What is beatboxing? Is there more than just Boots ‘n’ Cats? How did one of the five elements of Hip Hop make its way to Switzerland? Hear the sounds of beatboxing’s history, and meet the people who made beatboxing what it is today in Episode 1: Something Amazing I Guess.
Beatbox Battle TV
Swissbeatbox, “MB14 vs Saro”
Faux Paz UMD, “Where Are Ü Now?”
Trung Bao, “Venom”
Yona Levitt Beatboxing
SpeshFX Guests Playlist
Email Us: SpeshFXPodcast@gmail.com
Tani: My younger brother Yona is the beatboxer of the family. When he got sick of his high school a capella group losing the beat all the time, he announced that all the other beatboxers were fired and the job was his. Or something like that.
Me, I only ever sang in a capella. My first and only time beatboxing was after I graduated college. My old group's beatboxer graduated with me in 2016, and they needed someone to do the beatboxing at auditions. So I went back to campus and gave it a shot. A few rolling hi hats, a lot of kicks, and some spit infused P S snares later, I was done. And I haven't beatboxed publicly since.
Meanwhile, Yona got really good. Apparently he had been watching tutorials on YouTube and discovered battle videos on this channel called Swissbeatbox. He told me I should check them out.
I couldn't tell you about the first beatbox video I watched, but I can tell you for sure which was the first one that stuck with me. 2017 Grand Beatbox Battle: Loopstation Semifinal. MB14 vs Saro.
[Tuned record scratches by MB14 and Electro drop by Saro]
Tani: I was hooked. I freaked out, I watched it again. And again. And then, I watched it again. I subscribed to Swissbeatbox. And all of that from just one video. What I didn't know at the time and I know now, is that there are probably thousands more beatbox fans with exactly the same story as me.
Since 2016, the beatbox community has been blowing up. Talent, production value, followers, beatboxers. All of these things have gone to the next level. And I stumbled upon it just in time to see it unfold.
Saro and MB14 ushered the beatboxing community into a new and explosive era. An era of daily videos, constant growth, and me. I'm Tani Levitt, and I want to figure out how this all happened. Why am I addicted to these mouth sounds? Who are the people in the beatboxing community? How did beatboxing change from boots 'n' cats to something else entirely... kind of like T-Rex's evolving into chickens. All I know is that Beatboxing pumps me up and I want to share that with you. This is SpeshFX.
[Intro Music: Fifty Fifty by Braden Mitchell]
Tyla Dubya: If I wanna like blow all of your minds, you're gonna find the love of your life because of beatboxing
Ben Mirin: I showed up in college and someone said, "you're a beatboxer!" and I said, great, what's that?
[Music fades out]
Tani: So, what is a beatboxer? Go on, answer for yourself. Beatboxing is a lot of things, so let me see if I can guess what you said.
Deke Sharon: Beatboxing is the vocal percussion of hip hop
[Hip Hop beatboxing by Trung Bao]
Tani: Beatboxing is the percussion in a capella music right?
[Where Are Ü Now by Faux Paz]
Tani: You better believe it! Beatboxing is using your mouth to make music.
[Loopstation Instrumental by Abdulla Jastania]
Beatboxing is all that and more, with a side of ESH. ESH is to beatboxers as 42 is to hitchhiker's fans, but more. The meaning of life and all things good. But before ESH, before Saro, MB14, and the Grand Beatbox Battle, before the term beatboxing was even a thing, there was Human Beatboxing.
My first extended beatboxing binge left me confused about the art and its origins. I was confused because Saro and MB14 are French, Swissbeatbox is - wait for it - Swiss, and what little I knew about beatboxing revolved around New York City and the early days of hip hop.
Luckily I was working on a podcast, not a book. And on a podcast, you get to have people who know the stuff you don't know do the talking. Like Kazu Iwai.
Kazu Iwai: I remember Rahzel telling us stories. he came to camp and just told about like what battles used to be like. and they were just like street battles.
[fades Kazu to the back]
Tani (on top of Kazu’s voice): Kazu is the owner of Human Beatbox dot com and the closest thing to a beatbox historian i know of.
[fades Kazu up]
Kazu: You go to someone's neighborhood, challenge their beatboxer, and if you lost you're booed off stage and if you won you might not leave the stage. you know, you might get like jumped right afterward. one of the bouncers or something had to sneak them through the back door and they had to like, make it to the train back to their neighborhood
Tani: Stories like that make me embarrassed I don't know my history. But Kaila Mullady - the reigning beatbox battle world champion - told me that as sad as it is, my ignorance is par for the course.
Kaila Mullady: when I give lessons now, I give them an old school beatboxer a week to basically just like go and check out. They come back and they're like "woah I had no idea." you know, like Buffy from The Fat Boys, like people don't know who that is. when people go 'oh beatboxing? *mimes Buffy*' that thing? that died years ago? Like, that's him. And i had a kid who was like 'hey. who's Doug E Fresh?’ And I'm like what are you talking about? You don't know who Doug E Fresh is
Tani: So beatboxing was a primitive form of combat for early neanderboxers, and I'm totally that kid who doesn't know about Buffy and The Fat Boys. Great. I've fashioned myself as the only full time beatboxing journalist in the world and Kaila Mullady, the two time reigning beatbox battle world champion, told me she expects her young students to know something I don't.
Thankfully, Kazu is more forgiving of his students. He embraced the historian comparison and welcomed my ignorance like a grandpa waiting to impart wisdom from the good old days. So he sat down with me in his living room, and for an hour and a half, walked me through the history of beatboxing.
[End of part 1. Transition music: The Baddest by Richard Smithson]
Tani: I trekked out from manhattan to Kazu’s place in Manhattan to interview him.
Kazu: I mean I’ve always wanted to be like the beatbox professor you know. Just like one day when beatbox is like you know a collegiate you know elective or an art form, a pursuit that you can take professionally I would love to be like the beatbox 101 teacher who goes through the history.
Tani: So we did just that, and newly infused with Kazu’s beatboxing story I was able to speak to other people without embarrassing myself.
Dizzy Senze: beatboxing in the hip hop community. It’s one of the elements of hip hop. Um, without that it wouldn’t exist.
Tani: That’s Dizzy Senze she’s a modern day MC.
Dizzy Senze: There’s five elements of hip hop. Um there’s beatboxing, there’s MCing, there’s break dancing, there’s the actual DJ, and then there’s the person that actually moves the crowd.
Tani: Back in the day, MCs needed beats to rhyme over. Sometimes there were DJs spinning beats, but other times they used beatboxes. Not beatboxers, beatboxes. They were simple beat making machines, that happened to cost a lot of money. Even though these machines were available, human beatboxing became a thing. People who couldn’t afford expensive beatboxes would make their own beats. Kind of like this.
[Sample beat from Wurlitzer Sideman beatbox.]
Tani: Yes, that was me, beatboxing publicly, or sort of. Look, I know its bad but you get the point. It had that classic hip hop swing, and for those early human beatboxers, it got the job done. From there, people took the art and ran with it. Legends like Doug E Fresh, Buffy and The Fat Boys, Biz Markie.
They did stuff that no one else was doing, and brought significant attention to beatboxing. Bobby Mcferrin made one man jazz shows that weren’t beatboxing, but they certainly weren’t not beatboxing, if you get what I’m saying. And even outside of hip hop, people like Deke Sharon and Jeff Thatcher brought vocal percussion into a capella music. But loys of people thought beatboxing was just some saliva infused gimmick. My mom was in high school in the eighties, so I asked her what she thought about beatboxing at the time.
Dina Levitt (Tani’s Mom): I just remember thinking it was ridiculous and they were just spitting into their hand and we used to fake it and go (spitting sounds) you know and spit into our hands and um, and I thought it was absurd.
Tani: Basically, beatboxing was getting attention, but not mainstream respect, and also, it wasn’t a community. I’m obsessed with the beatbox community. Where is it? And more than that everything I just talked about happened in the US and at some point beatboxing became international.
One more thing! None of those old school beatboxers sound anything like Saro and MB14. There’s a disconnect between the history and my lived experience. Even Kazu felt this way when he started getting into beatboxing.
Kazu: I always knew about beatbox and I just kind of wanted to know um if there was like an american scene. Because most of the videos are all european beatboxers, you know Swissbeatbox, Beatbox Battle TV.
Tani: At some point between dougie fresh and the moment I discovered swissbeatbox, something or someone brought beatbox from hip hop culture and the US to Europe. That something, is a german man named Alexander Bulow, aka Bee Low.
Kazu: Bee Low, he’s a very funny guy, born in Germany back in the uh…
[fades Kazu under]
Tani: When Bee Low was a teenager in West Berlin during the 1980s, he met American soldiers who introduced him to hip hop.
Kazu: And that’s where he met a lot of the soldiers who would like introduce him to all sorts of hip hop and he just fell in love with it. And he literally did, he at least tried all the genres of hip hop. He could probably dj, he’s very proud of his graffiti, he can beatbox, you know, he’s done a little dancing when he was a kid. He was just immersed in that world.
So he would host the dj battles. On the few occasions when the dj equipment didn’t work he would go on the mike and entertain the crowd with his beatboxing. And he decided, why don’t we just start a beatbox battle?
Tani: Bee Low’s dream battle became the first ever beatbox battle world championship in 2005, since then, Bee Low’s organization Beatbox Battle has held the Beatbox Battle World Championship every couple years. First every four years, then every three, and now every two summers.
Of course, the world championships have changed over the years. The location and time of year has changed a couple times, the production value has gone up, and most importantly for me, as a fan who watches at home, the beatboxing itself has evolved.
Back in 2005 and 2009, during the first two world championships, There were a lot of drum kit sounds, you know boots ‘n’ cats, with a sprinkling of random mouth sounds people could make. Here’s a sample of what you might have heard in 2005.
[Singing buildup followed by fast beatboxing. The beatboxing sounds like a fast drummer.]
Tani: And now, 2009.
[Fast beatboxing introduced by bass tones and followed by zip sounds. The bass tones and zip sounds are not like drum sounds.]
Tani: By 2012, there was still a huge emphasis on technical beat making, but the sounds were far more diverse and the beats were far more complex.
[Super complex beat patterns followed by bass outro. The beat patterns sound like drum moves, the bass outro does not at all.]
Tani: You might have noticed that in the 2012 beat the special sounds were baked into the beat nicely, my good friend The Orthobox has been providing these sample beats but I want you to hear the real thing so here is a beat from Reeps One who was a semifinalist in the 2012 world champs.
[Insanely fast patterned breathing mixed with insane bass tones. The breathing technique is called inward drag.]
Tani: Now we are getting somewhere. The way I like to think about it, 2012 was the first time beatboxers started making sounds and beats that were beyond imagination. That world record inward drag, I would never have thought that those were sounds that belonged in a beat. By 2015, beatboxing had launched itself into another dimension
[Powerful kick drums and bass sounds.]
Tani: And by 2018, brace yourselves
[Grime pattern accented by various types of Lip Rolls.]
Tani: We finally reached MB14 and Saro. The lip oscillations from Saro’s drop, the technicality and musicality in MB14’s composition. The future is now.
At the same time, Bee Low and his team were raising the production value, the sound and video quality on their youtube channel. The actual events, the sponsors. Bee Low upped the ante for each world championship.
Of course, for every batman there must be a robin, and there was this one fan who just kept showing up to Bee Low’s events. That fan is now our good friend Pepouni.
[End of part 2. Transition music: The Baddest by Richard Smithson]
Compilation of beatboxers giving shoutouts to Pepouni: “My friend Pepouni. Pepouni. Pepouni. Pepouni. Pepouni. My friend Pepouni.”
Tani: I cant begin to tell you how happy I was when I made that montage. Like stupid happy, I cant explain myself either, so Im gonna let other people share relevant information about my good friend Pepouni
Kazu: Pepouni is this really great guy who loves beatboxing.
Tani: If Bee Low is Abraham, the father of the beatboxing community, Pepouni is Moses, who led us toward the beatboxing promised land.
Kazu: Pepouni was always that guy who was at the events and you know, was always trying to push the scene. Bee Low very much took a liking to him they became very good friends and that’s how I like to think of those two, you know, always kind of helping each other out.
Tani: At first Pepouni was just a fan but he quickly became an integral leader in the beatboxing community.
Pepouni: I was 17 when my mother bought me a flight ticket to go to London to visit my first event outside of my country. When I went to the beatbox convention in London it was for the first time I met the international beatbox family and everything that I actually believed in or that I was living for just intensified itself and then yeah it turned out that you had a part with organizing events and visit events bring people together is something that yeah needs to be taken care of more and i thought i can help here, and it became my mission and still is today.
Tani: Pepouni joined an organization called Swissbeatbox which at the time was just the national Swiss beatboxing organization but it quickly became the hub of daily beatboxing activity across the world. Pepouni understood that the way to build community is through consistency so Swissbeatbox created its own flagship event and called it the GBB. The Grand Beatbox Battle.
Unlike the world championships though, the GBB is an annual competition which brings eyeballs to swissbeatbox’s youtube page on a regular basis, because as we all know, battles draw eyeballs.
But Pepouni’s biggest innovation was to have a video every day. He started recording shoutouts, just videos of beatboxers showcasing their skills. No battles, no events, just beatboxing. And this exposed beatboxers to each other, and it kept beatboxing on the map 365 days a year.
Pepouni: It's about the beatboxing community. I think there are a lot of crazy talents out there. Very musical people, very artistic people. People that can bring beatbox to a whole new level.
Tani: Trung Bao is a beatboxer from Vietnam who works for Swissbeatbox. I asked him on a personal level what makes Swissbeatbox stand out to him? What makes Swissbeatbox the home for beatboxing?
Trung Bao: The consistent community is a very important quality of Swissbeatbox and also the quality of their production also raising. You know, sound quality, video quality, everything about production. It’s on another level.
Tani: Swissbeatbox is the only beatboxing organization presenting videos every day and they always have the best quality.
Pepouni: If you look at our numbers, just video wise, we almost double them every single year.
Tani: The numbers speak for themselves and the beatboxing does too. On an institutional level, it was Swissbeatbox’s consistency that pushed the community to get better and to learn from each other. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll watch videos of beatboxers who would have run away with the championships in 2005 and 2009 and I don't even bat an eye. That's it? Where are the sucker punches? Don’t you know grime is a crutch these days?
I’m armchair judging like the little boy on the tricycle in The Incredibles. You remember him? After days of watching Mr. Incredible lifting cars and denting boulders, the boy waits to see what Mr. Incredible will do next, just like I lurk on Swissbeatbox.
Mr. Incredible asked the kid, “what are you waiting for?” And in his innocence, the boy says [Tani tries to replicate the line in high pitched, child like voice] “I don’t know, something amazing I guess” and I feel like that little boy every time I log onto youtube. In 2019, I expect greatness every time someone grabs the mike. And Swissbeatbox is to blame. Just check out a snippet our man Trung Bao calls venom.
[Hardcore dubstep bass punctuated with softer percussive sounds.]
Tani: That's what the hell I’m talkin’ about. And if you want more, just wait because SpeshFX is not even close to done with Venom.
For now, capture that feeling you felt when you listened to Venom. The rush, the tension, the inexplicable drive to make a nasty face. That's what I felt when I first watched MB14 and Saro. And now I can actually articulate it.
Beatboxing hangs in a unique and exciting moment. The skill level across the world is as high as it's ever been and the viewership is exploding.
Now is the time to hear about beatboxing, get in on the fun. You want to be that girl who is able to say, “I was into beatboxing before it became huge. In episode 2 we go into greater detail as to how this all happened and I join in on the action and try to learn a difficult sound, the spit snare.
Episode two is ready and waiting for you, but take a moment to enjoy your new knowledge first. Reach out and share your thoughts. email@example.com check out special beatboxing content on www.speshfx.com, including exclusive quotes from SpeshFX on instagram and two youtube playlists for you to peruse, one of SpeshFX guests and one of beatboxing basics. Videos that will show you where beatboxing is now and where it came from. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and give a nice review and rating on apple podcasts. Five stars baby. Until next time, I’m Tani Levitt. ESH.
[Outro music: Fifty Fifty by Braden Mitchell]
[Outtakes of Tani trying to get the right “that's what the hell I’m talkin about.”]