Updated: Jul 7, 2021
Written by Morgan Forde
Photographed by Natasha Magino Contributing reporting from Shaakira DeLoatch
When most people think of an orchestra, the words “lit as f***” probably aren’t the first that come to mind. However, after a breakout performance on the University of Maryland campus in 2012, Marcus Moody and the Hip-Hop Orchestra (HHO) are well on their way to changing that. A lifelong musician and a UMD graduate, Marcus says the idea for the group was something he’d had in mind since he first came to the university. After a rocky start, HHO quickly gained popularity both on and off campus in 2012 and has since opened for T-Pain and Lil’ Dicky at UMD’s Art Attack and headlined at The Kennedy Center, MilkBoy Arthouse, and the National Arboretum.
In the group’s own words, “The Hip-Hop Orchestra rediscovers the link between orchestral and Hip-Hop music by composing and performing original music while rearranging others--combining melodic, orchestral complexities with the soul, rhythm, and profound lyricism of Hip-Hop.” Within its first two years HHO received over 300 applications from musicians interested in joining the group. “It felt like one of those classic college movies,” Marcus said, “where they’re holding auditions, and everyone looks weird. But then they play their instrument, and you’re like, ‘Woah, they’re lit as f***.’ That’s something else the orchestra has done: I have no [preconceived] notions about anybody anymore. Anybody can be anything.” Marcus has been involved in orchestra since the third grade; however, leading one of his own hasn’t been without its challenges. “The best people to lead are the ones who want to be there,” he said. “I’ve learned who really wants to work and present something fire versus benefit from having presented something fire.” As the group has grown and attracted increasingly talented musicians, Marcus said, it has been easier to have greater transparency and to foster creative teamwork amongst the members. When considering his vision for HHO’s future performances, Marcus sees the group as a way not only to turn classical stereotypes on their head, but also to highlight diverse, local talent and create a new sound altogether.
“Why are we still playing 500-year-old music?” Marcus asked. He expressed the importance of having a foundational knowledge of classical music but noted that there is “little experimentation in public arts education.”
“I want to stretch what people do, period,” he continued. “I could continue to cover works from well-known and great composers or today’s music, but I want to try something new. I want to do it with people around the area. The future of the orchestra is working with the rising artists in the area of any genre.”
"I’ve learned who really wants to work and present something fire versus benefit from having presented something fire.”
As the group continues to host bigger and more high-profile performances, Marcus said he would love to incorporate more visuals. “We don’t have the money for them,” he said, “but if we did, we would be on the f*cking moon--it would look like a Missy Elliot video.”
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Six years after HHO’s first big performance, Marcus tells aspiring musicians to, “Start, own your time, and don’t stop.”
Keep up with the Hip-Hop Orchestra’s upcoming performances via Facebook and Instagram @dmvhho.