It’s All In The Beard

As one man and his beard continue to soar through the world of Hip Hop it’s about time we had a brief look at the art of beatboxing. Inspired by several of my friends coming back from Glastonbury with excitable tales of this branch and beard, this post goes over a few artists who have pioneered beatboxing and a mysterious french guy.

To give you an idea of what the basics of beatboxing include – although I’m sure many of you are already familiar with it – here is a song by a group from way back in the 1980’s. The Fat Boys are accredited with being one of the best groups from the 1980’s and definitely worth a look at on their own accord. They feature in this post because they included Darren Robinson – aka ‘The Human Beatbox‘ – in their group who is accredited with being one of the original pioneers in beatboxing. Without further ado here is the track.

Fast forward twenty-five years and you find that today human beatboxing has become more of a party trick than anything else.

The way most beatboxers gain recognition for their skill is through imitating popular songs. All beatboxers, great and small, do this but it is only the small ones who cannot manage more than this. Don’t write them off though, it’s still pretty cool to be able to do this and if you’ve got a fifteen minute set somewhere this gives you enough to wow the crowd. Here is a great example. This guy is really good so he shows perfectly how they do this.

Remember the Crazy Frog?

To go past this is quite hard. Its ‘easy’ to imitate songs but to produce something which is more than a gimmick is very hard. There are three ways to do this. First up is the easiest one, namely staying as a member of a Hip Hop group whilst doing beatboxing on the side, and on occasion with the group to give themselves the edge. Shlomo, possibly the most famous beatboxer in the UK until the beard arrived, is a member of Foreign Beggars and was the first beatboxer I came across. He is currently joined in that group by MC Zani, who’s not to be sniffed at either, and here is Shlomo doing some beatboxing on Later with Jools Holland in 2005.

The second way to do this is to mix it up with your own rapping as part of a solo project after you’ve left a band, namely The Roots. This is what Razhel did after he left them and it’s gone rather well for him. He’s the most popular American beatboxer that I’ve come across and it’s not hard to see why. He combines a lot of beats and vocals together as part of his act. Some of the time he simply raps but people go to his shows to hear him do the former. It’s said that a lot of beatboxers have imitated his style but none have managed to match him for sheer execution of it. It’s not hard to see why.

The third way, and the entire reason that I am writing about beatboxing this week, is to add a bit of comedy to it and make it into a show. This is what Beardyman does for a living and he does it very well. Nowadays I’m pretty sure he’s the best, and certainly the most prolific, beatboxer in the country. He is the man several of my friends saw in Glastonbury and it’s good to see him getting bigger and better. To give you a good idea of the man, here is the first Beardyman production I was introduced to.

Whilst he does put his humour into many things he does, as you can see here, at his live shows he also has a nifty technique of sampling himself. He produces all the various elements needed to create a beat with his mouth, loops them round, and builds up a beat from that, experimenting with all sorts of stuff. Back in 2009 I saw him in York where I was reliably informed that during his set he was mocking a lot of drum ‘n’ bass music along with gabba and wot not during his sets. I of course was none the wiser, as in the North I hadn’t come across any of those scenes. Too my friend however the crowd’s reaction to everything he was doing was brilliant, so it’s good to see that when you’re in the know Beardyman’s gigs are amusing too.

Beardyman’s currently doing really well for a beatboxer in a branch of Hip Hop where it is very hard to make it into your main thing. You’ll have seen this if you clicked on the MC Zani link and watched him bomb in the last minute after the crowd got used to it. That is the pitfall for beatboxing and something that is very hard to avoid. Anyhow, to round things off here is one last Beardyman track, the latest off his youtube page, a funky advert he made with Dolby Digital.

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