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Beatboxing (a.k.a human orchestration) is the vocal percussion of hip hop culture and music. Considered by many to be a fifth element of hip hop, it is primarily concerned with the art of creating beats, rhythms, and melodies using the mouth. It can also involve singing, vocal scratching (the imitation of turntable scratching), the simulation of horns, strings, and other musical instruments, and the replication of a vast array of sound effects.

What comes to mind for most people when beatboxing is mentioned is the following ubiquitous imitation of a back beat drum pattern (in common drum set notation):


This imitates the bass (boom) and snare (chick) drums.


Beatboxing defined

The words beatboxing, vocal percussion, and multivocalism are sometimes used interchangeably, but originally referred to different schools with different influences, techniques, and rhythmic repertoires. Some still use the older terms when describing the art.

Vocal percussion is more commonly associated with a cappella groups, whereas beatboxing and human beatbox are terms usually associated with hip hop or other urban music genres. Multivocalism is a relatively new term, coined by the UK's Killa Kela, to describe the collective use of beatboxing, singing, and sound imitation (fundamentally anything vocal) used in a musical sense. The boundary between the first two has been blurred as their practitioners have informed each other.

On the streets, beatboxers serve as human beat-machines, often providing the rhythmic backbones on which MCs lay their flows. On stage, many beatboxers have, and still do, serve as human jukeboxes organizing their routines as medleys of well-known songs. As the art form has evolved, it has extended its reach to include physical theater routines, and has integrated itself into hip hop (and other forms) of theater. Beatboxers with backgrounds in vocal percussion stand in for drummers, and percussionists in theater ensembles, live bands, and other line-ups. Some beatbox into instruments, such as harmonicas (Yuri Lane) and pan flutes (Radioactive), and one (Tim Barsky) has mastered doing so through a classical flute, achieving several simultaneous streams of rhythm and melody. Kid Beyond has mastered live-looping, using computers and triggers to create songs in real-time, replete with rhythm tracks, instrumentation, and full choirs of singing.

History of beatboxing

Born in New York City, the fifth element is currently experiencing a second wind, thanks in part to the likes of Justin Timberlake, that has carried the artform across the world. In 2002, the documentary Breath Control: The History of the Human Beatbox premiered. It is a history of the art form that includes interviews with Doug E. Fresh, Emanon, Biz Markie, Marie Daulne of Zap Mama, and others. The same year even saw the emergence of a beatbox clothing label, mic(ism), sported and supported by beatboxers worldwide.

Beatboxing's early pioneers include Doug E. Fresh, Biz Markie, and Buffy from the Fat Boys. Doug E. Fresh is credited with being the first "human beatbox"[1], and Barry B for coining the term [2]. The term "beatboxing" is derived from the mimicry of the first generation of drum machines, then known as beatboxes.

Vocal percussionists

Viv Fisher, a frustrated amateur British musician and sound engineer released a 7" vinyl single of multivocal work in 1978, entitled Blaze Away, performing as Me, Myself and Me Again, on which he performed all parts of a brass band, additionally using multitracking techniques to satisfy his desire for an accurate portrayal of the many instruments and depth of sound in a real brass band.

Mbube is a style of close harmony choral singing, originating in Africa. One of its components is the vocal representation of percussion and bass sounds by one or more members of a choir. Ladysmith Black Mambazo are a well known group performing in this style and have been releasing music in this genre since 1972.

The early eighties

The art form enjoyed a strong presence in the 1980s. Many people's introduction to the art form, and perhaps its first recording, came when Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick released "La Di Da Di". When the Fat Boys recorded "Stick Em", the rap community and beyond celebrated Buffy's heavy-breathing style. Even today, when people make fun of beatboxing, they imitate the deceased Buffy by huffing and puffing into their hands. The Fat Boys' movies (such as Disorderlies) introduced the art form to a wider audience as well.

The mid eighties

Other important beatboxers in the mid-'80s who followed the greats like Doug E. Fresh included Greg Nice, Ready Rock C from Will Smith's crew, and The Jock Box from the comically named Skinny Boys crew.

In 1984, Viv Fisher recorded the first known multivocal TV theme tune, vocalising parts of a Brass Band for the title sequence of a BBC gameshow series entitled Bob's Full House. In 1985, he performed the same role for BBC drama series, Blott on the Landscape, this time vocally recreating all instruments and percussion.

The nineties

In many ways, beatboxing fell off the radar along with breakdancing in the late '80s; it almost slipped even deeper than the underground. Though many people kept the art form alive on the streets, in ciphers, within B-boy circles, and in showers, it didn't re-emerge until Rahzel "the Godfather of Noyze" released "Make the Music 2000", which is the first album focused primarily on beatboxing. The title is a reference to "Make the Music With Your Mouth", one of the first recorded beatboxing tracks by the hip hop sensation Biz Markie. (Markie also achieved moderate success with his single "Just A Friend".)

In the mid-'90s, Rahzel proved a versatile entertainer. He was formerly the vocal DJ for The Roots, a group that contributed to the popularity of live instrumentation in hip hop. Not only did he help put beatboxing back onto the stage, he introduced its modern form, an impressive if not awe-inspiring combination of polyrhythms, vocal scratching, and simultaneous lines of melody, rhythm, and singing. Rahzel himself acknowledges that he combined his influences of pioneer Doug E. Fresh, jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, and sound effect master Michael Winslow (of Police Academy fame) to give rise to his modern format.

On "If Your Mother Only Knew", a beatboxing sample of Rahzel, he wows an audience by singing and beatboxing simultaneously—a feat considered difficult by the beatboxing community. On several tracks, he introduced the idea of simulating turntable scratches with his throat, something even underground beatboxers upholding the art form through the lean years hadn't even heard until the album's release.

Using his commercial appeal, Rahzel paved the way for beatboxing's migration to the center of the stage, both literally and metaphorically. In its beginning, beatboxing was relegated to a supporting role or gimmick, like a side show. With beatboxing's increased popularity, Rahzel began touring the country doing solo shows.

Of course, many beatboxers express frustration with Rahzel receiving most of the attention and being known as the best beatboxer in the world. Though many well-practiced amateur and professional beatboxers possess different levels of skill, each one brings something different to the form. As Carlo Aguirre (a.k.a. Infinite), a beatboxer and MC from San Francisco's famed Felonious says, "Each person has a different instrument."

Other well-known, seminal beatboxers whose work is well known throughout the international beatboxing community include the Bronx's Kenny Muhammad (a.k.a. Kenny X, The Human Orchestra); Philadelphia's Scratch, beatboxer for the Roots; Killa Kela, one of Europe's finest, Click Tha Supah Latin, an MC and beatboxer located in Los Angeles, Shlomo, who has collaborated with Björk, MC Squared, an internationally renowned 5-time winner of Showtime at the Apollo, RoxorLoops from Beatoxic Crew, Each who is a key organiser with the Vowel Movement located in California and Canada's own scratch pioneer Poizunus.

The Four Elements

The last track on Rahzel's CD 'Make The Music 2000' is a track with his famous 'If Your Mother Only Knew' routine. But it contains a hidden bonus track, which is a 'Man vs. Machine' battle with beatboxers Rahzel and Kenny Muhammad vs. turntablists DJ Skribble and DJ Slinky. The song is by most beatboxers referred to as The Four Elements, because it contains an impression of the four elements in beatbox style at the end.

  • The first element is Earth (performed by Rahzel), using basic beatboxing techniques with a dry 'taste', in a fairly simple beat pattern.
  • The second element is Wind (performed by Kenny Muhammad), a complex and fast beat with words in it said in a very low voice. It has a stormy character. Wind is probably the current most favourite beatbox routine. It is a cover of the song 'Nummern' (Numbers) by a German group called Kraftwerk.
  • The third element is Fire (performed by Rahzel). It is the only element containing sounds that were not produced by the human mouth. Fire is a cover of 'Rock The Bells' by LL Cool J.
  • The fourth and last element is Water (performed by Kenny Muhammad), maybe the least popular. The sounds are punchy and fast. Water is a cover of a tune called 'Funky Drummer' by James Brown.

Nowadays, The Four Elements are very popular amongst the beatboxing community.

Internet presence

The largest beatboxing community on the Internet is, created in 2002 by UK beatboxer Alex Tew (a.k.a. A-Plus) and developed by Gavin Tyte (a.k.a. TyTe, the world's only beatboxing reverend). This site has greatly fuelled the recent resurgence in beatboxing. Beatboxers in different areas have used this site, and the Internet in general, as a means to meet in person, forming important clusters that populate Europe and the U.S. as well as organising the first Human Beatbox Convention, which took place in April 2003. TyTe developed the first Internet-based beatboxing tutorials as well as the first video tutorials and this has helped tens of thousands of people get started in beatboxing. The central feature of is the community forums where beatboxers and non-beatboxers alike converge to share and discuss their interest in this art form.

This important resource has been a nexus for the art form's evolution. The emergence of values such as inclusivity, sharing, and cooperation, are present, contrasting with the prevalent fierce B-boy stance that hip hop as a whole has assumed.

In 2004, beatbox-centric company mic(ism) completed development of the non-profit International Beatbox Association. The IBA, as it became known, was created to aid beatboxers in getting paid work, and thereby to help beatboxing attain the public level of credibility as a musical art form deserved of remuneration, as already enjoyed by more mainstream instrumentation. Through the IBA, it is now possible for professional beatboxers to be contacted directly by individuals wishing to book them, without artists having to make their personal contact details publicly available. In this way, beatboxers can now be safely contacted by promoters, agents, talent scouts and record labels worldwide.

Major centers

New York City

New York City is the birthplace of the art and still home to many of the world's most original and impressive beatboxers. These include Buffy of The Fat Boys (R.I.P.), Doug E. Fresh, Kenny Muhammad, MC Squared, Taylor McFerrin, Kid Lucky, Masai Electro, Baba, and many others. In 2002 Kid Lucky created Beatboxer Entertainment, an organization to unite NYC's beatboxers, which has since grown to include beatboxers nationally and internationally.

United Kingdom

In the UK, Beatboxing has exploded since early 2004, thanks in part to the world's largest online beatbox community,, which is based in the UK. Artists are coming from all over the country. Although the majorty are from London, there are a lot from other places such as Huddersfield, Leeds, Bristol and Brighton. Killa Kela is still known as the most famous UK beatboxer, however others such as Lianhart, Faith SFX and Shlomo are starting to break into the lime light. UK Beatboxers differ from other Beatboxers as they seem to come from different genres of music, i.e. Faith SFX coming from the Grime scene, Killa Kela initially coming from the Drum and Bass scene and Lianhart who has his own original flavour and is now appearing 3 or 4 times every hour on the MTVBase indents. Whereas beatboxers from other counties mainly come through the Hip Hop scene.

The King of the Jam Tournament, made by Mark Splinter, was the first initial Beatbox jam gathering that the UK had, starting out with 4 beatboxers gathering together at St. James' Park in London, has exploded with 80 beatboxers gathering at the 2004a Jam. This event made Beatboxers be able to come together and be able to jam and make real music. Although Mr Splinter has moved to Vilnius, Lithuania, he still arranges the gatherings at the same park twice a year.

The Main events of the UK are:

Make Some Noise, Bristol, May

King of the Jam, London, August and September

UK Beatbox Championships, Various Cities, February, June and July

On the 4th may 2006 a UK beat boxer appeared on the tv show level up.

San Francisco Bay area

The Vowel Movement, created by Bryan Neuberg (a.k.a. Process), Kid Beyond, and Tim Barsky, is a collaborative San Francisco Bay area community that supports the art of beatboxing. It features regular showcases that emphasize sharing and inclusivity amongst its practitioners, bringing the art form to a diverse audience, and pushing the boundaries beyond the classification of hip hop.


Australian beatboxer Joel Turner first came to fame after appearing on the Australian Idol competition, and then went on to become the world's first World Beatbox Champion by winning the Hip Hop World Challenge in Germany, 2005.

Toronto, Canada

Toronto is the home of Canadian beatboxer Poizunus.

External links

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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.

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