Monday, June 24, 2024

How Black Violin Merged Hip-Hop And Classical To Revolutionize String Music

January 14, 2024 by  
Filed under Feature

Kev Marcus still remembers the “genius moment” with his high school orchestra that set him on a path to musical revolution. 

Marcus discovered how to program the melody of Busta Rhymes’ “Gimme Some More” onto his flip phone — and his classmates enjoyed it so much, he transcribed the song for the whole orchestra to play. 

“Our (orchestra) class went to an annual competition dressed in tuxedos, looking like we were about to play Mahler, and we played Busta Rhymes,” he remembers. “People seemed to just be drawn to it.” 

That seeded the idea for what would become the groundbreaking string show Black Violin. 

Featuring Marcus on fiery violin and Wil Baptiste on electrifying viola and vocals — both of them classically trained musicians — this high-octane show merges classical stylings with energizing hip-hop, rock, pop and more, shattering stereotypes of what a string concert looks and sounds like. 

“We play everything from Bach and Beethoven to (The Charlie Daniels Band’s) ‘The Devil Went Down to Georgia’ to Cardi B to Bruno Mars,” Marcus says. “It’s a microcosm of music over 300 years, presented in a unique way with a message that challenges everyone to do the impossible.” 

That bold approach has earned Marcus and Baptiste two Grammy nominations and worldwide acclaim — and now Southern Nevadans will experience their virtuoso abilities on January 30 at The Smith Center, where the duo will perform a rollicking concert backed by a scratch DJ, drums and keyboard. 

“You’ll see and hear things you’ve never heard before, and at the same time, it’s relatable enough to have something everyone wants to hear,” Marcus says. “It’s a meal, not a snack, so come hungry.”

TEARING DOWN MUSICAL DIVIDES 

Breaking down barriers always felt significant for Marcus and Baptiste, who as Black youths felt that classical music was intended for other people. 

“I just loved what my instrument did for me (as a kid),” says Marcus, who earned a full music scholarship to college, just like Baptiste. “I wasn’t supposed to play that instrument. I liked that I was defying what people thought was possible.” 

With Black Violin reimagining a variety of genres at an exhilarating pace, Marcus takes pride that his duo makes string music more accessible and engaging for a wide range of audiences and ages. 

Whether the duo performs its Black Violin show, or plays as guest artists at hip-hop or classical concerts, he adds, audiences instantly jump to their feet and dance along. 

“I don’t think we meant to (revolutionize classical music). We just play violin, and we look the way we look and play what we want to play,” he says. 

The duo strives to deliver a broader message, he adds, encouraging young fans to find and hone their own talent. 

“We pose the question, ‘What can you do that you never thought was possible?’” he says. “We want to inspire you to be the best version of yourself.”

A BOOST FROM BARACK OBAMA 

Of all the duo’s accomplishments, Marcus names playing at Barack Obama’s presidential inauguration as his favorite. 

“I remember walking up to President Obama and I shook his hand, the same hand he lay on the Bible and took the oath with that day. And I said, ‘Everything I’ve done in my life has led to this moment,’” Marcus recalls. “He chuckled and said, ‘The tough part is to figure out what to do next.’” 

Their performance at the inauguration helped determine that. CNN’s repeat coverage of Marcus and Baptiste’s performance helped the duo land a record deal a few months later. Performances alongside such icons as Wu-Tang Clan, Lil Wayne and Alicia Keys soon followed. 

Marcus hopes audiences feel inspired to chase their own dreams at the upcoming show. “More than anything, we want to be something you remember,” he says. 

Black Violin performs at 7:30 on January 30 at The Smith Center.

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