Ezinma, Violinist to Beyoncé and SZA, Blurs Classical Music’s Rigid Boundaries

Ezinma violinist New York City
Photo by Melinda Pinecone Tenenzapf

“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.”

Ezinma’s journey— from performing at youth fiddling competitions in the American heartland to playing the Main Stage at Coachella alongside Beyoncé— is illuminated in an eponymous short film co-produced by Tribeca Studios and Bulgari. Premiering today, Ezinma is one of six installments of the Roman jewelry label’s Female Trailblazer series, a project spotlighting the endeavors of women bent on blurring the art world’s most rigid boundaries.

The film opens with the artist, a grin on her face, playing a hip hop-inflected violin piece on an empty subway car as it speeds uptown, and traces her journey from the recording studio to the auditorium of a Harlem public school, where she performs a mixture of Pachelbel’s Canon and pop hits before a crowd of rapt elementary school musicians.

The concept of fusion has been a throughline in Ezinma’s upbringing and her work, a reality she feels is inseparable from her identity; “There has been so much division in our country lately, so there’s something about bringing unexpected elements together that feels cathartic right now. As a person of mixed race, reimagining popular songs with the gloss of high art feels natural to me.”

“A lot of people feel that classical music isn’t for them,” Ezinma adds. “There’s nothing worse than feeling like you don’t belong, or not knowing which fork to eat with first. I’m working really hard to change that perception.”

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