Black Violin Launches a New Album, a Worldwide Tour & One Very Big Message

By David Templeton

“We can play songs that make you move, and we can play songs that make you cry, and all of that is great,” says violinist Kev Marcus (the stage name of Kevin Sylvester) of the acclaimed, Florida-based classical/hip-hop/jazz duo Black Violin. “But if we can make you think,” he adds, “well, that’s even better.”

Along with violist Wil B (aka Wilner Baptiste), Black Violin—named for the 1972 album by legendary musician Stuff Smith—was officially born in 2004, originally playing popular hip-hop tunes on the violin and viola. The two friends had initially met in 1996, introduced on the first day of orchestra class at Dillard High School for the Performing Arts. Later, in college—Florida International University for Marcus, Florida State for Wil B—the duo began perfecting their sound, an energizing blend of musical styles that showcased the players’ classical training while expanding into an array of other popular styles. Performances alongside Alicia Keys and the Wu Tang Klan helped propel the duo into the public consciousness, further fueled by collaborations with such artists as Kanye West, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, and others. Their first album, Black Violin, was released in 2006, and was followed by Classically Trained in 2012 and Stereotypes in 2015.

Black Violin’s newest album, Take the Stairs, available November 1, comes after months of rising anticipation spurred, in part, by the summertime release of a video for spectacular instrumental “Showoff.” In the attention-grabbing video, Marcus and Wil B definitely do show off, masterfully, scorching their way through the electrifying composition between shots of other folks showing off in equally breathtaking ways. A man in a wheelchair does power pull-ups, chair and all. A very pregnant ballet dancer does dizzying pirouettes. A woman does a blinding-fast dance routine with what appears to be a light saber. A shirtless man does gravity-defying cartwheels at neck-breaking speed on a lawn while another guy does a running backflip through a series of hoops suspended above the ground, and lands on his hands. A bunch of kids strut their stuff on the drums, the guitar, and yes, the violin. There’s even a man with a basketball pulling off a slam-dunk after being catapulted through the air . . . by an elephant.   

“Some of that on the video is just mind-blowing,” says Wil B with a laugh. “I mean, I can play the viola, but those people . . . it’s amazing what some people are capable of, which, to be honest, has always been a big part of our message.”

Black Violin
Black Violin

From the beginning, Black Violin has adopted a strategy that combines touring and performing (about 200 shows a year) with educational work, tirelessly teaming up with schools and performing-arts centers wherever they appear. It’s a natural fit, since parents have been pointing to Black Violin as inspiration for their kids ever since the duo’s very first appearance with Keys on the 2004 Billboard Awards.

“We just came from the Kennedy Center,” says Wil B, describing a typical day of performing a concert for a roomful of kids, followed by practice sessions with young musicians, culminating in an evening performance where those players join Black Violin onstage. “We get together with them, and we perform in front of a crowd, and the crowd is cheering them on, people are crying, there’s nothing better than that. There is literally nothing in the world that is better than that.


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“We have a broader message, and our message is, ‘Find that thing you were meant to do, and do it.’ Our message is, ‘Change the world.’”

“As tough as it is sometimes,” he goes on, “travelling and waking up early to go perform for kids and all that, it’s incredibly rewarding. The rewards of doing that are so much bigger than the tough parts are tough, you know what I mean? The positive parts are so big that I, personally, will continue to do it as long as I’m breathing.”

Parents of kids who are learning a stringed instrument are, it turns out, among of the greatest champions of Black Violin. 

 “Because we are classically trained, and we have a fairly large fan base, a lot of parents gravitate to us as examples to their violin-playing kids,” confirms Marcus. “Maybe the kid hasn’t been practicing as much as they used to, or they want to quit the orchestra, and the parents go, ‘No, hey . . . look at Black Violin! Look what they’re doing! Maybe you can do that!’ So parents bring their kids to our shows for those kinds of reasons, for inspiration to keep playing the violin, or the cello, or the viola.”

Take The Stairs
Take The Stairs

But the truth is, scandalous as it might seem to some, Marcus and Baptiste don’t really care what instrument a young musician plays—or what style of music he or she plays with it. They just want more kids to play music. 

Or paint pictures. Or write stories. Or make movies.

“Our approach,” continues Marcus, “is more about, ‘Look what we did with this violin that people just didn’t believe could be done. What can you do, with the thing that you love, that no one else has ever seen before?’ That’s more of our message than just to encourage kids to work hard. That’s part of it as well, obviously, but to us, it’s about blending the thing you love with your commitment to becoming awesome at that thing.”


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That, in a nutshell, is the message Black Violin hopes to deliver to the world. That if a couple of kids from Florida could make something original and beautiful and amazing with a violin and a viola, using their combined love of hip-hop and of Shostakovich—and could then somehow make the world notice—then others can do the same thing. A kid in his bedroom somewhere, a kid who’s figured out a way to do something original and beautiful on Instagram, or another kid who just realized he has a vocal style that’s like nothing ever seen on American Idol, perhaps those kids will be inspired enough to keep at it until people notice them, too. 

“That’s a more important message, to us, than just, ‘Practice your violin every day,’” says Marcus. “Teachers are already going to tell you that. And that’s cool. They’re right. But we have a broader message, and our message is, ‘Find that thing you were meant to do, and do it.’ Our message is, ‘Change the world.’”

And that, very intentionally, is the message of the upcoming album, Take the Stairs. It’s definitely the thought behind the single “Showoff.”

“Definitely. It’s all about, ‘Show off your talents, everybody, whatever that is,’” says Wil B.“ Just find it and do it and let the world see it.”


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According to Marcus, Take the Stairs is a natural evolution in their sound and their purposefully positive message. 

“Stereotypes was about changing expectations, challenging people to do things no one expects them to do, but with this album, we really want to just spread hope to the planet,” says Marcus. “Seriously. When we started this, the word we put on the studio wall, in big letters, was ‘Hope.’ We wanted to make music that was hopeful, but not preachy, you know? We wanted to create an album that people would want to listen to every few weeks to just reset the mechanism and jumpstart the engine.”

Marcus mentions one song on the album, titled, “Impossible Is Possible.” 

“That’s what it’s all about,” he says. “And that’s a message for adults as well as for kids. We wanted this to be an album that, when someone listens to it, they are ready to run through a brick wall to chase what they want in life. And I think we did it. This is an album that’s super hopeful, and very entertaining, and very inspiring—and you can dance to it, too.”