Though hip hop has a habit of sampling strings for an added dose of cinematic sound, it’s not every day that audiences get to see a full orchestra playing Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. Alex Stallings – a.k.a Stallitix of Patterns of Chaos – is looking to change that. In partnership with Cincinnati youth outreach program Elementz, Stallings co-composed and executive produced the first-ever live-streamed production of THRIVE’s Hip Hop Orchestra, and he hopes the project will live on as a series.
“We wanted to do something cool that brings people who don’t go see hip hop to a show, and people who don’t come see classical music to a show,” Stallings tells Audiofemme. “We’re trying to mesh those different worlds.”
Meshing the likes of Ye’s “Diamonds from Sierra Leone” (which samples Shirley Bassey’s “Diamonds Are Forever”) and Kendrick’s “LUST” (from 2017 LP DAMN.) into classical music is about breaking down each individual sound, says Stallings. “Hip hop itself sounds simple, but there’s a lot of things you can add,” he explains. “It’s the process of finding what sounds like the [hip hop] sound. If the song has an ambient sound, let’s see if violins can recreate that. Or, if you have a very low bass sound, let’s get a synth player to replace that. It adds flavor to it. It’s a very experimental process, finding that right sound and the right range for what sounds cool.” The performance took place December 17 at Cincinnati’s Music Hall and is still streaming via THRIVE Cincy’s Facebook.
The performance was also co-composed by Preston Charles III and featured musicians from the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and beyond – several of whom played steadily in the city before the pandemic. “It’s a beautiful thing, bringing different people together to create something we’re all equally passionate about,” says Stallings. “We have a lot of diverse musicians: white, Black, women, men, people who identify as nonbinary. We have a palette of different people with different stories about why they like hip hop. They all come from different backgrounds. One person, their whole family plays classical music, and they just love hip hop. Another, their father was a rock musician in China, and they like hip hop… I think it’s a beautiful thing; we’re creating a conversation.”
Stallings, who leads Elementz’s THRIVE Cincy, first approached the hip hop-centric arts center with the idea not only to bridge fans between the two genres, but also to put the city’s musicians back in the spotlight. “It was very hard at the beginning of the pandemic, but we took the initiative,” says Stallings. Elementz, which offers music and other classes and serves as a home-away-from-home for many Cincinnati kids, has taken their courses and outreach mostly online amidst COVID-19. “I think this [performance] is one of the biggest buzzes we’ve had, especially for Elementz online. I think everyone should be impressed; this will definitely lead to something bigger – maybe a program or a series that goes on for months at a time.”
On Instagram, Stallings has used THRIVE Cincy to support hip hop artists in the city while performances have been scarce. “Since summer, we’ve been putting out videos from different artists, playing their music and interviews with artists,” he says. “Next year, we’re moving into a different direction, where we’ll do one music video per artist and spotlight that. During the pandemic, there’s been no places to perform, so this helps them out.”
As for his own musical ventures, Stallings says fans can expect a new album from Patterns of Chaos – fronted by himself and Jay Hill – next year.
“It’s gonna be different than Freedom,” their 2018 EP, he says. “It’s gonna be fun and it’s gonna address some deeper issues like race, self and gender. It’s gonna be very experimental; you couldn’t really put us in a category, and that’s what we want.”