Hip-Hop History Month: Respect The Beatboxer
When it comes to the elements of Hip-Hop, we all know that RAPPING is at the forefront of the culture.
Also known as emceeing in its earliest stages, the skillset is a core reason why hip-hop is now the top-grossing genre in all of the music, in addition to becoming a multibillion-dollar machine that birthed self-made billionaires such as Jay-Z and Kanye West . We also know that without the DJ there’s no Hip-Hop overall, with DJ Kool Herc credited as the Father of Hip-Hop by way of his inaugural “Back to School Jam” in The Bronx on August 11, 1973 that gave the genre both a birthdate and birthplace. BREAKING , often incorrectly rephrased as “breakdancing” — more on that later! — serves as the official movement of the culture. Thousands of city kids in the ’70s and ’80s used the signature breakbeat to infuse dance moves originating from the Caribbean, Latin America, and Africa with the sound of the streets. You can’t forget GRAFFITI either, the visual art of Hip-Hop that extends from bridges, walls, and trains all across the country. In short, graffiti is to Hip-Hop what hieroglyphics mean to Ancient Egypt.
So there you have it, Hip-Hop and its elements: RAPPING, DJing, BREAKING and GRAFFITI / WRITING.
But wait, there’s more! We’re here to make sure you don’t forget about BEATBOXING .
Known as the fifth element, Beatboxing has been a staple of the culture ever since the beginning. Back when drum machines weren’t available, people would mimic the sound of a beat with their mouths, leading to “vocal percussion” being a practice used in music for years to come. From doo-wop to barbershop quartets, jazz singers Bobby McFerrin and Al Jarreau used their mouths to the tune of their music and vocals. By the time the ’80s came around, human beatbox Doug E. Fresh gave us “La Di Da Di.” Wise The Human Mix Machine created his own style with the group Stetsasonic, and Darren Robinson aka “Buffy The Human BeatBox” helped bring it to the mainstream as one of the first rap groups to go pop. Buffy, along with Prince Markie Dee and Kool Rock-Ski of The Fat Boys, would elevate it even further by starring in the films Krush Groove (1985) and Disorderlies (1987).
Beatboxing would also get its shine by way of the comedy scene. Iconic funnyman Michael Winslow is most known for his performance as Officer Larvell Jones in the Police Academy series, where he would use the style of beatboxing during hijinks in the film. Winslow also would perform sound effects using his mouth in the 1987 movie Spaceballs.
Through this art form we would also meet one of the pioneers of not only beatboxing but the hip-hop genre overall, the late Biz Markie . The “Just A Friend” hitmaker released his debut album, Goin’ Off, in 1988, which featured the track “Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz” alongside TJ Swan. Markie would use his talents on the big screen like he did in the movie Men In Black II and the kids television series Yo Gabba Gabba.
While beatboxing would sort of take a backseat to rap and DJing during the ’90s, one rapper would defy odds by using his mouth to create a whole album. Beatboxer and member of iconic rap collective The Roots, Rahzel, gained notoriety by being able to rap or sing while simultaneously beatboxing. This would lead to the prominent sound on his debut album, Make The Music 2000 .
The art form now has a niche lane in the culture. Artists like Adam Rupp , MC Squared , and Tom Thum have all taken the style to different heights. Music legends like Michael Jackson, Timbaland , and Justin Timberlake have used beatboxing as samples on classic tunes. There’s a full documentary titled Breath Control: The History of the Human Beatbox that we absolutely implore you to watch. Father/daughter duo Ed Cage and Nicole Paris have gone viral on many occasions doing it, and hosted a TEDTalk on the topic . Did you know there was even a Beatbox Battle World Championship with artists across the world competing in numerous categories, including Crew and Tag Team?
So yeah, beatboxing will always be a part of the culture in case you needed a reminder. It’s a staple and a foundation in hip-hop that acts as a connector to all the other elements within the culture.