Black Violin is an American hip hop duo from Florida composed of two classically trained string instrumentalists, Kevin Sylvester and Wilner Baptiste, who go by the stage names Kev Marcus and Wil B.
Kev Marcus plays the violin and Wil B. plays the viola. They met in high school, went to different colleges, then later reconvened to create the musical group Black Violin. The duo plays a variety of music (relying heavily upon classical music), but are often categorized as hip hop because of the changes to the rhythm and beats. This mingling of hip hop and classical sensibilities is what is generally thought to give them their distinctive style.
Despite their successful collaborations, Baptiste and Sylvester had disparate upbringings. As children, they were introduced to their instruments against their choice. Both members attended Dillard High School of Performing Arts, where they met and had the same music teacher who spurred them to attend college on full music scholarships.
Wil B is the stage name of Wilner Baptiste. Baptiste intended to study the saxophone instead of the viola, but by mistake was put into classes for the latter. Though initially reluctant, Baptiste chose to adapt to changes and accept the fate he was given. According to a 2012 interview, Baptiste stated: "I stuck with the viola and it opened a lot of doors for me." His goal as a performer is for people to attend the concerts, then return home "to be better people."
Kev Marcus is the stage name of Kevin Sylvester. Of his early years, Sylvester stated in a 2012 interview: "I didn't want to be the violinist in my neighborhood." According to Sylvester, in the fifth grade: "I got into a little trouble...and my mom said she needed me to get into something, so she took me to Saturday morning violin class." He stated that his goal for his audience was to think about "...what they would do differently in their lives. We want to make sure they are not just playing the violin or playing other instruments, but we also want to make sure they are thinking about what they can do differently in their lives. So whether they want to be scientists or lawyers or hockey stars or anything — whatever they want to do — just make sure they go about doing it different than anybody else."
After high school, Sylvester attended Florida International University and Baptiste enrolled at Florida State University. At FIU, Sylvester met Sam G., who would go on to become the duo's manager. Alongside Sam G., the duo went on to co-found the production company DKNEX, which stands for Di-Versatile Music. The group name "Black Violin" is derived from the influence of a famous jazz violinist, Stuff Smith. Six months before Smith's death, he recorded a solo album entitled Black Violin. Heavily inspired by the work, the duo decided to name their group after Smith's album.
According to Baptiste, "We wanted to be the next Neptunes; the next Timbaland...but we noticed how, whenever we performed with our artists, the audience was really drawn to us."
Of the duo's artistic philosophy on their upcoming album Black Violin, Sylvester said:
"Our mantra has always been to engage the audience to look at things from a different perspective...At first, we leaned on the fact that we were different —more than on our technique. We wanted you to be confused. This time, we tried to keep our core message, but with more gravitas: more seriousness. Not just be crazy and different, but really step it up and be badass violinists."
Black Violin clinched the Showtime at the Apollo 2005 Legend title of which Sylvester Said:
"After we won the Apollo, which is the hardest audience on the planet, we knew there was something there...The hard thing was to package it so that people would give us a chance, because we were doing something that nobody had ever seen. Every time we step on stage, we had to prove it over and over."
Black Violin's popularity has risen with their performance accompanying Alicia Keys at the 2004 Billboard Awards, and by performing on the same bill with some of the industry's biggest artists, such as Wu-Tang Clan, and Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park. The two men are also avid producers and writers, having worked with Kanye West, Tom Petty, Lupe Fiasco, Aerosmith, among others. Most recently, they made a star appearance on "Angelina Ballerina," on the Public Broadcasting (PBS) network.
Black Violin returned to Florida to play a concert in 2011.