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I will never forget seeing Black Violin for the first time on Showtime At The Apollo. If you watch the video above from the one minute mark you’ll see what I saw, and like the crowds reaction I was floored by their performance. They showed a side of Hip-Hop I’d never seen before, and did it with style and skill. Comprised of Wil-B and Kev Marcus, the duo went on to win the grand prize of the 2005 Apollo and have gone on to play alongside Alicia Keys and Lil Jon, just to name a few. I had interviewed the group back in October of 2005 with the thought that an album would be soon to follow, however three years later that idea is just coming to life as Black Violins’ self-titled debut has finally arrived. The album itself features some vocals, but the centerpiece is without question the violin. It might not be for everybody, but you gotta respect their craft. Follow the jump for a few cuts off the album, and excerpts from that 2005 interview.
Check for the album here… and since you’ve made it this far might you better keep reading.
You guys have this ability to be playing, and then have the audience completely erupt.
Wil-B: That’s what happens. If you notice in our shows we switch up tracks a lot, so no matter who you are, or what type of music you like, you gotta vibe to it.
What’s one of the most common things people say to you after a show?
Wil- Mostly it’s like, “I didn’t know you could do that with a violin.”
Kev- Yeah, that or like, “that was crazy”, like fumbling over themselves
Wil- Or they’ll say, “I used to play the violin.”
Kev- Yeah, that’s the one, and I’ll say “Fifth grade right?” and they’ll say “how’d you know?” That would be the most common one though.
Was the feeling the same for both of you, that you felt an instant chemistry when you picked up the violin?
Wil- I can’t say it was an instant chemistry because I still wanted to play the saxophone.
Kev- At first I was playing it just to play it. I got a class in school, so whatever I’ll play it. It kinda like mutated into what this is. In the beginning it wasn’t like, “I love this, I want to play forever,” I didn’t have that feeling. I was like, “my mom is making me, I’ll go whatever.” As we got older, we experimented a little bit and started to see what we could do with it. When they teach you it’s like, “play this way, hold it this way, play this like this” so it gets kind of draining. But once we got more mature in it, we realized we could do different things and take ourselves out of the box, then it became more fun, and that’s when it became “ok this is what I want to do, because I don’t have to do it the way they told me, I can do it my way.”
How did your teachers receive you when you started going against their classic teachings?
Kev: For the most part we were still classical. We didn’t really break into the hip hop until college. In high school wee went to an inner city school that had an orchestra, so it didn’t bother them, it was normal, like a natural transition. They thought it was cool though, but wished we played more Bach. They embraced it, especially in college. My teachers in college loved it because it was something different.
The violin isn’t really considered a “cool” instrument. Were you guys made fun of for playing it?
Wil: The school we went to was a performing arts school so you either played the violin, or trumpet, or a dancer.
Kev: Anything artistic. It was like the black Fame in Ft. Lauderdale, that’s the kind of school we went to, so you weren’t shunned for playing something like violin. There were men in the dance program who were more shunned upon than we were.
Wil: Yeah, he’s right. That’s how it was though.
Kev: At the beginning when I was 10, I was playing football too, and my mom made me play the Star Spangled Banner before the game, and I really got it bad for that. But besides that there never was much ridicule, especially in high school because we started to mature and get good at it, so it was like you can make fun of me if I suck, but if I’m good you can’t really say anything.
When I think of Miami I think of Miami Bass music, and 2 Live Crew. Was it hard with that music surrounding you outside of school, but learning music that’s centuries old?
Kev: Yeah it was different to go to school and learn all this Beethoven, and then on the way home hear “Doo Doo Brown”. It didn’t bother us, it wasn’t something we thought about.
Wil: Yeah being from Miami, that’s the stereotype that everybody thinks. Hopefully we can break that, and other artist from Miami can break it as well.
Kev, I gotta ask you, what’s with your violin? Is it just design, or does it serve a purpose?
Well it’s an electric violin, so that’s the purpose. You can do a show anywhere, just plug it in. The body doesn’t make the sound, it’s all in the strings. It’s easier to do a show with it because it wont give feedback or anything like that. Secondly is the shock factor. If you play violin, and you play a violin people have never seen before, it’s just adds more shock.
I heard you both agree that your favorite style to play is Jazz, and unless I’m wrong there isn’t much of a history of Jazz violinist. Do you see that as an open door?
Wil: The violin in general, besides classical, is an open door
Kev: Yeah, pretty much anything other than country and classical the violin can put a mark on. We’re actually named after a violinist from the Be-Bop era named Stuff Smith, and he was a black violinist in the 30’s and 40’s. When I went to college, my professor who violist in the Modern String Quartet, gave me a CD that pretty much changed the way that I thought, and it was “Black Violin” by Stuff Smith, and it was done two weeks before he died in 1965. I was amazed in the sense that first of all he’s a black violinist who plays jazz, and of all jazz be-bop. If you listen to it now it sounds like something you’d hear in a Popeye cartoon, but it’s real cool. We might be the only ones who appreciate, but you know it’s just amazing that there was a black violist who was playing jazz the way that he played it, secondly he passed when he was like 50 years old so he was born in like 1910, it’s like how the hell did he get a violin in his hand? Even now people are amazed that we’re black and we play violin, but in 1920 how did he even get one? That was an inspiration alone. There are a few people who do the jazz on violin thing, but we’re trying to make our mark on hip hop. We’re trying to do something revolutionary. In hip hop there is so much room for musicians, and there isn’t much for rappers anymore
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