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Ezinma, violinist to Beyonce and SZA, blurs classical music's boundaries / W

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W's Mara Veitch writes..... "People are fascinated by things that they feel should never be found in the same room," laughs the Nebraska-born violinist Ezinma one recent afternoon. "If you say ‘WAP' and ‘Brahms' in the same sentence, people don't know what to think." 

Ezinma's music dwells at this alluring intersection-between what the artist dubs her "ratchet" and "high-art" influences. In the years since a 2017 cover of Future's "Mask Off" catapulted the violinist to viral fame, Ezinma has brought her classical training to bear on collaborations with the likes of SZA, Kendrick Lamar, and Yo-Yo Ma, cementing her status as the face of a blossoming crossover genre that borrows from the classical and hip-hop canons alike. "I'm not a hip hop artist, I'm not a classical artist. I'm working to create this new fusion of music," says the violinist, now 30. Her forthcoming album, Key of Black Minor, combines the technical precision and soaring, "big-textured" sound of orchestral performance with the heavy beats and hi hat-driven rhythms of trap music. The result is a sensory hybrid that echoes listeners' shifting tastes and signals a growing trend toward instrumentation that she feels is taking hold across the spectrum of contemporary music. "I always listen to the hot, new hip-hop tracks on my morning runs," Ezinma notes. "The first two I heard today were by Da Baby and Lil TJay. One opened with this gorgeous piano solo, and the other had amazing string hits-right there at the top of Spotify's ‘Get Turnt' playlist." 

Ezinma, as her music suggests, is no stranger to transcending categorization. As the daughter of Guyanese and German parents, Ezinma's childhood was shaped by a desire to fit in amid Nebraska's overwhelmingly white classical music community. "I was 14 the first time I saw another Black person playing the violin," she recalls. "I couldn't believe it. I called my mom immediately."    Photo by Melinda Pinecone Tenenzapf