Title: A Hip-Hop Orchestra
Artist: Ensemble Mik Nawooj
Label: Golden Fetus
Formats: CD, MP3
Release date: August 26, 2014
Korean born, Oakland-based musician JooWan Kim is the latest composer to attempt a fusion of classical compositional techniques with hip-hop. Holding degrees from the Berklee College of Music and San Francisco Conservatory of Music (MM in composition), Kim’s goal is to employ “hybridization” to create an innovative musical language, noting that similar juxtapositions have shaped radical changes in music history since Debussy. Though classically trained, he doesn’t consider himself a classical musician, citing J. Dilla and Dr. Dre as “major, major influences, especially Dre’s older stuff — The Chronic, N.W.A., even The Chronic 2001 — there were a lot of things going on in there; you could just feel the vibe of it.”
On A Hip-Hop Orchestra, Kim strives to make genre-blurring music that has universal appeal with his Ensemble Mik Nawooj (his name spelled backwards). The ten-piece chamber orchestra combines flute, clarinet, violin, cello, and piano (played by Kim) with deep funk drums, a heavy contrabass, a lyric soprano, and two notable MCs—Do D.A.T. and Sandman.
From the opening track it’s evident that Kim’s approach yields complex yet accessible results, truly integrating the two genres. “First Song” intersperses rapid fire lyrics with a rather minimalistic orchestration that employs extended piano interludes. On the hard hitting “We Will Conquer” the MCs take center stage, resulting in an orchestrated hip hop track that’s quite cinematic in scope. “Hope Springs Eternal” pits eternal optimism against impossible situations in yin-yang fashion—ethereal chamber music alternating with furious tempos, the lyricists performing at break neck speed. One of the best tracks is “Morning Light,” an intricate yet occasionally bombastic composition referencing a multitude of styles, with soprano Lauren Woody given prominence in the instrumental sections. The album closes with a cover of the Wu-Tang Clan’s C.R.E.A.M., which is given an orchestral treatment that’s extremely effective.
We’ll definitely be hearing more of Kim’s music. He’s been commissioned by the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to re-imagine six classic hip-hop tracks, three from the Wu Tang Clan’s 36 Chambers and three from Snoop Dogg’s Doggystyle. With any luck, he’ll also find time to focus on original compositions, not just high profile covers. In either case, I look forward to his future endeavors.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss