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Hip-Hop Orchestra Ready To Take The (Virtual) Stage

Courtesy of Elementz
Members of the Hip-Hop Orchestra discuss how to arrange a piece of music during a sectional rehearsal.

In a town known for its world-class classical and pops orchestras, a new blend of traditional and modern music is ready to make its debut. Thrive's Hip-Hop Orchestra presents its first concert Dec. 17.

"A hip-hop orchestra, it's like jazz. You're bringing European influence and African influence and you make it one thing," says drummer and beatmaker Alexander "Stallitix" Stallings, orchestra organizer, co-composer, and executive producer of Thrive. "We have a lot of professional instruments like violin, cello, double bass, but also we blend that in with a DJ and electronic instruments like a synth or electronic drums."

Stallings points to Cincinnati's rich musical history, with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and its equally rich hip-hop scene. In the late '90s and early 2000s, Cincinnati was home to the hugely popular hip-hop festival Scribble Jam, with performances from the likes of Eminem and MF Doom.

Credit Courtesy of Elementz
Thrive's Hip-Hop Orchestra makes its debut Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.

"We're meshing both worlds of hip-hop and symphony," Stallings says. "We wanted to create something that's very unique, that hasn't been done, that people can resonate with."

For example, the orchestra is working on a mix of "Diamonds are Forever" from James Bond composer John Barry and "Diamonds from Sierra Leone" by Kanye West.

"I want people to get that you can like both classical and hip-hop," says Stallings. "And also, look, this is what we did in Cincinnati: classically trained artists meeting artists who play in bars and clubs and gigs, and we created this opportunity to mesh hip-hop and classical music and Cincinnati has some really talented people."

While he says some traditionalists may see this as "too loud" or "corny" and not part of hip-hop culture, Stallings sees the hip-hop orchestra as a good way to look at different types of musics in a new and interesting way.

The orchestra is comprised of 15 musicians, some professionals, mainly in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Thrive is an artists series under the Elementz banner focused on adult artists. According to Stallings, it focuses on "conscious" hip-hop, meaning forward-thinking with a focus on issues, activism, and what's going on in the community - basically, music with a message.

The 30-minute concert was recorded in Music Hall and will be broadcast online Dec. 17 at 7 p.m.

Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.