Running through walls

Black Violin are tireless champions for authenticity

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Black Violin
Colin Brennan

Any music act with a unique sound is bound to sound familiar from album to album. But violinist Kev Marcus has no problem seeing a difference between Take The Stairs and the previous two albums he has made as one-half of hip-hop/classical fusion project Black Violin. In fact, Marcus can sum it up in one word.

“This is the most authentic album we’ve ever done,” he says. “The album is who we are. 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 that we feel very, very proud about without necessarily compromising our ideas in any way — all without being preachy.”

Marcus will allow that 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 — it was our life’s work,” he says. “It’s everything up until the point where we were 23 years old and we put that 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. [When the album] Stereotypes came out in 2015, 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,” Marcus says. “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 feels three songs from Take The Stairs that lean decidedly classical — “Rise,” “Serenade” and “Elgar Nimrod” — represent new twists in the way he and Baptiste write music, while most of the other songs continue to demonstrate the duo’s ability to blend hip-hop and classical instrumentation and melody in fairly equal measures. 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 (sung by Baptiste, who has grown into a capable singer). “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 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 Alicia Keys’ manager, 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 with Jay-Z, Kanye West and Linkin Park. 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.

The self-titled debut arrived in 2008, followed in 2012 by Classically Trained and then Stereotypes in 2015. Along the way, Black Violin has built a robust touring business, had multiple songs used in commercials, television, movies and other media, and have also become involved in a variety of programs, including their own foundation, which encourages kids to pursue music or whatever careers they are passionate about —  a message that is very much woven through several songs on Take The Stairs.

With the release of the new album, Marcus and Baptiste have 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 says. “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 palate cleansers,” he says. “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. All of the messaging of the album is pretty much there [in the show].”  

ON THE BILL: Black Violin. 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, Paramount Theatre, 1621 Glenarm Place, Denver, altitudetickets.com. Tickets are $27.50-$50.