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Your local backstage pass to Northeast Ohio’s music scene. Get to know the talented musicians and community influencers in our backyard.

Shuffle: Rapper Archie Green Bridges the Gap Between the Inner City and Classical Music

Archie Green
Cleveland rapper Archie Green turned his project, My Violin Weighs A Ton, into a documentary that debuts Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland

Cleveland hip-hop artist and mental health advocate Archie Green is taking his message to new audiences. His project, My Violin Weighs A Ton, aims to bridge the gap between the inner city and classical music.

From depression to advocacy
Archie Green has been an advocate for mental health awareness ever since he came to terms with his own struggles with depression. Raised in Chagrin Falls, Green says he was the only African-American in his class. Then, when his family moved to Solon, he had a hard time assimilating with other black students. That led to him writing a song about wanting to commit suicide. 

Green says he hit a new low when he returned home after grad school at New York University. A relationship he was in ended, and he was working two jobs to make ends meet. He went out one night with some fraternity brothers and ended up getting a DUI. He was ordered into AA and his license was suspended, slipping further into a dark place.

Then, a friend suggested he go to therapy. Green says it wasn’t something he would have ever considered, given the stigma surrounding mental illness in the African-American community. He entered therapy and his life changed.

Credit Archie Green
Cleveland rapper Archie Green has used his own struggle with depression to help others

In 2016, Green’s song “Layers” went viral , and, as a result, he started a program called Peel Dem Layers Back. It aims to increase mental health awareness, especially in the black community.  

A dream come true
Green says he was inspired by big-name hip-hop artists who have collaborated with orchestras, including Kanye West, Nas and Jay-Z. It was a longtime dream of his to do a similar concert in Cleveland. 

So, last summer, he decided to put My Violin Weighs A Ton into action. He collaborated with several dozen students at the Lexington Bell Community Center in Cleveland’s Hough neighborhood.

“Lexington Bell already had a relationship with Cleveland Orchestra, so the instruments that the kids learned how to play classical guitar on were all donated from the Cleveland Orchestra,” Green said.

The partnership came from the Center for Performance and Civic Practice’s Learning Lab program, supported by Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.

Green also partnered with The Cleveland Classical Guitar Society to give the kids lessons.

“Originally, I had in my mind this idea for this one song I wanted them to perform, but when their instructor, Andy, came in for the first day, he asked, 'How many of you guys know ‘Old Town Road?’ And of course, everybody (said) “I know ‘Old Town Road’ and that’s when I knew that that was the song that they were going to perform.”

So, the kids started learning the hit song by rapper Lil Nas X, along with going on field trips to different Cleveland cultural institutions and taking lyric writing workshops focusing on three areas of growth: social anxiety, parental engagement and acts of kindness.

'I wanted to bridge the gap with diversity and inclusion in an authentic way.'

Then, came a performance at Severance Hall last September. The show featured the children performing their own rendition of “Old Town Road,” performed on classical guitar. For the second half of the show, Green and a chamber ensemble performed songs from his upcoming EP.

“It was a dream come true,” Green said. “Thankfully, we raised enough money to produce the program and the Cleveland Orchestra came on as a programming partner and it was historic. It was the first time hip-hop had ever been performed there.”  

Bridging the gap
For Green, the best part was seeing the diverse crowd at Severance Hall.

“I've been a fan of the orchestra since I was a kid. I mean we all, at some point, if you lived in Cleveland or near Cleveland, you've been to the Cleveland Orchestra for a field trip, but as a black or brown boy or girl going there, you may not see yourself on stage or in the audience. So, I wanted to bridge the gap with diversity and inclusion in an authentic way.”

And Green said he wanted to try to make an impact on inner-city children.

“I have tried to figure out a way to start working within that school district to primarily introduce an alternative form of release therapy in music. For a lot of these kids, some of them don't have music programs anymore, and they're dealing with real trauma, whether it's hearing gunshots at night, physical or verbal abuse, or hunger. My way of helping to deal with that was showing them like, if nothing else, you can channel what you're going through into music.”

A documentary of My Violin Weighs A Ton project screens this Saturday at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cleveland. Music from the performance will be released on digital platforms.