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Black Violin Brings Their Genre-Smashing Blend Of Hip Hop and Classical To Midland

Wednesday night at the Wagner Noel, Midlanders will experience a genre-crossing concert. Two worlds, seemingly miles apart, will come together. classical music. And hip hop.

Kevin Marcus is one half of the group Black Violin. The duo is touring behind their 2019 album “Take the Stairs.” The classically-trained musician says he first picked up the violin at the age of 9, but not because he wanted to. 

"No, my mother made me do it," Marcus laughs. "I kind of got into a situation in my neighborhood and she wanted to find a way to get me out of my neighborhood. Her solution was basically to put me into a music program so that I can hopefully get into a magnet school or performing arts school that gets me away from some of the friends of my neighborhood — and it actually worked."

Fast forward to the present day and Marcus and his creative partner, Wil Baptiste, who plays the viola, bring their classical chops to the world of hip hop.

The two first got the idea to blend the two genres in high school during their orchestra class. At the time, Marcus recalls, the Busta Rhymes song "Gimme Some More" had just come out. The song features an interpolation of the theme music from the 1960-film "Psycho."

"That's where it all really started," Marcus says.

Soon, Marcus and Baptiste and the rest of their orchestra class were learning to play "Gimme Some More."

"After that, our high school orchestra would like walk into competitions wearing full tuxedoes, playing Busta Rhymes," Marcus said. "That was sort of the moment of genius, but at that time we didn't even realize it, we didn't do anything with it. It was just sort of the first time that Will and I blended classical and hip hop."

Marcus and Baptiste separated after high school. Marcus went to Florida International University and Baptiste to Florida State. The duo rejoined after to work on their music.

Black Violin had their breakout moment performing on the talent competition program Showtime at the Apollo.

"We go on there, we win four times straight and we are the 2005 Apollo legends," Marcus says. "And it gave us sort of the confidence that we needed to, at that point, quit our jobs and make this focus and our priority. "

With their last two albums — 2015's Stereotypes and 2019's Take the Stairs — Marcus says the duo is challenging conventions. He says him and Baptiste aren't what you're expecting a classical musician to look like, "but that's exactly why it works," Marcus says.

"And that's kind of our message more than anything else is just break stereotypes and thinking differently," Marcus says. "And you know, using what people think is a negative and turning it into a positive. For the same reasons they say you shouldn't or you can't do it, highlight those things. And make that the reason why you should be doing it because no one else has your perspective."

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director.