Rapper and Pianist Kev Choice Makes Music to Heal Oakland—and Himself

Kev Choice is a rapper, educator and classically trained pianist who seems to be everywhere in the local music scene. Bay Area concertgoers might recognize him from Yoshi’s or SFJazz, where he’s performed with his Kev Choice Ensemble, or remember him from behind the keys accompanying local artists like Too Short and Rayana Jay.

Choice, who was born and raised in Oakland, says that his main goal with his music is to inspire people of different walks of life and create safe spaces for self-expression. His music is also a way for him to celebrate Oakland’s culture and give back to his community. For Choice, Oakland has always been a mecca for diversity and a center of black excellence. He grew up with black teachers and role models who inspired him to pursue his musical aspirations; now as an adult, he pays it forward by regularly mentoring and performing with student musicians from local high schools.

“When I started my band Kev Choice Ensemble, really my first main goal was being able to have a band of young, African-American musicians who would play music at a high level and high caliber,” he says.

One of Choice’s most important works to date is his Soul Restoration Suite, a piece commissioned by the Oakland Symphony. He says he wrote it when he was going through a period of personal life changes while watching his hometown transform as a result of ongoing gentrification. “It was me trying to restore my soul and also trying to restore the soul of Oakland at the same time,” he says. The piece mixes hip-hop and classical influences (think Ravel meets A Tribe Called Quest), and Choice debuted it at the Oakland Symphony in March 2018 with the Kev Choice Ensemble, Oakland School for the Arts High School Vocal Chorus and vocalists Jennifer Johns and Viveca Hawkins.

“That word restoration came to me,” Choice says. “I was trying to get back to who I really am as a person—what got me into music, that desire to be better, that desire to grow—at the same time thinking about what Oakland is right now. How do we get back to that community of support, of pride?” -- Text by Nastia Voynovskaya

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