Al Kapone Hearts the Memphis Symphony Orchestra
As collaborations go, the pairing of rapper Al Kapone with the Memphis Symphony Orchestra's Opus One seems like an insurmountable mash-up.
Heather Trussell, a violinist with the classical group, acknowledges, "There are some people from both of our audiences that say, 'You're playing with who?' But I dare them to open their minds."
Kapone takes it further: "This concert is not just different," he said. "This is like a real marriage: I want to understand you, you want to understand me and we want to make a baby together!"
Thursday's concert at the New Daisy aims to give tradition a thorough makeover, something Opus One has been doing since its first public performance early last year. Part of the concerts are classical works, increasingly featuring edgier, new compositions for orchestra or smaller ensembles. The rest of the event has the guest performer doing special arrangements of his or her songs with Opus One. Performers in past concerts have included blues singer Susan Marshall, jazz vocalist Joyce Cobb, alt rocker Harlan T. Bobo and folk chanteuse Amy LaVere.
One would be hard pressed to find a program anywhere in the world like the one at Thursday's concert: Expect to hear the first movement to Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony" as well as "Whoop That Trick" - Kapone's catchy tune from Craig Brewer's film "Hustle & Flow."
Opus One is doing some other new things, including bringing in performers from the U Dig Dance Academy to add kinetic energy to some of the pieces. And while Opus One concerts have all been held in venues that don't typically host classical performances, this one at the New Daisy marks the first time the Memphis Symphony has played Beale Street.
But it's not the first time Kapone has performed with the Memphis Symphony. They got together a year ago for the Grizzlies season opener, a pairing that got the rapper all fired up about doing more. "I said, 'Let's do it next week,' " Kapone said, but he knew the logistics would take a little longer.
For one thing, there was the need to work up the musical arrangements of Kapone's songs for Opus One. As Trussell put it: "You can't just call somebody up in Memphis and say, 'Hey, we've got an orchestra and a rap artist' ... Nobody's done this."
But it wasn't hard to find the talent. Local musician and arranger Sam Shoup has arranged for Opus One in the past, as well as a few other notables such as the Bar-Kays, the National Symphony Pops Orchestra, Kallen Esperian and the New York Pops.
"What he did blew me away," Kapone said. "When he sent me the demo of the songs, I thought that he took it up a couple of notches. It's going to surpass a lot of expectations."
Kapone was especially intent on choosing the right songs for his portion of the concert.
"I looked through my collection to see what I had that had a heavy orchestral connection," he said. "Then I wanted to balance it with songs that have a different feel like 'Buckin and Jookin' and 'Whoop That Trick.' "
One tune he chose is "What About the Music," a tribute to the Memphis music scene that he and the MSO did at the Grizzlies game. And then, in thinking about the perfect intro piece, Kapone realized there was nothing more fitting than the Isaac Hayes classic "Walk on By."
"We come on with this buildup," Kapone said, "and then this Memphis gangsta beat comes right behind it, and we run up on stage and go crazy."
The rapper says it's a way to pay tribute to Hayes, "because he's one of the first guys that did the orchestra connection back in the day and paved the way for connecting these two styles of music."
Kapone - who has "Moonlight Sonata" and Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 on his iPod - will be checking out the works by Shostakovich, Grieg and Phillip Glass that are also on the program because he's long been a lover of all kinds of music.
"There are a lot of different music subcultures here," he said. "And we want everybody in different communities to come out of their 'we only listen to this or that' view. If you experience this concert, I guarantee you'll have a totally different view and attitude. You'll walk out saying, 'I didn't want to taste it, but I tasted it and it tastes great!' "
The Commercial Appeal, November 7, 2011
Video by Live From Memphis