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Beatboxing

Beatboxing, aka vocal percussion, is primarily concerned with the art of creating beats and rhythms using the human mouth. However, it also involves the imitation of sounds such as scratching, something which beatboxer, Scratch, has mastered.

A good beatboxer can usually demonstrate a wide range of vocal skills.

Multivocalism describes the collective process of beatboxing, sound imitation, singing and more - basically anything vocal. However, it is fair to say that the words 'beatboxing', 'vocal percussion' and 'multivocalism' pretty much all mean the same thing.

'Vocal percussion' is more commonly associated with a-cappella and rockapella 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.

Vocal percussion/beatboxing has been used in a-cappella groups for many years, but today it is perhaps mainly associated with Hip-Hop music, often dubbed 'the 5th element of Hip-Hop'. Incidentally, beatboxing has also been described as 'a lost art'.  

The history of Beatboxing is blurry. It appears, like graffiti, to have begun it's life as an urban art form. In the ghettos, the slums of USA, where beat machines, samplers and sound synthesisers could not be afforded. Necessity is the mother of invention. Without machine-supplied beats to rap over, a new instrument was created. The mouth. And Beatboxing was born.

There's a lot of discussion about who was the first. The creator. This is not important. The real beginning was when Hip-Hop trio The Fat Boys (originally known as the Disco 3) gave us 'Buffy'.

In 1983, Darren "Buffy, the Human Beat Box" Robinson won a talent contest at Radio City Music Hall thanks to his talent for using his mouth to recreate Hip-Hop rhythms and a variety of sound effects. News spread, and Beatboxing was brought to a wide audience. Buffy was followed by Beatboxers Doug E Fresh (MC Slick Rick's sidekick), and Biz Markie.

Beatboxing caused a storm for a while, but slowed down. Beatboxers were held back by people's perceptions of them as novelty value circus acts. On Dec 10, 1995, Darren "Buffy the Human Beat Box" Robinson died of a heart attack in Rosedale, NY. Beatboxing in Hip-Hop virtually disappeared.

Beatboxing/Vocal Percussion popped up in jazz, and was the foundation for a new breed of A Capella groups using soft organic percussion to keep time in their tracks. The art form spread slowly and quietly into many genres, including rock music with the group The HouseJacks, and jazz great Bobby McFerrin showed off more and more of his skills as his audience grew. Vocal boundaries where also smashed by Michael Winslow the Vocal Effects Master. You probably know him as the guy from the Police Academy movies who does the amazing sound effects that you, like me, assumed were fake. He also did behind-the-camera sound effects for films such as Back to The Future.

Beatboxing returned to Hip-Hop when Rahzel of Philadelphia Hip-Hop group The Roots gained fame for his skills. Rahzel has brought new interest to the art form, he has given it new life. Although, Rahzel is a true Hip-Hop artist, he maintains the belief that Beatboxing is not limited to Hip-Hop music. The Roots also put forward Scratch, who claims to be able to imitate any sound made on a turntable. Judging from his vocal scratching, i'd say he's not far off.

Human beatbox legends such as Buffy, Doug E Fresh, and Biz Markie helped propel beatboxing into the limelight throughout the 1980's, and the scene has been growing ever since. Now, at the start of the 21st century, beatboxing is set to gain further recognition as an artform in its own right. A big help in that today is definatly being pushed forward by Rahzel.

Beatboxing is not just urban. It is not just a party piece. It is the evidence that the human voice is the most underestimated instrument.

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