Back in the ‘90s, two young students at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale met for the first time in orchestra class. Neither Wil Baptiste nor Kev Marcus had any classical training or desire to play the strings until they picked up the viola and the violin, respectively.
After that day, the duo began their journey into the world of music.
In 2003, Black Violin formed with Baptiste playing the viola and Marcus on the violin. Together, the group has created its own sound—classical music played over hip-hop beats. The duo’s incredible talent and unique sound are how their latest album, “Take the Stairs,” was nominated for Best Contemporary Instrumental album at the 2021 Grammy awards.
“The Grammys has this aura about it, so to be nominated is this amazing feeling, and to be nominated among some of the greatest artists that we love and admire, too,” says Baptiste.
Black Violin has been playing for more than 17 years, with over 200 shows a year. Now, the group is coming to Delaware. On August 13, Black Violin will perform albums “Take the Stairs,” “Stereotypes” and “Classically Trained” at the Freeman Arts Pavilion.
But none of this would have happened if their high school teachers didn’t make a bet.
“Back in high school I signed up for band class and I guess the string teacher was in the same room and they both looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s play golf. Whoever wins the golf game gets this kid in their class.’ So that’s how my class was switched from band to strings,” laughs Baptiste.
Since that day about 27 years ago, the duo both grew to love their instruments and continued to play by combining their classical training with hip-hop beats. Baptiste says that being able to take a classical instrument and make it speak his language—hip-hop—is what made him fall in love with the idea of playing and what kept him playing.
“It wasn’t something that we just woke up one day and decided to do. It just happened because of our environment,” he says. “We just happened to play classical music every day at school, and we grew up in the ‘90s where hip-hop was very vibrant. So, it was natural for us to put the two worlds together. For us, hip-hop is about expressing yourself and doing it how you want to. There is no handbook to hip-hop, you just do it and that’s what we did.”
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The duo started out as background performers, playing behind rappers and performers when they noticed how the audience was responding to them rather than the main act.
“Just imagine a rapper or a singer performing and then there’s these two big black guys playing violin in the background. That’s how we started,” chuckles Baptiste. “People were really drawn to that. It was very different, and we started noticing how people were looking at us rather than paying attention to the artists. So, we said to ourselves, ‘Let’s try this,’ and it sparked the idea.”
Black Violin has come a long way from high school orchestra class to performing with stars like Alicia Keys, Wu Tang Clan and 2 Chains.