Will Baptiste and Kev Marcus started jamming together in high school, but it wasn’t in your typical garage band. The violist and violinist would team up in school hallways or parking lots and turn classical music on its head, throwing down hip-hop tracks like Busta Rhymes “Gimme Some More” via strings. Now globally renowned musicians that have collaborated with iconic acts from Wu-Tang Clan to the late Tom Petty, Black Violin is bringing classical boom to The Musco Center for the Arts on Sunday, February 18.
At a time when music labeled as “genre defying” is generally anything but, Black Violin are genuinely defying norms, crossing boundaries, and inspiring new interest in both classical and hip-hop along the way. Still touring on the momentum of their 2015 breakthrough album–aptly titled Stereotypes–the pair have the tendency to turn their concert hall performances into parties. Joined by a drummer and DJ, Black Violin create a dialogue of sound that’s simultaneously hypnotic and danceable.
“We love playing for all types of people, and it always amazes me when we go to a town in the middle of nowhere for a concert hall performance for old white people, and by the end of the show we have them on their feet with their hands in the air,” Baptiste said.
“On the flip side, we’ll go to a city with a bunch of young kids from all different backgrounds and do the same thing. For some reason the way we approach music has an effect on people. There’s no words during our songs, only sound, and people can come together and take it in. It’s love, it’s music, and we feel blessed to be doing what we’re doing.”
In addition to collaborating with household names like Kanye West and Aretha Franklin, Black Violin make community outreach a key component of their touring schedule. Their upcoming performance at The Musco Center is no exception, where they’ll be joined onstage by local college and high school musicians for a song. Among the young musicians performing with them is 15-year old violinist and Orange County School of the Arts freshman, Gianna Pedregon.
“I think Black Violin are important to younger people like me because they bring the arts into the modern world,” Pedregon said. “Nowadays, people listen to more electronic music, rap, but they’re bringing back an art form from a long time ago… Their music definitely encourages me and I’m really excited to be performing.”
Though the Florida natives were friends and often played together in high school, it wasn’t until they reunited after college that their journey as Billboard chart topping musicians would begin. Baptiste shares that their original intent as musical collaborators was to be producers, following the footsteps of The Neptunes and Timbaland. Yet when they’d perform with the artists they were producing, the crowd would be far more interested in the string section than the lead vocalist.
Recognizing the interest in their onstage presence and the appeal of their fusion sound, Baptiste and Marcus struck out on their own as Black Violin. In the beginning of their career, convincing Miami club promoters to include them was a tough sell. However, Baptiste notes that promoters just had to take the time to listen to them and they’d find their way onto club night lineups. As their popularity grew, so did their audiences, eventually landing onstage at The Apollo.
“When we first started, we were just having fun. That’s what hip-hop is all about, expressing yourself,” Baptiste said. “When we played The Apollo, that’s when we knew we really had something. We grew up watching that show, and everybody loves to boo you offstage. After we performed we had standing ovation. It was everything.”
Black Violin performs at The Musco Center for The Arts at Chapman University, 415 North Glassell, Orange, (844-626-8726; www.muscocenter.org, Sun. 7:30 p.m., tickets $30-$55.