Society has often pitted hip-hop and classical music against each other as opposites. One is a genre with a reputation for lyrical prowess and sampling, the other is known primarily for its instrumental innovation and supposed stuffiness. But what happens when you committedly put the two together? Orchestral renditions of hip-hop and R&B legends have grown increasingly popular across the country. You may have even seen them advertised on Facebook with the likes of Kanye West, Frank Ocean, and Drake. So, you could imagine my excitement when it was announced that an orchestral rendition of Dr. Dre’s 2001 was coming to the Exeter Phoenix.
Dr. Dre is a musician whose legend is tangled with genius and controversy. From his role in establishing G-Funk to his mentoring of Eminem and Kendrick Lamar, Dr. Dre is one of the most influential and important producers in hip-hop’s history, make no mistake. And his 1999 effort 2001, while perhaps mildly less critically acclaimed than The Chronic, was a huge commercial success, going platinum six times in the US. Yet it is important to remember his controversy as well, especially his history of accusations of violence against women. Celebrating Dr. Dre was certainly an interesting choice considering journalist and rapper Dee Barnes, who he was once accused of assaulting, recently faced homelessness.
Dr. Dre is a musician whose legend is tangled with genius and controversy
The beginning of the night did not necessarily meet my expectations: the room filled up slowly. The supporting act Lexy P, who was also the main MC for the night, had the job of hyping the sparse audience. But his set, primarily call and response, did nothing to fill me with excitement. But then I suppose it must be very hard to hype a room that is about as full as an end-of-term lecture. Thankfully, the audience had arrived by the time the orchestra took to the stage.
Lexy P said something very important during his supporting set: “this is a Dr. Dre Convention”. He wasn’t wrong; instead of going through 2001 as a chronological set, there were many diversions into Dre’s west-coast contributions – a rendition of ‘Nuthin’ But a G Thang’ was especially fun to listen to – and perhaps more Eminem than was necessary. The night began with a classical piece that suddenly twisted into ‘The Watcher’, and the band moved seamlessly through the set. Classics like ‘Forgot about Dre’ and ‘The Next Episode’ received a wild response from the crowd, but standout moments like ‘What’s The Difference’ saw the orchestra thrive.
instead of going through 2001 as a chronological set, there were many diversions into Dre’s west-coast contributions
The orchestra’s chemistry was undeniable. At the very beginning of the set, the pianist pointed out that the stage was full of some of the greatest musicians in the world, and dare I say they lived up to this grand statement. The string section was particularly strong; in a brief classical detour, there was an especially virtuosic violin solo. But it didn’t detract from the all-important hip-hop being recreated that night. The audience lapped up its refreshing informality.
The night ended with ‘California Love’, and it was clear that this was less a celebration of one album, and more an ode to West Coast brilliance. Everyone there wanted to see Dr. Dre’s production prowess come to life, and I doubt that anyone left disappointed.