Since an entire orchestra is only as far away as the nearest sampler, a classical violinist wouldn’t seem to be of much use in hip-hop. Miri Ben-Ari, though, has proven to be worth more than her weight in bling: Responsible for all the strings on Kanye West’s The College Dropout, the Israeli-born Ben-Ari has cut tracks with Twista and shared the stage with Jay-Z and Wyclef Jean.
Now she steps out from behind the sheet music and releases her hip-hop solo debut, The Hip Hop Violinist. She’s enlisted a respectable roster of performers and producers including John Legend, Scarface, Anthony Hamilton, and Akon. Lest anyone forget, however, this is her show.
On opener and lead single “We Gonna Win,” Styles P. boasts over a jagged piano riff while Ben-Ari fires back with her violin. Her considerable talent is on full display, though it never gets in the way of a hook. Ben-Ari cut her teeth on classics and jazz standards and she appears to know a thing or two about restraint. (That said, check out her version of “Star Spangled Banner” in which she does things that were probably never meant to be done to a violin.)
As a certain sitting president’s poll numbers will attest, it’s advisable to stay on Kanye West’s good side. Ben-Ari has apparently managed to do this as West contributes beats and vocals to several tracks. One of the record’s more obvious standouts, “New World Symphony” finds the two matching sonic wits flanked by a gospel choir. On “Fly Away” West warns listeners that Ben-Ari will “blow your minds.” For proof, stick around for the bonus track, “Jump & Spread Out (Remix),” which shows that classy and crunk need not be mutually exclusive.
The Hip Hop Violinist is out Tuesday on Universal/Motown.