By Jose Mujica
February 26, 2019
Could you think of two genres more diametrically opposed than hip hop and classical music? Of course, like every other music question, this is a purely subjective one in which there’s no wrong or right answer, but culturally speaking, the targeted demographics for each genre may not exactly overlap in one’s mind. When one thinks of classical orchestras, they may think of Bach and Beethoven and of the centuries-long eurocentric history of classical music composition. They may think of rows of serious, stoic, tuxedoed instrumentalists perfectly in sync, guided by a conductor, conjuring up lush, resonant and immersive waves of sound pushing posh audiences to tears. Hip hop on the other hand, is much more raw, much less polite, much more confrontational. Not having centuries of history to study, hip hop pioneers innovated, figured out and constructed the genre largely on the fly lending to it this improvisational and genuine feel derived from its jazz roots. The typical divisions between the classical and hip hop music genres can range from cultural, socio-economic and even generational, which is why it takes an atypical talent to bridge these gaps; this is were Black Violin comes in.
Black Violin is Kev Marcus and Wil B, a pair of classically trained string instrumentalists who combine their fancy fiddling with hip hop rhythm and beats to create their own distinctive musical style. Both men picked up their instruments in their youth in an almost serendipitous fashion. Wil B originally intended on signing up for saxophone classes but ended up registered for viola classes by mistake. Kev Marcus’ violin lessons originally began as a quasi-punishment by his mother who aimed to keep him out of trouble. Though both artists initially picked up their instruments with reluctance, over the years they’ve grown to love and embrace the artistry, musicianship and opportunity that classical training made available to them and the passion for their craft is abundantly clear. Rather than follow the beaten path and change themselves to more comfortably appeal to and conform within the world of classical music, Black Violin sets out to shatter expectations, create positive representation and unapologetically challenge stereotypes with their art. Nowhere is this more evident than in the video for “Stereotypes,” the lead single for their 2015 release of the same name. Released at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, the song and video tackle the issue of continued racial violence and highlights the negative mainstream portrayal of black culture and actively challenges those harmful stereotypes. In basketball shorts, tank tops, hoodies and fitted caps; the two musicians give a performance reminiscent of Johnny from “The Devil Goes Down To Georgia,” but instead of making the violin sing and squeal, they make it drop bars in between the typical loop pattern of hip hop instrumentals. A refreshing amalgam of the new and the old, the strict and the uncertain, the classy and the relatable; the expert harmonious juxtaposition of the seemingly disparate elements is nothing short of captivating.
After half a century since its inception, hip hop is no longer an underdog music genre fighting for respect and recognition. It’s become the most popular genre in the world and is in essence the zeitgeist of contemporary music, all other genres borrowing and adopting hip hop influences into their own development. After the success of other hip hop projects such as Hamilton, which also sought to elevate rap from it’s perceived “low-brow” status into the focus of historical high art, the influence and power of unapologetically black hip hop remains unwilling to be denied, silenced or deterred from its march onwards to bigger and better things. Black Violin has made it their goal to promote that same progress in the realm of classical music, and they accomplish their goal admirably. This isn’t your parents violin recital, this is a party, and we’re all invited.
Black Violin performs at Belk Theater on March 5, 2019.