When Ashanti Floyd, twenty-six, was a fifth grader in Tallahassee, his classmates laughed at him for playing the violin. With Tupac Shakur cranking out multiplatinum records, there were few young African American violinists, let alone ones traveling to Europe for classical music competitions. But by high school, Floyd’s gym performances inspired such bedlam that the principal had to shut down student assemblies.
Now the Grammy-nominated Atlantan is helping lead a rising wave of hip-hop violinists. His work has been featured on thirty major albums by the likes of Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, Fantasia, John Legend, and his childhood friend T-Pain. Better known by his stage name, the Mad Violinist, Floyd and his band Symphony Crack are finishing up their first release, The Addiction. He traces the group’s influences to Pink Floyd, Jimi Hendrix, Dr. Dre, the Grateful Dead, Rage Against the Machine—and gospel (“Amazing Grace” is a childhood favorite). Asked the genre, Floyd replies, “Grammy music”—adding, “Hip-hop needs class. That’s what I’ve always said.” symphonycrack.com
>> SONG: Listen to an audio clip of “Muzik,” from Symphony Crack’s first LP
Photograph by Taylor Wallace