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Phoenix New Times: Gangsta rap meets classical in Phoenix Symphony’s season closer

May 10, 2024

By Geri Koeppel


‘The Resurrection Mixtape” combines the music of Gustav Mahler, Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

The Resurrection Mixtape fuses the classical music of Gustav Mahler with the rap music of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.


The Phoenix Symphony will close out its season May 17 to 19 with a performance combining the music of Gustav Mahler, Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G.

Titled “The Resurrection Mixtape,” it’s the latest in the “fusion productions” created by Los Angeles-based composer, conductor and producer Steve Hackman. He’s also synthesized Brahms and Radiohead, Kendrick Lamar and Stravinsky, and Tchaikovsky and Drake, among others, and just finished a combo of Beethoven and Beyonce.

To the casual observer, it might seem like a stretch to combine gangsta rap and classical music. But Hackman says he’s creating for symphony audiences of the future.

“With these fusion shows … I’m trying to reach those friends of mine that I know love music, but they don’t love classical music — yet,” he says.

In addition, Hackman considers some of today’s popular music just as valid and essential as classical. Interestingly, many classical composers, including Mahler, were disruptive in their day just as jazz, rock ’n’ roll and hip-hop were.

Bringing contemporary genres to the symphony stage puts it “on the same pedestal” as classical, Hackman says.

“Hip-hop was unfairly and ignorantly dismissed and censored in the early days, and that still happens,” he notes. “Bringing rap and hip-hop into the concert hall is important for that reason alone.”

For “The Resurrection Mixtape,” Hackman was inspired by parallels among the artists.

“The reason why I thought to connect Biggie and Tupac … was because of the similarities of the narrative between Mahler’s Second (Symphony) and the incredible and tragic lives of Tupac and Biggie,” he explains, referring to the fact that they both died after being gunned down at the ages of 25 and 24, respectively.

“The Resurrection Mixtape’s” first act brings in Tupac and Biggie’s lives, careers and untimely deaths; the second act addresses their legacy.

“I’m using the narrative arc of the Mahler symphony, which begins with funeral rites and ends with transcendence and portal into the afterlife, as an anchor to tell the story of Tupac and Biggie,” Hackman explains.

He also pointed out the rappers’ legacy, noting that it’s “art that endures, that is eternal and continues to influence us and motivate us and call us to action, in the case of Tupac specifically.”

The Phoenix Symphony will perform “The Resurrection Mixtape” with guest soloists Denise Carite, Jecorey Arthur and Marcus Tenney as well as TaRon Lockett on drums and Nick Clark on bass. They’ll bring in songs like Biggie’s “Juicy,” “Hypnotize” and “Who Shot Ya” and Tupac’s “Changes,” “Ghetto Gospel” and “California Love.”

“Jecorey and Marcus both exhibit some of the (performative) qualities of the original artists,” Hackman says. “Marcus kind of has Biggie’s voice. Jecorey has Tupac’s electricity and charisma and energy.”

He adds, “They bring an authenticity and play this music in such an informed way. I always look forward to sharing their gifts with the audience and with the orchestra.”

And don’t be surprised to see people singing along. Hackman says the audiences that come out for these fusion shows are about 75 percent fans of the popular artists versus 25 percent longtime symphony patrons, so they’ll know the words. (It’s important to note that profanity is edited out of the lyrics.)

Attracting a new audience is exactly the point, too. The National Endowment of the Arts reported that only 8.6 percent of U.S. adults attended a classical concert in 2017.

Peter Kjome, president and CEO of the Phoenix Symphony, says, “Programs like “Resurrection Mixtape” reflect our objective to innovate and do astonishing and surprising programming that will excite members of the audience.”

He adds, “One of the things that is important for us to do is play the great masterworks that we also know and love. But it’s also important for us to champion new thinking.”

The Symphony for years has been exploring non-classical programming, from “heavy metal” nights to their pops series and holiday shows. This year highlighted the music of Prohibition, Queen, ABBA and the movie “Star Wars,” among others, and next season will feature the music of Pink Floyd, Selena, Tina Turner and the musical “Wicked,” to name a few.

“Our mission as an organization is to provide extraordinary musical experiences that inspire and advance our community and enrich people of all ages and backgrounds,” says Kjome, who worked with Hackman at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and knew of him before that.

This isn’t the first time he’s showcased Hackman’s work in Phoenix, either: In October, the Symphony performed “And I Love Her: The Beatles Reimagined,” inspired by the women in the Fab Four’s lives and songs.

“Audiences loved it,” Kjome says. “One of the comments I heard multiple times was, ‘That was not what I expected, and it was better than I expected.’”

An hour before each of “The Resurrection Mixtape” performances, Symphony Hall will host a pre-concert event in the lobby featuring the Furious Styles Crew providing a journey through Arizona’s hip-hop culture.

If you miss the show, don’t fret; Hackman has plans to begin releasing recordings of “The Resurrection Mixtape.”

“More and more people after concerts and via social media are saying, ‘Where can I go hear this?’” he says. “It’s so wonderful to me that people want to continue their relationship with the work.”

The Resurrection Mixtape. May 17 to 19. Symphony Hall, 75 N. Second St. Tickets are $30 to $60. Call 602-495-1999 or visit


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