Baby got ... classical? Sir Mix-A-Lot joins Seattle Symphony
Seattle rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot joins Seattle Symphony for the third annual Sonic Evolution concert on June 6, 2014, which again blends world-premiere works inspired by Seattle music legends.
Seattle Times music critic
Seattle Symphony: Sonic Evolution
With Gabriel Prokofiev, Sir Mix-A-Lot and Pickwick. 8 p.m. Friday, June 6, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $19-$35 (206-215-4747 or seattlesymphony.org).
Seattle rapper Sir Mix-A-Lot, who has famously led a posse on Broadway and sung the praises of women with ample behinds, is nothing if not worldly.
But until last week, despite his familiarity with orchestral samples, he’d never sampled Benaroya Hall.
The occasion was a rehearsal for his seemingly unlikely collaboration with contemporary composer Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of the famous Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev.
As part of the Sonic Evolution concert on Friday (June 6), the Seattle Symphony Orchestra will present Prokofiev’s “Dial 1-900 Mix-A-Lot” and “Posse on Broadway”/“Baby Got Back,” the latter featuring Mix-A-Lot performing to Prokofiev’s orchestration of his songs. This is the third Sonic Evolution, an innovative program that commissions world-premiere works by up-and-coming composers inspired by household names in Seattle music.
The rapper’s awed reaction to meeting the SSO in its plush digs was quite disarming.
“I had never seen one of those pipe organs up close before,” he said of the hall’s imposing 4,490-pipe Watjen organ. “Oh my God! Scary! The next time, I’ll bring a cross and a lot of garlic.”
Presumably, no vampires or opera phantoms will materialize Friday, but some scintillating music just might. Though hip-hop and orchestral music are quite different worlds, the best practitioners in each are meticulous — and curious — perfectionists.
Prokofiev, who lives in London, is not a conventional composer. Though he has written string quartets and concertos, he has also composed a piece for bass drum and orchestra and has worked as a hip-hop and electronic music producer.
When Prokofiev contacted Mix-A-Lot two years ago, he was somewhat skeptical.
“I have to be honest, I said I don’t know if this is really going to work,” said the rapper. “But when I heard it, I went, Damn! He's a complete genius, smart as hell.”
In the program notes, Prokofiev says he was attracted to Mix-A-Lot because of the detail of his beats, which he creates with a Roland 808 drum machine.
Hip-hop is all about beats. After the first rehearsal, Mix-A-Lot was a little worried.
“What rappers do is pretty syncopated,” he said. “That kickin’ snare (drum) is everything to us. But with orchestral stuff, you have to listen to tubas. They replace the kick drum (bass drum).”
Though Prokofiev wrote a kick-drum part into the piece, said Mix-A-Lot, there are “a lot of things moving around on top of it — brass, flutes, it’s really like you have to get your ears around it.”
It’s also fair to point out that big percussive sounds wreak havoc in the sensitive acoustics of Benaroya Hall, so Mix-A-Lot and the orchestra definitely have their work cut out for them.
But Mix-A-Lot wasn’t worried about the SSO.
“Those guys don’t make mistakes,” he said. “It blows my mind. I hope I don’t screw up.”
He needn’t worry. Chances are, the SSO members won’t hear any “mistakes” he makes, either, nor will the audience.
It should be a fun night.
The Mix-A-Lot/Prokofiev collaborations are just one segment of the Sonic Evolution program, which features world premieres by Luis Tinoco, who wrote “FrisLand,” inspired by Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell, and by Du Yun, of “Hundred Heads,” inspired by Ray Charles. The concert also includes David Campbell’s arrangements of Seattle soul-music band Pickwick’s “Brother Roland,” “Hacienda Motel” and “Creature Comforts.”
After the concert, Prokofiev will do a DJ set in the lobby.
Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or firstname.lastname@example.org, on Twitter @pdebarros and at blogs.seattletimes.com/soundposts/
Information in this article, originally published June 6, 2014, was corrected June 9, 2014. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that that 2014 was the fourth Sonic Evolution; it is the third.