Comprising sisters, brothers and cousins, the hip-hop/classical hybrid Nocturnal Unit produces a unique sound. “Nocturnal Unit combines the intellect and precision of classical music with the energy and grittiness of hip-hop,” said Rolf Haas, vocalist and violinist of the group. “I am constantly pushing the boundaries of both classical and hip-hop music.”
The members of Nocturnal Unit are no newcomers to the music scene, with an impressive family lineage of professional musicians. Their strongest classical influence comes from their grandparents, Harry and Sally Nordstrom. “My family has always been important to me,” said Haas, speaking about the founding of Nocturnal Unit four years ago. “I had been in bands and was trying to find a group, but none really ended up working. I thought it would be really cool to work with my family and so Nocturnal Unit happened, and it did so very organically.”
Haas first learned how to play the violin when he was five and started MCing when he was 18. He has played with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra and has also been in many punk rock bands. Being familiar with both genres, Haas is able to create complex, dynamic compositions. “The focal point changes: sometimes it’s rap, sometimes it’s violin, but it needs to have emotion, and it needs to come alive.” Haas continued, “Translation between the two takes work, but if done correctly, it fits together perfectly and is very rewarding.”
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According to Haas it’s all about balancing the two styles: since the focal point is very fluid, one genre cannot overpower the other. Nonetheless Haas makes it work, incorporating diverse aspects of both genres into his music and creating an equilibrium. “Ultimately, all of our music just turns out as a hip-hop song.”
As a performer, Haas wants to create more unity between the two genres. “I try to learn from classical and hip-hop but good music is good music, and there is something to be learned from any genre.”
Nocturnal Unit aim their music primarily towards hip-hop audiences, but they also have an overarching message for all their listeners: “I’d like to really be able to show that overcoming adversity is possible, that you can do a lot for yourself, I want to inspire people to be confident to be themselves,” Haas concludes. “It’s like a societal thing—if you would like a change, it has to come from within yourself.”
Oscar Nieves Rubio is a student at St. John’s University.