Soundbites: Merging Chopin and Busta Rhymes with BLKBOK | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

Music » Music News + Views

Soundbites: Merging Chopin and Busta Rhymes with BLKBOK


Published May 22, 2024 at 10:00 a.m.

  • Courtesy Of Gl Askew Ii

At the tender age of 4, Charles Wilson III began a lifelong relationship with music. His mother wanted to instill a sense of discipline in him and his sister, so she started them both on piano lessons.

"I come from a long line of entertainers and artists on my mother's side, so she knew I had that in my blood," said Wilson, known professionally as BLKBOK, by phone ahead of his scheduled performance at Spruce Peak Arts in Stowe on Thursday, May 30. "I played sports and all that, but the piano was my real constant. From age 4 to 16, I knew I had lessons every Sunday."

While most of the kids his age were listening to pop, hip-hop or rock, Wilson was taking it all in and cataloging music as only a nascent composer could do.

"I don't think I was too aware of genre, to be honest," he said. "I'd listen to Ice Cube, the Allman Brothers, Tchaikovsky, all of it. There's truly no difference — music is either good or it isn't."

Recognized as a prodigy by the time he was 8 years old, Wilson chose the name BLKBOK (pronounced "Black Bach," as in the composer Johann Sebastian Bach) to showcase his connection to both rap and classical music. It didn't take long for his talents to be noticed in his native Detroit. Eventually tapped to play with the likes of pop stars Rihanna, Justin Timberlake and John Mayer, he blew up on TikTok in 2021 after releasing a classical remix of Cardi B's song "Up."

That same year, Wilson released his debut album, Black Book, the 2022 rerelease of which the New York Times shouted out as one of "5 Classical Music Albums You Can Listen to Right Now." Last year, he dropped 9, a tribute to the Little Rock Nine, the Black teenagers who were the first students to enter Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., during the first days of desegregation in 1957.

It all makes BLKBOK something of outlier in classical music: a composer who is as versed in N.W.A as he is in Sergei Rachmaninoff.

"It all leaks and seeps into my compositions," Wilson said of his disparate influences. "When I set out to write a piece, it's a blank canvas for me: What colors will I use? And a lot of my influences from my days touring with pop acts might sneak in; I'll use a pre-chorus here or a bridge there."

He loves to sneak in hints of other genres, as well. Wilson pointed out a section in his new song "Shadows and Light" that delves into jazzier terrains and chord choices.

"Having this lush, jazzy section at the end of a classical piece is like a little Easter egg I get to leave, just a hint of my love of jazz," he said.

The secret to composing a successful piece lies not so much in techniques or layering in genre, Wilson said, as in being willing to put yourself out there.

"The most important thing for a composer, as far as I'm concerned, is to be vulnerable and transparent," he said. "You want to show people your perspective as a songwriter? Well, vulnerability is your No. 1 tool. To show people that I have these feelings, it gives the audience the agency to feel them as well."

On tunes such as "George Floyd & the Struggle For Equality" and "Toddlers Don't Care About Race," Wilson uses classical music to delve into some of the driving issues of modern American society. It's music that sets the table for a longer, harder conversation, even as, he observed, it "serves as a vehicle for a deeper, more spiritual connection between artist and audience."

That connection matters because, in many ways, BLKBOK is swimming against the current when it comes to modern classical music.

"I do call myself a bit of a renegade, because I go against a lot of the classical norms," Wilson said. There still aren't many classical musicians out there who look or sound like him — a Black composer with the Detroit royal "D" tattooed on his chest who favors gold rings and painted fingernails.

"My whole life has been climbing gates and breaking ceilings," he said. "To this day, it's very challenging, and I know there are still certain gates I've yet to conquer that lie ahead, but it doesn't bother me as long as I feel I'm being true to who I am."

Less than 2 percent of all classical composers are non-white. Staying true to himself in an onstage, visible way is of utmost importance to Wilson, given that need for representation.

"I want to show people that you don't need a conservatory education, that you just need to work hard, and you don't have to look or sound like anyone else," he said. He hopes that Black audience members — particularly young people — who see him performing classical music from his own authentic standpoint will use his musical career as a blueprint to launch their own.

"And when you do that, you can surprise the audience," he said. "Which is where the real power is: taking away people's expectations and showing them there is so much more."

For tickets and more information about BLKBOK's upcoming performance in Stowe, visit

Speaking of...



Comments are closed.

From 2014-2020, Seven Days allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we've appreciated the suggestions and insights, right now Seven Days is prioritizing our core mission — producing high-quality, responsible local journalism — over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.