New concert series to launch with Jeezy and Atlanta Symphony Orchestra

The performance will take place on Jan. 27.
The Legendz of the Streetz Tour rocked sold-out State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Friday, April 1, 2022. The show featured hip-hop stars Jeezy (above), Rick Ross, T.I., Trina, DJ Drama, Dav3D and D'Myke. (Photo: Robb Cohen for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Robb Cohen for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Legendz of the Streetz Tour rocked sold-out State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Friday, April 1, 2022. The show featured hip-hop stars Jeezy (above), Rick Ross, T.I., Trina, DJ Drama, Dav3D and D'Myke. (Photo: Robb Cohen for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Merging notable artists, especially in hip-hop, with a classical orchestra is not an anomaly. In 2014, Nas presented a symphonic rendition of his 1994 magnum opus “Illmatic” with the National Symphony Orchestra. In 2018, Chief Keef went viral for performing with a live orchestra for an Audiomack program, reinvigorating his drill classics like “Love Sosa” and “Faneto” for fans and newcomers alike. And just last year, Rick Ross partnered with Red Bull for a performance with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Craig M. Garrett, an Atlanta-based live event curator and producer, wants those experiences to be ongoing, especially for Black people who typically aren’t afforded the opportunity to be in such spaces. Black people represent less than 2% of musicians in an American classical orchestra, according to a 2014 study by the League of American Orchestras. Garrett wants Atlanta to be the springboard for shifting that trend.

“Atlanta influences everything. Black and brown people — when we show up in places, we excel at it, so when you think about the arts, music, sports that we typically haven’t been a part of, once we learn, we excel and one place that we have not been represented in a way that I would like to experience is classical music or formal music, orchestras,” said Garrett, 49. “The idea is to take these popular artists and pair them with these symphonies so that we can come and dress up. When you’re not represented in the dominant community, I think it’s important that people are seeing themselves.”

Craig M. Garrett is the director of Next Level Events. The Atlanta-based live event curation company is producing a new concert series that pairs popular artists with classical music. Jeezy's upcoming performance with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is the series' first installment.

Credit: Courtesy of Craig M. Garrett

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Credit: Courtesy of Craig M. Garrett

That was the impetus for Classically Ours, a new concert initiative that aims to create an intimate, formal experience by blending the work of popular musicians and symphony orchestras. Legendary Atlanta-bred rapper and entrepreneur Jeezy is the series’ debut act. He’ll perform his 2005 major-label debut “Let’s Get It: Thug Motivation 101″ with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra at 8 p.m. on Jan. 27 at Atlanta Symphony Hall.

Tickets for the event quickly sold out following last month’s announcement, so Garrett hopes the high demand for it makes capturing the public’s attention easier for future concerts in the series. Formal attire is highly recommended but not required for attendees.

“This is an opportunity to take part of our business, which is live music, partner with an amazing artist who’s reinventing his career and becoming so much more later in his career, Jeezy, and presenting him in a way that he has not typically been represented in the past.”

Next week’s concert is produced by Next Level Events, the Atlanta-based company founded by Garrett in 2013 to curate live entertainment events mainly in the Southeast. The performance will be conducted and arranged by the nationally renowned bassist Derrick Hodge, who has worked with Common, Jill Scott, Nas and more. In 2014, he became the first Black composer to arrange a hip-hop show for the National Symphony Orchestra as the musical director for Nas’ 20th anniversary celebration of “Illmatic.”

Garrett said Jeezy immediately wanted to be a part of Classically Ours upon being presented with the idea. The concert marks the first time that Jeezy has ever performed with a symphony orchestra, according to the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

“He’s reinventing himself as an entrepreneur, as a family man and as a leader in the community, and so when we had the opportunity to get him to be a part of the first one, it made great sense,” Garrett said. “We are based in Atlanta. Obviously, we have the Grammy-winning Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, so it was important to have (them). We wanted it to be in Atlanta and get an Atlanta artist in — [Jeezy’s] from Atlanta, he represents Atlanta, he is Atlanta.”

For nearly two decades, the 45-year-old rapper has centered himself as a pioneer in the Southern trap sound that’s an inherent part of Atlanta’s buzzing musical terrain today. In October, Jeezy teamed with frequent collaborator DJ Drama to release a joint album entitled “Snofall.” He hosts his annual Sno Ball Gala in Atlanta to raise funds for his Street Dreamz Foundation, a nonprofit he started to build opportunity and programming for underprivileged youth in the city and beyond.

William Strawn, marketing director for the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, said attendees can expect to be enthralled by the impressive musicianship throughout the event that’s unlike any typical Jeezy concert.

“Jeezy...playing with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra makes for a unique show because he’s going to be performing his breakout album, and there are a lot of orchestral elements sampled and used on that album,” Strawn said.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra is currently in its 78th season. It’s also the first season for new conductor Nathalie Stutzmann, who was named the first female music director of the heralded ensemble. Strawn said the symphony hall can seat about 1,800 people.

Eventually, Garrett hopes that Classically Ours will be more than just a local experience, although showcasing the breadth of Atlanta’s musical talent is a priority. His team is still working on logistics for the duration of the series, but plans for it to be an annual event that features an artist touring the show across multiple cities over 2-3 months.

“You’re talking about some of the highest level of musicians in their arenas coming together and presenting their creation for the people,” Garrett said. “I want people to walk away feeling great, feeling inspired, but also be somewhat in awe of knowing that this is what our community is about. Hopefully, it trickles down into their daily lives to continue to be great because we have greatness inside of us.”