By Bryan Joseph Lee
I’ll admit it: I am one of the 2 million online viewers who saw Sir Mix-A-Lot do the impossible with the Seattle Symphony last Saturday night. In front of a capacity crowd, Mix brought over 40 women to the stage while the symphony launched into a rousing rendition of his venerable 1992 classic, “Baby Got Back.” And yes, there was twerking involved.
As expected, this hybrid orchestral hip-hop concert was met with cheers and (the inevitable) jeers from classical aficionados and industry insiders alike. But as a long-time lover of hip-hop and classical music, my reaction was simply: Seattle, THIS is what you consider hip-hop?!?
Nothing against Sir Mix-A-Lot, but hip-hop is more than just one-hit wonders and booty-shaking dancers. It’s a diverse and multifaceted genre that blends and remixes elements of funk, jazz, blues and, yes, even classical music. As we talk about issues of diversity and inclusion, relevance and dwindling audiences, just imagine more orchestras embracing non-classical disciplines in addition to their core programming! And if orchestras wanted to collaborate with talented, relevant hip-hop artists, the results could be phenomenal (lookin’ at you, Nas & the NSO). So, here are six ideas for hip-hop/classical collaborations featuring artists and orchestras at the top of their game.
One: Drake & Toronto Symphony Orchestra
This should be a no-brainer for TSO. Toronto’s very own rap crooner has matinee idol sensibilities and a catalogue that would fit easily into a Pops-style orchestral format. Simply put, Drake is hip-hop’s Frank Sinatra. And with R&B collaborators like The Weeknd and Jhené Aiko, and rappers like Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, you’re two steps away from the 2014 revival of the Rat Pack.
BONUS POINTS: If Drizzy incorporates TSO into his sold-out OVO Festival next year.
Two: Chance the Rapper & Chicago Symphony Orchestra
A lot of Chicago rappers come to mind (Common, Kanye, etc.), but Chance stands apart for his quirky flow and under-the-radar credibility. He’s young. He’s on fire. And he’s so cool he can cover the theme song from Arthur. I’m seeing an all-ages family concert in the making. (I’m serious.)
BONUS POINTS: If CSO ties this hip-hop collaboration to community outreach in the Chicago area. Chance is a great ambassador.
Three: OutKast & Atlanta Symphony Orchestra
HOW HAS THIS NOT HAPPENED YET? OutKast is to ATL what ham is to burger. A natural fit. Given this summer’s 20-city festival headlining tour, I bet Andre 3000 and Big Boi would be open to one more show. Forget their bigger hits (“Hey Ya,” “The Way You Move,” “Ms. Jackson,” the list goes on). I think their classic albums could adapt well for a symphony. Check out “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” and get your horn section ready. ASO, please steal this idea.
BONUS POINTS: If OutKast plays the entire “ATLiens” album from beginning to end.
Four: Jay-Z, Beyonce & New York Philharmonic
I said it. Hip-hop’s reining power couple is already on a sold-out stadium tour this summer, and I can think of no better opportunity for the NY Phil to drop in on the Barclays Center. The only downside: I doubt Queen Bey is sharing stage time with ANYONE else besides her husband, so the Phil better be cool playing second fiddle.
BONUS POINTS: If Kelly and Michelle show up. #destinyfulfilled
Five: Kendrick Lamar & L.A. Philharmonic
Best in the game. Period. Just put him onstage and pray the percussion section keeps up.
BONUS POINTS: If L.A. Phil skips the Hollywood Bowl and takes Kendrick and a quartet to the streets of Compton. (I’m serious.)
Six: Wale & Baltimore Symphony Orchestra
Baltimore is a city brimming with hometown pride, and no hip-hop artist reps the DMV area more than Wale. He’s a Prince George’s County native and always finds time to return to the area for sold-out shows. Given that the BSO produces year-round in both Baltimore and The Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Md., it seems fitting to take this collaboration throughout Maryland.
BONUS POINTS: If Wale fulfills my fanboy dreams and performs his awesome remix of the Game of Thrones theme song!!! Also, if he tweets me @bryanjosephlee. Big fan.