Ashanti “The Mad Violinist” Floyd can honestly say he pulled some strings to attain his spot in the rap game. Adding violin arrangements to some of hip-hop’s hottest productions, the 27-year-old Tallahassee, Florida, native is trying to turn beatmaking into his personal orchestra.

Floyd started playing the violin when he was three coaxed by his mother, who is a string professor at Florida A&M University. By 14, he was trading Bach for Badu and combining his love for hip-hop with his instrumental gift. “I was just jamming to it, not knowing where it was going to take me,” says Floyd. “I didn’t have a big vision for it, because [playing rap beats on a violin] was an art form that hadn’t been discovered yet.”

While attending Boston’s Berklee College of Music in 2003, Floyd appeared on BET’s 106 & Park, performing a violin cover of Bone Crusher’s “Never Scared.” The budding star popped his production
cherry the following year, composing middle school classmate T-Pain’s strings-oriented “I’m High.” In 2007, he teamed with the J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League to provide string arrangements for Young Buck’s
“Buss Yo’ Head.” Floyd would later link with the production trio to provide arrangements on Young Jeezy’s “Word Play” (2008) and Rick Ross’s “Maybach Music 2” (2009).

After moving to Atlanta three years ago and working as Yelawolf’s front man, Floyd connected with producer Kane Beatz and has since contributed chords for several notable Kane tracks, including Lupe
Fiasco’s “The Show Goes On,” Nicki Minaj’s “I’m the Best” and Lil Wayne’s “Right Above It.” Last year, Floyd earned a Grammy nomination for his work on Fantasia’s album Back to Me.

Currently signed to Kane Beatz’s The Building Records as a producer and pushing The Addiction, the album by his seven-piece band, Symphony Crack Orchestra, Floyd is content with the revival of the instrumental sound in hip-hop. “Now I can say there is a lot more room for me in hip-hop music,” he says. “I’ve watched it grow. From getting no placements, to getting very few placements, to now.”

Strings attached. —C. Vernon Coleman II