Two Lives Set to Music

As Kevin Gift, he performs classical piano and jazz. As Wendel Patrick, he plays hip-hop. The affiliate professor of music has gathered followings and success under both names.

By Rita Buettner  |  Photos courtesy of Kevin Gift

When Kevin Gift was 3 or 4, he first told his mother about his recurring dream.

He described the feeling of being with someone, followed by a period of very frantic activity, and then the sense of being alone.

As he talked to his mother, Gift watched her eyes fill with tears. She explained that Gift had had a twin brother. The boys were born one month premature, and Gift’s brother, Wendel Patrick, had died within a day of their birth in Washington, D.C., in February 1973. The dream mirrored the boys’ birth experience.
Gift, now an affiliate assistant professor of fine arts, was not surprised to discover that he was a twin. “It just seemed to make sense,” he said.

As Gift grew up, he took piano lessons and became classically trained. Just for fun, he listened to hip-hop music and started beatboxing, a form of vocal percussion. When he was older and more experienced, he began making his own recordings—but he didn’t play his hip-hop music for anyone except himself.

“A lot of what I was writing was weird and quirky, and I didn’t think anyone else would be interested in it,” said Gift, who has a studio in his Baltimore home. When he eventually played his hip-hop for friends, they encouraged him to share it more broadly—but Gift had trouble including it on the same website where he featured tracks of his classical piano and jazz music.

“I would post it under Kevin Gift, and when I showed it to people, they would almost get confused,” he said.

Double Identity

Then Gift thought of his twin brother. And he decided to release the hip-hop music under his twin’s name.

“It just seemed like it made the most sense, because it’s the closest thing to me,” Gift said.

Now he has two sets of fans—those who admire Kevin Gift’s classical and jazz piano performances and those who seek out Wendel Patrick’s hip-hop concerts. Gift designed and maintains separate websites— and—each with its own personality and feel. He responds to both “Kevin” and “Wendel,” and callers to his phone hear, “You’ve reached Kevin Gift and Wendel Patrick.”

The performers’ personas are separate, but Gift does see how the two intersect. On New Year’s Day 2014, when Gift plans to release four albums at the same time, three will be Wendel Patrick albums and one will be by Kevin Gift.

For the first time, however, the two artists will collaborate on an album, as Wendel Patrick makes an appearance in a track on the Kevin Gift album.

“It will be interesting to see what happens,” Gift said. “The Wendel Patrick followers know he is a classically trained musician, but they don’t know about Kevin Gift.”

It’s not as if Gift has been trying to keep the link a secret. Each of the artist’s websites has a link to the other site. And although this is the first time the “two” artists’ talents will be featured together, Gift isn’t intentionally using this moment to let his followers know about his performance in the two genres.

“I just thought it would be interesting artistically to add that Wendel Patrick element to that song,” he said.

Meet the Professor

At the start of each semester, Gift reviews the syllabus with his students. Then he gives them the web addresses to his two sites so they can learn more about him.

Sometimes he doesn’t know whether the students have visited the sites until later. “One day I asked the class, ‘How many of you know what beatboxing is?’ and one of them said, ‘We want to see you do it.’”
Another student asked him, “How famous are you exactly?”

That’s a hard question for him to answer.

“First of all, fame is relative,” said Gift, who started teaching piano lessons part-time at Loyola in 2002. “It is odd when someone comes up to you and not only knows your work, but they’ve related to your work.”

One Artist, Two Names

Performing as Wendel Patrick, Gift toured Europe—and some Loyola students who were abroad made it to one of his concerts. He has released two albums, both as Wendel Patrick. He had always planned to release a Kevin Gift album, but he had never made one.

“I went to school all these years for piano. There’s a certain heaviness to it, a certain gravitas to it that’s not there with the Wendel Patrick albums,” he said. “With the Wendel Patrick, it was cathartic. I can do whatever I want with it.”

The four albums he is preparing for release just happened to come together at the same time. The Kevin Gift album “20. Ten.” features some of his own piano compositions and arrangements. The three Wendel Patrick albums are “Travel,” which includes tracks written or started on his tour through Europe; “JDWP Tribute,” a tribute to hip-hop producer Jay Dilla; and “Passage,” an instrumental album where the last note of each piece is the first note of the next one.

“I don’t think it will hurt me to put out four albums on one day,” said Gift, who has picked up photography and videography in recent years, as well. An “Out Of The Blocks” radio project he produced with WYPR producer Aaron Henkin for WYPR, Baltimore’s National Public Radio station, was chosen as Best Radio Project of 2012 by Baltimore’s City Paper.

But Gift’s music is his passion. In September City Paper named the monthly hip-hop improv gathering he co-founded—the Baltimore Boom Bap Society—the city’s best new hip-hop night.

Brotherly Connection

Today Gift has his brother’s birth certificate.

“I’ve become really attached to the name,” he said. “People say it’s so nice you memorialize your brother. But it’s really not that at all. I didn’t really know him.”

When things are going well for Gift, sometimes friends suggest that his brother has something to do with it. Gift thinks that may be true, though he isn’t sure whether he believes in an afterlife.

“I don’t have any concrete beliefs about what’s beyond here,” he said. “But I definitely feel a connection to him still.”

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