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Ensemble Mik Nawooj, JooWan Kim's Hip-Hop Orchestra, Combine Classical and Rap

By Philip Trapp on Jun 10, 2016 09:00 AM EDT

Classically trained composer JooWan Kim fronts "hip-hop orchestra" Ensemble Mik Nawooj, a San Francisco musical collective who aim to disrupt both classical and urban contemporary tradition. Along with lyricist-rappers Sandman and Do D.A.T., the forward-thinking performance group features a ten-piece orchestra including piano, percussion, strings and winds.

The Bay Area ensemble caused a splash in 2013 with their confounding concerto The Great Integration, a "chamber hip-hop opera" combining classical with jazz and rap. Also featuring soprano Anne Hepburn Smith, Pitchfork called the outfit's sound the "world's fastest ping-pong game: they can make you dizzy, trying to hear and see everything at once, and you do." 

Kim founded the band in 2005. A Korean native, the musician received his education in composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and Boston's Berklee School of Music. Using classical elements to create new hip-hop but discarding the conventional classical form, he told Metroactive of his provocative methods:

"What I'm sampling is the methodology of classical music," he says. "The essence of hip-hop is disruption. And the quintessential element that makes hip-hop unique is you can take something that exists already, take it apart and put it together in your own way -- creating your own thing. It's accessible and rigorous at the same time. And it's definitely not classical."

He's of course blending the parallel of his selective pilfering of classical concepts to the actual musical mode of sampling, reusing portions of a preexisting song in the creation of a new composition. An art form in and of itself, genre-defining works like J Dilla's instrumental hip-hop classic, Donuts, exemplified the use of sampling in rap music. Kim argues this is the new classical:

"In 10 years people are going to talk about J Dilla as they talk about Mozart," said Kim. "Some people already do that. People have this notion that hip-hop has to connect with subcultures ... They say it's stupid, it's not music. Musically, hip-hop has so much flexibility and has firmly established itself as a sophisticated and complex form of art. As a trained classical composer, that's excited me."

Below, listen to a piece from Ensemble Mik Nawooj.

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