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It’s no surprise these days to hear classical musicians playing bluegrass, jazz or even heavy metal, but the Chinese-born cellist is crossing over into uncharted territory with his latest release, a CD of gangster rap entitled Yo Yo Ma Biatches.
The new disc, to be issued on Jay-Z’s Roc Nation label, is slated for release on April 10, and features not only the musician’s skills as a virtuoso cellist, but also sees him dropping his own rhymes over the beats of producer RZA and remixes of classical favourites including Saint-Saëns’s The Swan.
“When they see me with my cello,
All da shorties say, “Hello!”
Shakin they asses like jello…” Raps the musician in his distinctive Chinese-American drawl. The lyrics refer to Ma’s cultural identity, political convictions and his own rags-to-riches journey from busking in Paris as a six-year-old to counting President Obama and the late Steve Jobs among his friends.
Ma took a break from filming the title-track’s music video in Bel Air, Los Angeles to chat exclusively to Limelight. “It’s all about breaking down the boundaries and creating a dialogue between different genres,” said the 56-year-old. “Jay-Z has been so supportive of the project. He even had a solid gold cello made for me to play in the recording sessions.” Ma declined to comment on whether he preferred the gold instrument (pictured) to his Stradivarius.
It’s not the first time Ma has ventured beyond traditional classical repertoire. Last year he teamed with bluegrass musicians to record the Goat Rodeo Sessions. He described the collaboration to Billboard.com as a liberating experience. “You look at it on paper and it’s like, ‘Gee, how come these people are getting together?! But we clicked immediately – and partly because we basically share the same values. We’re all interested in the world around us and in all different kinds of music.”
Similarly, some of the most renowned musicians in the genre appear as guests on Yo Yo Ma Biatches, including Kanye West, The Beastie Boys, beatboxing virtuoso Dokaka and Ma’s Sony labelmates 2Cellos, the latter having co-written and arranged the track Honeeyz, I got wood between my legs.
Limelight can reveal the full tracklist:
1. Strad in the back, bitches in da front
2. Yo Yo Ma Biatches (What Up?)
3. Silk Road stylin
4. Obama ain’t got nuttin on me
5. Buskin to da top
6. Rice power in da hood
7. Honeeyz, I got wood between my legs
8. I got ball like Carnegie Hall
Yo Yo Ma Biatches is released on CD and special edition gold-plated vinyl on April 10.