Black Violin Gives A New Form to Hip-Hip And Classical Music | WGLT

Black Violin Gives A New Form to Hip-Hip And Classical Music

Mar 8, 2017

Wil Baptiste (R) and Kevin “Kev Marcus” Sylvester (L) of Black Violin.
Credit Colin Brennan

Similar to how Robert Glasper infused hip-hop into his jazz on his 2012 Blue Note Records album "Black Radio," Wilner "Wil B" Baptiste and Kevin "Kev Marcus" Sylvester use classical strings as the backbone to their hip-hop, rock, and bluegrass inflected major label debut "Stereotypes."  It's no coincidence Glasper makes more than a guest appearance.

"Robert's a good friend, and the producer of 'Black Radio' is the producer of 'Stereotypes,'" said Marcus. "We spoke to him (Glasper) quite a bit about that same comparison, like 'hey you mix jazz with hip-hop in a way that's coherent yet respectful.  We wanted to do the same.' We spoke a lot about blending and tight-roping it in a way where we're not too classical or too hip-hip.  We're always just right in the middle where its it's own genre, its own vibe."  

Marcus and Baptiste met on their first day of high school in the school orchestra.  They became fast friends and pretty much stuck to classical music through school, though Marcus said they tried fiddling their classical training into a pop framework.   It turned into an "a-ha" moment.

"The moment of genius had to be when we taught our orchestra how to play Busta Rhymes 'Gimme Some More.'  I wrote out the song because I programmed my phone to play that song," said Marcus.

So when his phone rang, "Gimme Some More" would play.  Now this was more than a decade before smartphones, so Marcus was ahead of the curve.  When fellow band members became intrigued, Marcus wrote out the notes for the violins, a line for the violas, and the bass lines for the cellos.

"And now the whole class was playing Busta Rhymes 'Gimme Some More,'" said Marcus. "And I think that was the moment of genius and we turned into Black Violin right after that."

So fusing hip-hop and classical music might seem technically difficult to pull off.  Marcus and Baptiste discovered that by giving their music a pop form, it made songwriting easier, and listeners were able to understand what they were doing.

"If you listen to a Bruno Mars song, for example, there's a hook, a verse, a hook, a bridge, a verse, a hook, and that's it", explained Marcus.  "So there's really only three sections to the song, and every 30 seconds or so, their going to come and give you that same hook.  So our idea was to take beats in that same world, and instead of being vocals on it, we do it in the same form.  So if you're a kid that just listens to Drake, Nicki Minaj, Lil' Wayne, or Adele, when you hear this song, even though there aren't any words to it, it will relate to you in a different way because the form of the song is still written in a way you're used to hearing."

Black Violin combines musical forms about as black and white as can be, at least in how they're perceived today.  Marcus hesitates to call it a social statement, as blending genres he grew up with seemed natural to him.  All he and Baptiste wanted was to fuse the two genres in a way that didn't come across as corny, and didn't disrespect either art form.

"On a social level I think it's really cool we're able to do it," said Marcus. "That's why we call our tour the 'Unity Tour,' because it brings so many different people together.  And people are like 'oh I love the violin I can't wait to hear how they're going to fuse this.' Or you go to the other person who says 'yo, that's dope man, I want to go check that violin show out to see what this hip-hip thing is about.  So socially, it's really cool and amazing we're able to blend those two worlds together and have those two types of people come together and enjoy the same music, but enjoy it in their own way."  

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