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No one precisely knows when humans started to mimic the sound around them, but I am sure that before humans began to speak a language, they were already mimicking the sounds of nature. Therefore, if you ask me who invented beatboxing, I would say it is a primal human tendency that might have predated civilizations.
However, as a form of art, human beatboxing could be traced back to the 1980s among the hip-hop circles. However, the first human beatbox was the self-proclaimed Doug E. Fresh, born on September 17, 1966. He was referred to as the “human beatbox.”
Another pioneer in beatboxing was Buffy, who did a great thing in perfecting several beatboxing techniques. Wise also was another pioneering beatboxer who helped much in the popularization of beatboxing, inspiring many to engage in beatboxing.
Other notable beatboxers include Rahzel, who made some realistic robotic sounds, Scratch, who revolutionized vocal scratching; and Kenny Muhammad, known for his excellent rhythmic precision and technical skills. He also got credit for engendering the Inward K Snare.
Who Originated the Art of Beatboxing?
Musicians as early as the 1930s were already exhibiting beatboxing techniques. Even in the 19th century, beatboxing techniques were already practiced and were noticeable in rural music, religious songs, ragtime, blues, hokum, and vaudeville. So, some beatboxing techniques were already evolving even in the previous centuries.
You will also notice some traces of beatboxing techniques in African traditional music wherein performers use their bodies to simulate percussion instruments’ sounds and breathe in and out loudly. This technique, of course, is apparent in the beatboxing of today.
Many famous performers, not known as beatboxers, made use of vocal percussion sometimes. Their usage of vocal percussions might not be directly related to the evolution of beatboxing. Still, their vocal improvisations might have paved the way for the development of modern-day beatboxing as an art form.
For example, Paul McCartney sometimes utilized unusual percussion-sounding vocals to enhance his rendition of a song. Other artists like Pink Floyd also, in some instances, included vocal percussion sounds in their songs. Michael Jackson, likewise, recorded himself beatboxing on a demo recording. Other artists who were caught beatboxing were Al Jarreau and Bobby McFerrin.
Humans may naturally mimic the sounds of the drum kit, and such mimicking may come out second nature to humans. Although not so much documented, the art of beatboxing is relatively new compared to other forms of art. It has also become an established form of art in the previous decades.
The Onset of the Beatboxing Art
The mid-eighties might be deemed the time when beatboxing began to establish itself as a form of art. As mentioned above, three notable names would readily surface when talking about the origin of beatboxing—Doug E Fresh, Darren “Buffy” Robinson, and Biz Markie. These three names seem to be the three magi of beatboxing.
Yet, when it comes to the discussion of who were the very first beatboxers, we could only surmise. However, one fact is sure—that a trio coming from Brooklyn won a Radio City Music Hall’s Contest. This trio was called The Disco Three, comprising of Damon Wimbley, Mark Morales, and Darren Buff.
Darren Buff, of course, is known now as the Human Beat Box. The trio won the contest because of the unusual talent of Buff. He recreated hip-hop rhythms and other sound effects using his mouth. Besides, he was a master of the bass-heavy breathing technique made famous by Grandmaster Flash, the Furious Five’s DJ.
Origin & History of the Word Beatboxing
Beatboxing, as a term, came from the simulation or imitation of the old drum machines, referred to as “beatboxes.” The Roland TR-808, for example, was known as a beatbox. The term beatbox began to be used to refer to the old Roland Drum Machines, like the CR-78 and the TR-55 of the 70s. These two beatboxes were then followed by the release of the TR-808 in 1980. The TR-808 became the leading equipment of hip-hoppers as well as electronic dance music. So, the early beatboxers mostly patterned their beatboxing sounds after the TR-808.
At present, many beatboxers learn their skills from the internet. Moreover, the onset of Google and other social media platforms made it possible for many beatboxers to form an online community of beatboxers. The first online community of beatboxers began in 2000 when Alex Tew began the foremost beatboxers online community, under the name HumanBeatBox.Com.
Soon after, beatboxing had been shown in movies like the film “My Sassy Girl, a Korean romantic comedy. One member of the HUMANBEATBOX.COM, Gavin Tyte, made the first video tutorials on how to beatbox in 2001. Two years after, in 2003, the first convention of this community happened in London, which featured beatboxing artists from different countries.
At present, beatboxing is very much popular with many people. Moreover, you will find beatboxers who enthrall a considerable number of audiences with their beatboxing abilities. In Hawaii, for example, Jason Tom further makes beatboxing popular via motivational speaking, blogging, and mathematics. You will also find beatboxers invited to popular talks show like the TED Talk. For example, Tom Thurn made a brilliant display of his beatbox prowess on the TEDTalk at Sydney in 2013.
Yet, beatboxing owes its current popularity to the Rahzel, Reeps One, RoxorLoops, and Alem. Rahzel Manely Brown, for example, an American rapper and beatboxer, can rap and beatbox simultaneously. He showcased his talents in many solo projects. RoxorLoops, on the other hand, a Belgian songwriter and beatboxer, also contributed to the growing popularity of beatboxing in Europe. He participated in many contests to showcase his unique beatboxing talent.
Reeps One, however, was born Harry Yeff, is a composer, beatboxer, and new media artist who was also contributory to the current popularity of beatboxing. He showcased his talent by collaborating with different artists. Alem is a French beatboxer who became a champion of beatboxing in 2015. His real name is Mael Gayaud. He also showcased his rare beatboxing talent in many of his shows around the world.
The art of beatboxing, of course, is an evolving form of art. Contemporary beatboxers often incorporate their hands and other body parts to expand the spectrum of sounds that they can produce. Some have also evolved unique techniques that they made their specific techniques.
Crab scratch, for example, is a hand technique wherein a beatboxer makes use of his fingers while sucking and blowing air onto them to create seemingly realistic scratching sounds. Some also make use of throat taps. At present, many expert beatboxers can produce eight unique sounds at a time.
As an evolving art, beatboxing has not yet reached its ultimate form. Contemporary beatboxers are still trying to evolve and enhance their craft by exploring and pushing their talents to the hilt. Beatboxing, likewise, has traversed different genres of music and has diversified into various techniques and forms. Greg Patillo, for example, a certified flutist, incorporated his beatboxing skill into his flute playing.
Moreover, there is no stopping the increasing popularity of beatboxing, for more often, you will see shows, like the popular Pitch Perfect that showcases the art of beatboxing. Thus, if you are contemplating to become a famous beatboxer, now is the best time.