Hey people…!!! How ya’ll been doing? How did ya’ll spend your weekend? Outing? Party? Jam? Oh wait, anime? If yea, then we would get along quite well. I love anime. And this weekend I watched Samurai Champloo again. It’s a short anime series and all the hip hop heads should really watch it. Nujabes, Shinji Obara and Shinichiro Watanabe have made great efforts. Anyways, in the 8th episode they have displayed beatboxing. I was so surprised; it was the last place I expected to be in. But it can’t be helped. Beatboxing has gained an international following and an online audience, with artists uploading their beats to bulletin boards, fans mixing beats and some people even using them for ring tones.

Where did beatboxing come from?

Beatboxing is basically a form of vocal percussion that involves the art of mimicking drum machines (typically a TR-808) by using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice. Travelling back to 1200-1300s, French minstrels would roam the streets singing religious-themed songs. By the late 1400-1500s, groups would sing together, much like Barbershop songs, harmonizing to one single voice.

In 17th century, African slaves were taken to Jamaican & American plantations. There the African music was commixed with European folk and brass band music which hatched to new forms of music – namely jazz and blues. African music had traditionally used body sounds to maintain rhythm, such as clapping and stamping. Vocal percussion patterns were also used such as, “hup, hup, hup, hup” and “Ch Ka Ch Ch”. Today, West African music still uses techniques such as giving the voice an intentionally raspy or buzzy quality as well as featuring glissandos, bends, and swoops.

The Drum Machine

Wurlitzer Sideman

Many well-known performers used this vocal percussion in late 1960s. The early drum machines/rhythm boxes Roland TR-55 and CR-78 in the 1970s were known by the slang beat boxes. In 1970, Roland TR-808was released which later became a central to hip hop and other genres.  However, the first rhythm machine was the Wurlitzer Sideman that was made between 1959 and 1964, and this did come in a large box – so it’s possible that the term “beat box” was used to refer to this machine.

Now these drum machines were used by the MCs in Bronx to rap on. But these drum machines and synthesizers weren’t affordable; samplers were even costlier. And thus beatboxing was introduced to Hip Hop in the year of 1980.

The Pioneers

Slick Rick & Doug E. Fresh – La Di Da Di

So between early to mid-80s, came into limelight, the three kings – Darren ‘Buffy‘ Robinson, Doug E. Fresh and Biz Markie. Barbados-born Doug E. Fresh (Douglas E. Davis) attracted many beatboxers after his 1985 singles The Show/La Di Da Di. At the same time, Buffy (aka The Human Beatbox aka DJ Doctor Nice) perfected many beatboxing techniques and Biz Markie earned credits for adding a new twist to beatbox by incorporating singing while beatboxing. This surely opened new doors for creativity and musicality.

Although there have been many arguments about who claimed the term; Doug E. Fresh is frequently cited as the original pioneer. Apart from these disputes, above mentioned big shots and a few others like Swifty, Wise, Rahzel, Scratch, Kenny Muhammad the early pioneers who built the bedrock for beatboxing.

Developments in the art

Rahzel performing at RedBull BC One 2005

Swifty first implemented the inhale sound technique while Wise from the first live hip-hop group, Stetsasonic, integrated beatboxing, human turntable technique, and a live band with uplifting lyrics that inspired a new genre of hip hop. And do ya’ll like hearing those steely realistic robotic sounds? Rahzel started them. Scratch a beatboxer and musician well known for further revolutionizing the use of vocal scratching in beatboxing, and Kenny Muhammad aka The Human Orchestra created the inward k-snare and wind technique. He was infamous for his rhythmic and technical sureness.  

Beatboxers began to emerge in the underground community by late 80’s and early 90’s due to Doug and Biz’s influence. Battling was the vital element of beatbox culture. At that time, battles were hard-fought and were dyed in hard core hip hop culture. Once a beatboxer lost a battle, they wouldn’t even dare to show up again. Queen Latifah also began her career through beatboxing in 1988, beatboxing for the all-female hip-hop group Ladies Fresh. Women, thus dashed into this art form alongside the men, for example, Butterscotch, a modern era beatboxer.

The art form spread slowly and quietly into many genres, including rock music with the group The HouseJacks, trip-hop, drum and base, techno, house and jazz. Commercially, in 2000, Rahzel made beatboxing famous in the mainstream by covering Aaliyah’s song ‘If Your Girl Only Knew’ and so he has since been credited as the first person to conquer the art of simultaneously singing and beatboxing at the same time, a feat that has become a staple of the beatbox community.

Also, in 2002, the 37-year old beatboxer Anthony Rivera aka Click was heard in Eminem’s movie 8 Mile and then happened the first official international beatboxing competition Hip Hop World Challenge in 2005 at Leipzig, Germany. The 2007 West Coast Open Human Beatbox Battle, Berkerley followed the footsteps. And here the journey of beatboxing started with more platforms, both online and offline. Humanbeatbox.com created a notation Standard Beatbox Notation for beatboxing, and now the “booms” and “chicks” of performers can actually be written down. Like so, many other websites served as a centre for battles, downloads, articles, forums and tutorials.

All this history, reminded me of vocal percussions like practiced in our Indian classical culture.They are still used today by a wide range of artists and bands such as Alms For Shanti on their track SuperBol. Although not a direct ancestor of modern beatboxing, this will be fused with beatboxing in the future.

There have been rumours about beatboxing being the 5th element of hip hop or not. I personally believe that be it ranked as any element, it holds strong roots with the African and hip hop culture. It came outta necessity and necessity is the mother of invention. Debating over this will help you build a history record but might make you ignore the roots. We are truly blessed with it. And the credits go to our mothers and sisters and brothers and fathers.

Thanks to all of them.

So, time to sign out. See ya’ll next time. Stay connected.



One thought on “#DecipherIt – Beatboxing: The Human Musicbox”

Comments are closed.