BEATBOXING IS A VOCAL FORM that blew up as one of the original elements of hip-hop in the 1980s. Early masters from that era such as Doug E. Fresh still rock crowds on occasion, as in this clip of beatboxing and freestying with Will Smith from 2012.
These days, beatboxers are more influenced by electronic music and dubstep than rap or hip-hop, says Kaila Mullady, a 21-year-old beatboxer from Long Island. She herself loves indie-alternative, and one of her beatboxing colleagues is also an opera singer.
And unlike the world of hip-hop, where the goal is to outdo your opponents and declare yourself number one, beatboxing favors a more collaborative approach.
In a televised battle in Mexico City, two artists — El Akdmiko and Owner Beatz — seemingly compete against one another. But while one beatboxes, the other dances to his competitor’s flow. When one switches up the beat to make it a little bit more like reggaeton, the other follows suit. “It’s a conversation,” says Mullady, and one that she’s often had with non-English speakers.
As beatboxing popularity spawns widespread competitions, an international championship, and even a beatboxing-only television network, here are some massive talents taking it to the next level.
Current vice-world champion beatboxer. Distinct style, hella dubstep influence. From what I can tell, his beats are less melodic and more focused on speed and variation. The French-born DJ began by “copying the beats I made on the drums.”
Goes by the tagline, “Human beatbox is universal.” Seamlessly balances two disparate rhythms/basslines at once. Names Jamaican dancehall as a big influence.
Mouzik the Dream Team (Taiwan)
From Taipei, Taiwan, come three young men who function like an a capella beatboxing choir — each person imitating a different instrument.
Kaila Mullady (USA)
From Long Island, NY. She’s a big presence in the beatboxing world, and among its remarkably few women. Mullady travels several times a month, plays shows across the country, and occasionally the world.
While Mullady views the obvious gender disparity in her scene as something like fodder — “it’s motivating,” she says — she faces a barrage of odd comments after each performance.
“I get off stage, and the compliment I get is such a backhanded one. It’s always like, ‘Oh my god, that’s so good for a girl!”
She also teaches beat rhyming to children. It’s “helping kids figure out, what is the music in your head?”
Who are your favorite beatboxers?