he also acts as a performer with his partner Sunny to form Sunny and Gabe, a duo that has quickly gained the attention of a number of outlets in the past year. He insists there is no difference between the music he creates for his group and for the other artists: "[we] create our own sound, and everyone is open to new ideas. I think that everything that we try to do is cutting edge on its own."

Niles also formed a creative relationship with Hampton, VA-bred D.R.A.M. a few years ago. Las summer, Niles took the singer/rapper along for the ride during a promo run for Sunny and Gabe.  D.R.A.M., born Shelley Massenburg-Smith, credits that wild summer with RBLE as one of the major inspirations of his latest release, #1EpicEP: "[Gabe] just played so much different music, and introduced me to different shit. It opened my eyes to a different side of life," he said in an interview conducted in December. Niles is seeing an upswing in interest due to his close proximity with D.R.A.M. and "Cha Cha," a song that has made fans out of Beyoncé, Drake, Snoop Dogg and more.  He's prepared for it though, recalling a time a few years ago when he and Ced had an opportunity with A-Trak and Plain Pat which fell through: "I sent [A-Trak] some of Ced's music, and he linked us with [Plain Pat]. He flew Ced out and everything, but it just kind of fell through. It showed us a lesson though -- it prepared us for what's to come."

Max Fullard: Widely considered to be the mover and shaker of the crew, Fullard is always up to something. Whether he has to make a flight to Atlanta, New York, or even Toronto, the 28-year old stresses the importance of being in the right place at the right time. "Back in the day the Internet used to be new, but now everyone is on there," he said. "I needed to find a way to get a leg up, so I figure I'd go to New York and who knows, I'll probably meet someone and connect with them face to face." His methods have been a success so far: his up-close-and-personal push of his Kickstarter-funded A Rebel Named Max mixtape saw him perform at a number of venues all over the world over the past year. His background with RBLE started in 2007, after meeting Hughes through a mutual friend. Hughes credits a lot of the team's connections to Fullard's "networking spirit." A quick glance at his Twitter account sees him talking to pretty much anyone about anything. His relationship within the crew, and his confidence in his own music, matured under the guidance of Hughes and Niles. "When I saw that you didn't need a major label to do this, I knew that we could do this," he said, as he described a time when he and Niles used to write hundreds of specialized emails to music blogs for support. Fullard’s music is deeply rooted in his own personal experiences, building off of the blueprint of crews like Pac Div and The Cool Kids sonically. "We were always trying to build off of the type of camaraderie that we saw from groups like that," he exclaimed, "It's the feeling of having something to call your own between your friends." Fullard is just following the blueprint of his musical elders: "Virginia has always been known to be innovative and different. People expect that. I'm just trying to add my own twist." The rapper will be releasing a new EP, Nights of the Fourth, this fall.

Artel Carter: Carter is yet another example of how the magnetic personalities within RBLE can pull almost anyone into their orbit. His introduction to the crew was a random conversation with Fullard at a local gas station: "He asked me if I liked rap music, and invited me to a show, and since then it's been history." Carter's style is very down to earth -- songs like the recently released "Wreck" depict a young person that is at a crossroads in life. He was inspired to rap at an early age from his cousin who was a DJ, and he credits that as a part of his motivation to rap. "I [also looked up] to Lupe [Fiasco],” he said adding that the Chicago rapper was "the blueprint on how to do this shit." A graduate of Green Run High School (the same school as former NFL screw up Plaxico Burress), Carter is confident that RBLE can stand on its own, even if they are from wildly different backgrounds. He explains that they plan to keep the quality of their music as high as that of Pharrell and Timbaland. "I don't know what we're aiming for, but we don't want to be classified as anyone else. We could have boomed, or busted. But we've been booming a lot lately," he says laughing.