As music fans who were around this city one decade ago can likely recall, the 2009 EP by Bad Rabbits, Stick Up Kids, was both powerful and modern, overflowing with ambitious experimentation and stunning defiance.
The group, which now consists of singer Fredua Boakye, guitarist Salim Akram, and drummer Sheel Davé, embodied a new determination for challenging musical boundaries. Boakye is a bravado vocalist whose tenor is idiosyncratic and hypnotizing; Akram’s musicianship is nearly flawless; Davé’s swirling percussion carries their music to newer, louder heights. They’d played together before calling themselves Bad Rabbits, but it was the 2009 project that set lofty standards for a band that was about to venture into fresh uncharted sonic territory. From the blistering oeuvre “Booties” to the soulful modish intonations of “Can’t Back Down,” the trio refused to be relegated to a single category.
According to music historian Dart Adams, the group’s creative efforts transformed Boston for the better. “The city is known for its hardcore scene, alternative rock bands, and much-overlooked funk outfits,” Adams says. “Bad Rabbits found a way to successfully combine everything, and Stick Up Kids came at the perfect time. They were—and continue to be—agents of change. They altered the trajectory of Boston music: immediately and forever.”
Boakye believes their variegated sound, the organic product of a racially and ethnically diverse group basking in their own truths, has been both a blessing and a curse.
“The [Boston] scene, at the time, to me was racist, because it would constantly put us into this hip-hop/urban sector,” the lead singer says. “But it’s like, Nah … we’re not rapping. We were making our own style, and it was just years ahead of its time. You have acts like Bruno Mars who recently got big off of doing what we were doing. Maybe if I was a little bit lighter-skinned and a few pounds lighter, we probably would have been in that place … in that position. But there was a time in Boston music where no one was dealing with that type of fusion.”
In some ways, the region has had difficulty accepting the eclectic spirit of Bad Rabbits. Despite releasing everything from slick pop anthems to primitive metal bombast, they have often been typecast as solely an R&B act (Boston Music Awards voters have named the band R&B Artist of the Year on several occasions). Stick Up Kids, meanwhile, affirmed their resistance from the beginning; as Davé says, the EP is the audible manifestation of sheer authenticity.
“It was the most genuine and unapologetically ‘punk’ move that any R&B band could make at the time,” the band’s drummer says. “It always has been natural for us to take an unnatural approach. … Stick Up Kids was simply a product of that.”
Their first body of work also catapulted Bad Rabbits into a league of performers who were known for sets that completely enthralled audiences. Their shows captivated fans and curious onlookers alike. Hilary Hughes, senior editor at Billboard and former music editor at DigBoston, recalls the city’s fascination with the collective.
“No matter what room they walk into, if everyone isn’t on their level, then they bring them up to that level really, really quickly,” Hughes says. “They cover so many different genres with their sound. … It just makes their shows so compelling as a result of it. Stick Up Kids showcases all of them as not only great players, but great performers, because ultimately those aren’t the same thing. From Dua really hitting every single one of those high notes with that absurd falsetto to Sheel being able to keep ridiculous time to Salim raging his face off. That element of incredible charisma has always been the spine of that band for me.”
Looking back, Akram says cementing that kind of a reputation as an unforgettable live experience was their intention from the start.
“We wanted to make sure if you were playing a show, before or after us, you were terrified because we made it impossible for you to top what the crowd just saw. It was more than just buying a ticket and seeing a band—we wanted people to see us in nontraditional venues and tell others about it.”
Like the city that helped carry the project to national acclaim, all three members attach a similar sentimentality to Stick Up Kids—namely, as Boakye puts it, that the album will be remembered as something much bigger than them.
“With the EP, we decided that we were going to play what we wanted to play and call it what we wanted to call it,” Boakye says. “It was about putting the middle finger up to the people who tell you you’re supposed to look or sound a certain way—and that is its legacy.”
BAD RABBITS WITH KAONASHI AND CLIFF NOTEZ. FRI 12.27 AT THE SINCLAIR, 52 CHURCH ST., CAMBRIDGE. MORE INFO AND TICKETS AT SINCLAIRCAMBRIDGE.COM.