Black Violin to appear at Chandler center The Mesa Tribune | The Hometown Newspaper for the city of Mesa, AZ

Black Violin to appear at Chandler center

Black Violin to appear at Chandler center

Alan Sculley GetOut Contributor,


Any music act with a unique sound – such as Black Violin’s fusion of classical music and hip-hop – is bound to sound familiar from album to album.

 But violinist Kev Marcus has no problem seeing a difference between “Take the Stairs,” and especially the previous two albums he has made as one half of the duo, Black Violin. 

In fact, he can sum it up stressing one word. “This is the most authentic album we’ve ever done,” he said.

Audiences will get a chance to see what he’s talking about when Black Violin appears Jan. 31, at the Chandler Center for the Arts.

“The album is who we are,” Marcus said. “That was the best part of it. It didn’t feel like we had to try to conform or act like anything else and we were still able to make an album we feel very, very proud about without necessarily compromising our ideas in any way – all without being preachy.”

Marcus will allow the first Black Violin album was also authentic. But he sees several reasons why he and his partner in Black Violin, viola/keyboardist/singer Wil Baptiste, were able to achieve start-to-finish authenticity on “Take the Stairs.”

“Our very first album was our life’s work,” he said. 

“It’s everything up until the point where we were 23 years old and we put it out. But since then, this is the most authentic album and I think it’s because honestly, we had a long time to do it.”

After the previous album, “Stereotypes” came out in 2015, he added, “we were looking for producers, looking for different situations since we had to fight to get out of our deal with Universal. We had so many other things that were happening at that time. 

“Then last year, we got together with (producer) Phil (Beaudreau) in like September, and the album was done in like October last year. Since then, we’ve just sat on it and been able to fix this note, change this snare, fix this word. I mean, I’m more at peace with every note on this project than I’ve ever been on anything we’ve ever done.”

 So, I think that’s some of it, just the authenticity of it,” Marcus added. “Everything that’s on the album, every note and every word, we both loved it and wanted it. Because of that, there’s this authenticity, there’s this real rawness, this genuineness about it.”

Beyond authenticity, Marcus sees musical growth in “Take the Stairs.” 

And while the fusion of classical and hip-hop remains very much at the core of the duo’s sound, he refers to “Serenade” to explain what was different.

Drawn from classical composer Antonin Dvorak’s “Serenade For Strings,” the song essentially turns the group’s usual approach to mixing hip-hop and classical on its head. 

“Normally in pop or hip-hop, when you sample a classical song, normally it would be like you open up Pro Tools or whatever you use to create music, and you’ll start a click (track), with the click being like 120 (beats per minute), and you take that classical piece and you match it to the click,” Marcus said. 

“That’s how we’ve always done it. That’s how everyone seems to do it when they want a sample or they want to use classical elements (and bring them) into a pop world. ‘Serenade’ we did it differently. We took London (Symphony Orchestra’s) interpretation of it and then we mapped out a beat to that, as if a conductor is conducting with a beat in the orchestra.”

 “To me, that’s almost like a breakthrough song for us,” he said. “We found a new way to create and to blend classical and hip-hop that we had not done before, and for us, that’s a big deal. 

While “Rise,” “Serenade” and “Elgar Nimrod” are decidedly classical, most of the other songs more equally blend hip-hop and classical instrumentation and melody. 

For instance, “One Step” starts out with a sonic blast that’s almost industrial before layering in hip-hop beats and an R&B-leaning vocal melody. “Lost in the Garden” has a bit of Marvin Gaye in its soulful sound, while “Spaz,” “Showoff” and “Dreamer” are good examples of the melding of hip-hop and classical.

This musical hybrid is something Marcus and Baptiste first began forming in high school, when one day Marcus had an idea for how to incorporate violin into the Busta Rhymes song “Gimme Some More.”

That musical idea, however, was put on hold when, in 2004, after winning the “Showtime at the Apollo” talent competition, Marcus and Baptiste were introduced to the manager of Alicia Keys, and were then hired to join her band for a performance during the 2004 Billboard Music Awards.

This led to opportunities to tour, not only with Keys, but Jay-Z, Kanye West and Linkin Park, among the notable acts. But the duo never lost sight of the idea of creating their own music, and eventually, they decided to stop taking touring gigs and pursue Black Violin in earnest.

With “Take the Stairs” out, Marcus and Baptiste returned to the road, bringing along drummer Nat Stokes and turntablist extraordinaire DJ SPS—both long-time touring members—to create a unique live experience.

“It’s more dynamic than the show has ever been because of the new album,” Marcus said of the new show. “The first and last songs on (“Take the Stairs”) are the first and last songs of the show. So, it’s like we really frame the show around ‘Take the Stairs.’ 

“We wanted to kind of use the character of the album and start and end the show with the two kind of like classic kind of palate cleansers,” he said. “Of course, we tell kids to dream, tell people to dream, the impossible is possible, just run through walls for whatever you’re passionate about.”

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