Men in front of black background holding music instruments

Classical music and Hip-Hop are two very different genres that one might think should not synergize. Ensemble Mik Nawooj’s Hip-Hop Orchestra Experience proves otherwise, providing a unique experience that pushes both Hip-Hop and Classical music to their limits to present something completely fresh and unique. Ensemble Mik Nawooj’s lead composer and pianist, JooWan Kim sat down for an exclusive interview to dive into the story of The Hip-Hop Orchestra Experience, coming to Newberry Opera House on October 18.

JooWan Kim’s passion for music first ignited when he was 10 years old in Korea. Kim expresses, “I listened to Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 from top to bottom for the first time and was completely blown away by it. Then I realized he was deaf, which shocked me even more. This was when I made up my mind, without realizing it, to pursue composition. It was a very faint and naïve feeling of ‘wow, how was a deaf guy able to do this? What kind of training made this possible’?”

Ensemble Mik Nawooj and The Hip-Hop Orchestra Experience was formed by Kim’s desire to pursue his own path. Kim states, “When I had to present a piece for the end of semester composition department concert when doing my graduate studies, I put an MC and a drummer alongside what they call “Pierrot Ensemble”, which is often used by new music groups to push the musical language forward. The faculty’s response was predictable; they absolutely hated it. Audiences unexpectedly loved it, however. My MC at the time suggested we create an album and here we are.”

The Hip-Hop Orchestra chose their genre of music from interesting circumstances. Kim states, “Hip-Hop was my conversion experience after the initial piece caused problems for the composition faculty. As I just used the Hip-Hop element to give a giant middle finger to the serious practitioners of concert music, I thought it was only fair to survey the repertoires.” He cites N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” album, and specifically Dr. Dre as his primary Hip-Hop influences which transformed his perspectives on music completely. His Classical music influences go back to his childhood, to when he was first inspired to create music.

When asked to describe the music of the Hip-Hop Orchestra Experience, Kim says, “You have actual compositions that are written for an orchestra which uses the full scope of its color and textures juxtaposing high caliber MCs spitting real verses.” Kim explains that the ensemble’s music completely integrates both Hip-Hop and Classical and highlights their differences which he describes as Metamusic.

While JooWan Kim is the lead composer and pianist of The Hip-Hop Orchestra Experience, the show features a team of talented musicians who make the music truly come alive. There is a core crew of rotating MCs (Unity Lewis, Kirby Dominant, and others), a drummer (Lyman Alexander Jr.), a turf dancer (Yung Phil), and JooWan Kim himself on the piano. Other members can get sourced regionally, from a 23-piece chamber orchestra to a full symphony orchestra with 50 or more musicians present.

As JooWan Kim prepares for the upcoming show at Newberry Opera House, he reflects on his creative process. Kim says, “I drink obscene amounts of loose-leaf teas that could kill a mule when I write. Then I drink natural wines when I am done with the piece. The actual writing process itself is probably too boring for me to get into too much detail. It goes something like me totally being nasty to my imaginary orchestra in my head, trying different things, and being weirdly euphoric when things work out. This is often followed by being even more upset that it actually didn’t work out.”

Don’t miss this extraordinary fusion of two musical worlds at the Newberry Opera House on Wednesday, October 18 at 7:30 p.m. The Hip-Hop Orchestra Experience promises to be an unforgettable evening of creativity and innovation, where Hip-Hop meets Classical music in perfect harmony. Get your tickets today and immerse yourself in the magic of this groundbreaking show.


Brandon Ruff