String Quartets ... to the Break-a-Dawn!

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On the surface, classical music and hip-hop seem like the strangest of musical bedfellows. If you think about it, though, the best hip-hop producers are master orchestrators – but instead of using keeping Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Principles of Orchestration” handy they’ve got ProTools (the industry standard for digital audio programs) loaded on their computer. Just as classical composers work out how the different layers of sound and the various instrumental groups in the orchestra will interact, hip-hop producers work out how the different samples and programmed sounds will fit together, and how they’ll interact with the vocals and “live” instruments.

So maybe it’s not such a surprise to find Nas building a song around Beethoven’s familiar “Für Elise,” or Ludacris using both the Mozart Requiem and Dvorak’s “New World” Symphony. That’s a kind of modern version of orchestration – sometimes using actual orchestral sounds. Hip-hoppers using classical sounds was inevitable (and has actually been going on for a while). The reverse though – classical composers incorporating hip-hop – might prove to be a bit more problematic, at least for a while. It’s been tried, with generally cheesy results, or for a kind of comic, lighthearted effect.

The jazz/classical combination needed a George Gerswhin – someone at home in both worlds – to create something that really worked. Rock and classical combos didn’t gel until you had composers like Steven Mackey, who grew up playing electric guitar but has become an award-winning composer. For hip-hop and classical to work together, you need people who are comfortable in both worlds and for whom the combination is natural.

Tell us: Will hearing classical music samples in hit songs help do that? What do you think?