Strings and Flow: Why Emily Wells Deserves More Attention

Learn about your next favorite violin-playing Hip-Hop artist.
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Learn about your next favorite violin-playing Hip-Hop artist.
Photo Credit: NPR

Photo Credit: NPR

Emily Wells currently holds 4,375 followers on Twitter, 4,855 followers on Instagram, and 33,613 likes on Facebook. She's been creating music since 1999. Actually, to add to this incredible artist's story, from 1999 to 2005 she self-produced/released four albums. So, it isn't as if the Brooklyn-based experimentalist is up and coming. Underappreciated is a more correct term. Perhaps her style and composition is a bit too niche to garner universal, mainstream awareness. However, her first full-length LP, Mama (released on Partisan Records), was met with acclaim from the critics (technically blogs, but that word is so off putting). With the problem lying in that, that is who reviewed the album.  In their review of Mama Bring the Noise called the album, "one of the most interesting albums of the year ... Capable of filling both the smallest of venues and the cavernous spaces of festival tents, Mama is a fine example of what can happen when someone ignores the traditional boundaries of music genres." And I am not trying to discredit anybody here, but who is Bring the Noise, or Music OMH, or In Your Speakers? That's the problem, not even a review from Pitchfork or Spin for the 34-year-old artist. But screw them for not picking up on Emily Wells, because you're about to see, hear, learn, feel, or any other way you receive information just why she deserves the attention.

Before we even dive into the fact that fascinating Wells' live technique and her studio recordings are symbiotic, but also incredibly different, her influences are rather noteworthy. First, we have the deceased American-composer, John Cage. And second, the G-d damn Wu-Tang Clan. Pair this knowledge with the fact that she is friends with the one-and-only Questlove Gomez, and it is even more baffling that classical music nerds all the way to Hip-Hop heads have yet to pick up on her given her range of influences.

In the studio, she is known for her frequent usage of a myriad of instruments. Wells is a borderline maestro when it comes to the cello, piano, violin, synthesizer, drum machine, and guitar. All components playing large parts in her works, and providing beautifully experimental electronic melodies behind Wells' aforementioned (in the title) flow. The flow's ability to take on different forms of delivery is captivating. At times you can compare it to the likes of Sarah Barthel (Phantogram), and at others her rap influences come to the forefront. And if you laughed at that part, hear for yourself. Because Wells produced an incredibly moody cover of Notorious B.I.G.'s classic anthem, "Juicy".

Now, during her live performances Wells doesn't veer far from the given track's original sound, however her dexterity in regards to not only performance, but improvisation and awareness of space is extraordinary. In a 2008 interview with NPR appropriately titled, "Violinist's Style As Much Hip-Hop As Haydn", Wells explains the method to her madness. She states:

 "I have this special magical pedal that allows me to sample or record live a bit of music and then it will take - put to music and repeat it. And I can then build layers upon that. You just get to lay much as you want. Any instruments that you have plugged into your pedal, you can just keep it going."

Live recordings turned into loops and used throughout the performance via sample pads. I am aware that she isn't the Thomas Edison of utilizing this technology in a live performance. However, given her genre, it is a tad unprecedented. The looping of strings and harmonies convey the sound of avant-garde gospel behind her. See for yourself below.

In the end, what I guess I am trying to say is that Emily Wells is dope (in basic terms). And that adjective doesn't usually pop into one's mind when they are thinking about an experimental violinist, but it's the truth. Now, lets just wait and see if the rest of the world gets the memo.