When and why did you start beatboxing?
I first started beatboxing at around nine or ten years old, in 1987 or so. I think I got into it because it was really popular in the 80s, you know, around the era of Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie and the other first tier of pioneers. It was more of a practiced craft and musical pastime among kids when I was coming up.
What was the first routine?
I don't think there was ever a beatbox routine or cover that I really learned when I was younger. I'd say listening to some of the rhythms from songs I admired and trying to replicate them were some of the first steps I took in learning other artist's music. I remember trying to nail the rhythm section from "Sacrifice" (Group Home/DJ Premier) in 1997 during my freshman year in college.
Do you have a favorite cover?
I don't really have a favorite routine or cover at the moment. I'm trying to step away from doing solo bits and I'm much more focused on collaborating right now, but I think that when the muse for live solo material really hits me, it's gonna be serious!
We're like vocal mad scientists!
Do you have a signature sound?
Hmmm, I have this very high pitch sound that I hit sometimes; some say it sounds like a dolphin or a bird. It's one of those obscure beatbox sounds that's kinda open to interpretation. You know how we do, always experimenting. We're like vocal mad scientists! Another sound that I enjoy doing is this loud multi-layered snare drum; it sounds electronic in texture.
Did you have a beatbox mentor?
I've never really had a mentor, but DOA, Emanon, Kenny Muhammad, Rahzel, Killa Kela and Scratch, the main artists from the second tier of beatboxing, have all really influenced me and inspired me to up my game. One cat that really changed things for me was this one professional beatboxer/vocal percussionist from an a cappella group I met at Penn State who was visiting for a concert back in 1998. I don't remember his name, but his skills were incredible and he made me realize that you don't have to be a celebrity to become a professional in this craft. I think that was in some ways more important than ever meeting Rahz or Doug E. Fresh.
Which other beatboxers have you learned from?
I've learned a lot from Max Beats, and his style of recreating the native Go-Go music of Washington D.C. Also, Kenny Liner from The Bridge and Starbuck, a professional whistler, both of whom are artists from Baltimore. I feel like I've also picked up a lot from pro vocal percussionists such as Dave Baumgartner.
Which other beatboxers do you admire?
I admire Emanon because he has such an original style and signature sound that's native to the art of beatboxing and I think that's important because his style shows that the craft is not all vocal emulation like most believe.
That was back in 2002...
we were definitely doing our thing!
Is there anyone who you'd love to work with?
I'd love to work with MB2000 (Emanon, Kenny Muhammad and DOA).
Do you have a fond beatbox memory?
Yeah, when I started my own group/collective of beatboxers when I was at Penn State. We were called "Larynx". There were eight of us, six guys and two girls; and man, that was a dream come true. We all had our unique strengths and styles. That was back in 2002. It was a special blend of beatboxers and vocal percussionists and while we were together, we were definitely doing our thing!
Are you influenced by old music?
I'm sure that I am, although not in ways that I've come realize just yet. I feel that my musical "teachers", genre and influence wise, have been hip-hop, go-go, reggae and soca.
Which genres of music does your style fall into?
I'm trying to become a world percussionist and I'd like to be able to tap into any genre with my beatboxing. I consider myself to be a hip-hop artist and I think that's a beautiful thing about this form. You don't have to adhere to one specific genre through your beatboxing and yet through the specific instrumentation of choice, you're still considered a hip-hop artist. I think that allows room for a lot of boundaries to be maintained and crossed over at the same time. It's a really unique position to be in.
What do you think of battling?
I love to battle, period. It's another great thing about hip-hop. It's like playing a game of chess. It's a tradition; a musical game or sport if you will. I think it's very special. I haven't been in a battle for a while, but yeah, I'm a big fan of that.
Have you been in any battles?
I've been in my fair share of battles. I think my first battle that I remember was up against DJ Ragz in 1999, out in Lancaster, PA. It was a good one. I was going up against a DMC Finalist. He had serious skills, but I won that one.
Do you hold any titles?
I hold the title of the Best Poetry DJ (and I'm a beatboxer, so that's a trip) for the 2006 Poetry for the People Awards. I also hold the title of Baltimore's Best Accompanist in the Baltimore City Paper's 2007 Best of Edition.
This has been some of the most inspiring work I've done thus far and I'm loving it.
When was your first performance?
My first performance was beatboxing on WBVR, Penn State Beaver Student Radio, back in 1997 with my co-host and MC Rye Bread outta PA.
What kind of performances have you been doing recently?
In the last two years, I've been doing a lot of work beatboxing as an accompanist for dance at various universities: Towson University, the Community College of Baltimore County and at the American Dance Festival. Let me say that it's been some of the most inspiring work I've done in my life. I love working with dance and want to continue playing music in that creative realm.
I've also recently become an artist in residence at the Creative Alliance in Baltimore. It's an arts organization and venue/film theater with gallery spaces, with a program for artists to work and reside within these mini-loft/studio spaces, all within a renovated movie theater. It's hot! I'm not just a musician, but a musical interpretationist there; creating music inspired by visual artwork that's installed for various curated gallery showings.
This has been some of the most inspiring work I've done thus far and I'm loving it. I'm also getting a super blast out of sitting with genres foreign to my own; playing music with and for ballet, country, classical and experimental artists. Whatever - bring it all on!
What kind of situation do you enjoy performing in most?
So far, rhythmic situations that are foreign to me, country, classical, etc. Sometimes playing for dance or creating a piece inspired by a work of art can be a real challenge, so I'm getting a kick out of that.
How do you handle mistakes during a performance?
Mistakes, well I try to use them as opportunities to create something new. It's very interesting to figure out how you're going to problem-solve when you've messed up. It keeps me on my toes!
...sharp, on edge and ready to execute!
Do you get nervous before a performance?
Yes, I do and that's another thing that keeps me sharp, on edge and ready to execute!
What advice would you give to beginners who are nervous?
Use your nervousness to your advantage if you can. Take a deep breath and allow that energy to inspire you to work even harder.
Do you like to session with other beatboxers?
Oh yeah, I love sitting in with other beatboxers and vocal percussionists. Another thing that's great about what we do is that we can isolate a particular sound and vocally zone in on it without having to do a full beat. Like for example, one cat could be doing a horn, while another is on drums, while another is one bass and another is on the vocal scratches. Yeah, that's also good practice for isolating other drum sections, like one could be on the vocal trap set while another could be on the vocal congas or shakers or the clicks.
Do you practice?
Yup, everyday all the time, just to keep sharp and for fun. I think it's essential, but also natural, like any other vocal artist, 'cause we can do it anytime or anywhere we want, most of the time.
What do you practice?
I practice various polyrhythms, experiment with new sounds, full tonal sounds with a full beat, speed and complexity of the drum patterns, breathing techniques, endurance...all that stuff.
Do you teach beatboxing?
I have, but I'm not so sure if I agree with that anymore, for myself to teach, at least in an academic setting anyway. Why does everything have to so institutionalized? I'm sure some of it is inevitable, but like for example, I feel that jazz has lost some of its quality by being so institutionalized; studying from the pioneers, when the tradition has been to have your own style and study yourself more. I feel that hip-hop and beatboxing is the same way. So recently I've been phasing that out of my work.
How do you balance your beatboxing with other obligations?
Beatboxing is what I do for a living now, so I'm working on it in some form everyday.
...last year I experimented
with two megaphones!
What set-up do you use?
Most of the time just a standard vocal mic, but sometimes an instrumental [mic] is great. Sometimes I use two mics. For the High Zero Festival last year I experimented with two megaphones! That was fun.
What do you prefer: acoustic or mic-ed?
I prefer to be on a mic, but sometimes I prefer acoustic, just so that people know for real that it's live and direct.
Have you appeared on any releases?
You can catch me on the Beatbox.Tv Foundations DVD. Hopefully there'll be more recordings to come in the future.
Do you have a website where people can check out your skills?
Have you got any projects on the horizon that people should watch out for?
You can always check for the work I'm doing at the Creative Alliance. I'll also be returning to the American Dance Festival this summer in Durham, North Carolina.
Any shout outs?
Much love goes out to mic(ism), the Creative Alliance at The Patterson, the American Dance Festival, the Department of Dance at the Community College of Baltimore County, the Department of Dance at Towson University and everybody grinding it out in the music and arts scene in Baltimore, MD. Peace!
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