The History of Beatboxing

Discussion in 'Beatboxing' started by flying_steps, Oct 21, 2008.

  1. flying_steps

    flying_steps New Member

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    The Real History of Beatboxing
    Part 1: The Pre-History of Beatboxing
    By Defenicial (and TyTe)


    It is usually documented that beatboxing, as we know it, has its roots in the beginning of modern hip-hop, on street corners in placed like Chicago, the Bronx, and LA, and this is quite right. However, vocal percussion - the art form from which beatboxing spawns - has been part of the music and urban scene for a lot longer than people think. As part of the new school of beatboxing and hip-hop - that is, from around 1998 to today - it is extremely important this new school knows its history, and the way in which this glorious sub culture came about. Through hard research, I will attempt to show you, the reader, the true (but brief) history of beatboxing.

    It first requires a trip back in time, more than 7 decades back, to the era of swing, jazz and barbershop music. It has been well recorded that jazz musicians where the first group of artists who used their voices, and indeed, their whole vocal chords to imitate instruments. When bebop arrived in the 30’s, as a reaction to large swing groups and their lack of improvisation, it was becoming the norm to hear jazz and blues singers wail, moan or grunt noises unidentifiable to the human ear as words. 'Scatting' was used as jazz singers improvised harmonic and vocal scales over solos or instrumentals. This was the first mainstream look at what would become vocal percussion, and later beatboxing. Singers would sing made up words such as 'doot', 'wawp', 'bapadoo' and many others, effectively imitating the sounds of the two most common instruments in their music, saxophones and trumpets. However, the roots of imitating instruments with the human voice goes a few years earlier.

    The very beginning...

    Travelling right back, we uncover the troubadours (poet-musicians) of Southern France the 1200 and 1300s. These were travelling French minstrels who would roam the streets singing either unaccompanied or with only the accompaniment of a lute, the precursor to the modern acoustic guitar. Their music seemed to try and be different and featured courtly lyrics or religious themes. By the late 1400 and 1500s, groups would sing together, much like barbershop, harmonising to one single voice. To give their music depth, they would interchange short sharp notes, call and responsive in the melodies, making it sound like a whole band was playing with them. These French gypsies, were in fact the earliest recorded signs of vocal percussion in history.

    As medieval became baroque, baroque became classical, classical became romantic, human percussion was lost momentarily. As music swung towards Bach and Beethoven with oratorios and symphonies comprising dozens of violins and violas, the use for the human voice lost all but one purpose, to sing. However, more recent composers such as Medtner and Rachmaninov used wordless 'vocalised' sounds in their classical compositions. For example, Rachmaninov's composition for voice and piano called 'Vocalise', written in 1912, features a pure melody that unfolds over gently changing wordless vocal harmonies.

    What about Indian music?

    North Indian music has for centuries (and perhaps millennia) used something called 'vocal bols' that sound very similar to the sounds played on percussive instruments such as the tabla. The most common bols are Dha, Dhi/Dhin, Ti/Tin, Ra, Ki, Ta, Na, Tin, and Te. Bols are combined and arranged in 4-beat patterns called thekas to provide the rhythm or tal. For example, "Ta Dhin Dhin Dha". These are still used today by a wide range of artists and bands such as Alms For Shanti on their track SuperBol (spot the pun?). Although not a direct ancestor of modern beatboxing, this parallel will no doubt find itself fused with beatboxing in the future.

    From Africa to America

    African ritualistic music had traditionally used body sounds to maintain rhythm, such as clapping and stamping. Loud in-and-out breathing called 'over breathing' was also used as both a two-beat rhythm and to induce a trance like state in the performers. Vocal percussion patterns were also used such as, "hup, hup, hup, hup" and "Ch Ka Ch Ch". Today, West African music still uses techniques such as giving the voice an intentionally raspy or buzzy quality as well as featuring glissandos, bends, and swoops.

    In the 17th Century, African slaves were taken to plantations in Jamaica and the Americas where the African music was blended with European folk and brass band music to spawn new forms of music - namely jazz and blues.


    In the late 1880s, black groups (usually quartets) would sing a capella, that is, using only their harmonized voices to make music. They would hold long, low notes that resemble what we hear as bass sounds in modern beatboxing. Vocal percussion was used by these quartets to help their music keep time, such as clicks of the tongue and taking a sharp breath in. Yes, more then a hundred years before Kenny Muhammad, black barbershop singers mastered the inward snare. Even though vocal percussion was only the background to this style of music, it no doubt set the stage for the oncoming craze of scatting and bass humming in the wave of jazz, blues, and swing music that was just a few years away.

    Blues and Vocal Percussion
    When blues was brought about by black slaves telling the heart ache of life, there wasn’t usually instruments at hand. Musicians would improvise with what little they had, their body and their voices. Claps and clicks became the drums, and low hums became the double bass; the two back bones of blues and jazz music. One would hum, one would clap, click and hit things as the drums, and one would sing. This would eventually evolve into imitating many sounds, such as the 'shhchh' of a soft snare and the 'tssa' of the hi-hat being played with brushes. Blues groups found a way to make their music with nothing but their voices. As blues became more and more mainstream, scatting and bass humming became well known. Higher range singers would wail long, joined notes, taking the place of the trumpet in solos. Immediately, this form of vocal percussion became a staple of urban culture, that is, culture of the street. Poor artists would roam the streets, or gather on street corners, imitating trumpets and saxophones outside jazz halls.


    Today, beatboxing and vocal percussion is as alive as ever. One only needs to lend an ear to the Australian charts to hear Joel Turner using beatboxing as the drums to an entire album. Joel has since claimed national glory, and multimillion dollar record deal and mainstream exposure. The formation of such groups as the Beatbox Alliance, who have major corporate backing, makes us realise beatboxing is now a card carrying member of the hip-hop community. In 2000, Rahzel made beatboxing famous in the mainstream by covering the now deceased Aaliyah’s song 'If Your Girl Only Knew'. Rahzel has since been credited as the first person to conquer the art of simultaneously singing and beatboxing at the same time, a feat that has become a staple of the beatbox community.

    Part 2 : The Old Skool
    By White Noise and TyTe
    Despite the fact that Beatboxing is an important element of Hip-hop and A Capella, some people still aren't clued up as to what beatboxing is all about!

    Beatboxing is The Art of Urban Vocal Percussion. i.e. - imitating drum sounds and beat patterns using your lips, tongue, mouth, throat, and voice. It's summed up with the image the guy in the hoodie with his hands cupped over his mouth spitting and making wonderful noises.

    Terms and Conditions
    Vocal Percussion means making percussion sounds (including drum sounds) with the mouth. Traditionally vocal percussionists in a cappella groups have tried to emulate real drum sounds.

    Beatboxing is a form of vocal percussion in which the artist emulates the sounds of a 'beat box' or drum machine. Today, as the artform is expanding, vocal percussionists use beatboxing techniques and beatboxers use vocal percussion techniques - the difference remains in the style. Beatboxers generally produce more urban styles of music and therefore beatboxing could be called urban vocal percussion.

    Multivocalism is a term used for artists who use beatboxing, vocal scratching, singing, MCing and poetry in their performances.
    Where did the term beatbox come from?
    Human Beatbox literally means human drum machine and beatbox was originally used as two words 'beat box'.

    The term 'beat box' was used as slang for the non-programmable drum machines that were first called rhythm machines. For example, the Roland TR Rhythm Series such as the TR-33, TR-55 that were produced in 1972. Later it was used to refer to a particular line of drum machines - particularly the Roland CR and the later TR series with the Roland CR-78 appearing in 1978.

    However, the first rhythm machine was the Wurlitzer Sideman that was made between 1959 and 1964, and this did come in a large box - so it's possible that the term "beat box" was used to refer to this machine.

    Wurlitzer Sideman
    Used with kind permission The Keyboard Museum

    The first time beat box was used to refer directly to a rhythm machine was in the 1970s with the ELI CompuRhythm CR-7030 Beat Box.

    ELI CR-7030
    Used with kind permission The Keyboard Museum

    And here is the staple of hip-hop music, the coveted Roland TR-808 drum machine released in 1982.

    Roland TR-808
    Used with kind permission The Keyboard Museum

    Where did it all begin?
    The history of Beatboxing is blurry. It appears, like graffiti, to have begun it's life as an urban art form. The beginnings of hip-hop are well known - DJs spinning the breakbeats in records with MCs rapping over the top. When MCs starting to rap over drum machine (beat box) beats, in the ghettos such as the Bronx, drum machines and synthesisers could not be afforded (samplers were at this time well out of the reach of even well-paid musicians). Necessity is the mother of invention, and without machine-supplied beats to rap over, a new instrument was created - the mouth - and thus human beatboxing was born.

    The Three Kings of the 1980s

    In the early to mid eighties, three names stand out head and shoulders above the rest - Darren 'Buffy' Robinson, Doug E Fresh and Biz Markie.

    There has been a great deal of discussion about who was the first, however one thing is for sure, and that is that in 1983, a trio from Brooklyn won a talent contest at Radio City Music Hall. The trio, formerly known as The Disco Three, were comprised of Mark "Prince Markie Dee" Morales, Damon "Kool Rock-Ski" Wimbley, and Darren "Buff the Human Beat Box" Robinson. These were The Fat Boys. Buff Love, or Buffy as he came to be known, helped the group win the talent contest through his ability to use his mouth to recreate hip-hop rhythms and a variety of sound effects. The prize? A record contract. Rumour has it that the band were gutted as they wanted to win the second prize of a stereo! Buffy was known for his breathing technique between kicks and snares. The Fat Boys enjoyed a short but successful career. They finally split in the early 1990s to go their separate ways. Sadly, on Dec 10, 1995, Darren "Buffy the Human Beat Box" Robinson died of a heart attack in Rosedale, NY.


    Also in 1983, Doug E Fresh (Doug E Davis) made his first appearance on a single for Spotlight called 'Pass the Budda' with Spoonie Gee and DJ Spivey although Doug E. Fresh claims that he invented human beatboxing in 1980. In 1984, Doug featured in the classic hip-hop movie Beat Street alongside the Treacherous Three and this was to launch him as one of the greatest beatboxers of all time. Doug was known for his distinctive style featuring amongst other sounds, the now famous click rolls. In 1985, Doug E Fresh and the Get Fresh Crew (MC Ricky 'Slick Rick' D, Barry Bee and Chill Will) released the now classic hip-hop double-A side, 'The Show/La Di Da Di'.


    Classic Doug E. Fresh Clips
    These two classic Doug E. Fresh clips are provided courtesy of Doug E. - The Official Web Site of Doug E. Fresh and influenced a whole generation of beatboxers.

    View attachment doug_e_fresh_do_the_beatbox.mp3

    View attachment doug_e_fresh_slick_rick.mp3

    By 1985, beatboxing was being taken forward by other artistes such as Biz Markie. Although a rapper, he started working as a human beatboxer with acts such as Roxanne Shanté and started developing sounds such as MCing between the beat, the inward handclap and the harmonic tap.


    And then there were none...

    Beatboxing rode the crest of the hip-hop wave featuring on albums and videos but then it all ended. By the 1990s hip-hop was no longer center stage and beatboxers were held back by people's perceptions of them as novelty value circus acts.

    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.

    The New School
    By TyTe
    This final part in the History of Beatboxing looks at how beatboxing has developed since the 1990s and includes three special reports on The Internet Revolution, The Human Beatbox Convention and Jamming.

    A New School of Beatboxers

    During the 1990s a new breed of beatboxers was getting underway. In the UK, Killa Kela, with a little help from his friend DJ Vadim, was discovering his talent for beatboxing and in 1994, at the age of 17 he started his career as a solo artist that eventually led to his signing with BMG/Sony in 2005. Also during this time, other artists across the world were keeping the beatboxing flame alive. These 'new school' artists were not only stretching the sonic boundaries of beatboxing with new sounds and techniques, but bringing new musical forms to beatboxing, such as drum and bass and dance music. It would only be a matter of time before beatboxing once again became mainstream.

    In 1999, beatboxer with The Roots and self-professed 'Godfather of Noyze', Rahzel, produced, perhaps, the most influential beatboxing album of all time. Make the Music 2000 brought beatboxing back into the public arena - and boy what beatboxing! Not only did the album feature beatboxing and some great songs, but the secret track after 60 seconds of silence at the end of the album featured the often imitated Man vs Machine battle featuring the four elements including Kenny Muhammed's coveted 'Wind Technique' and Rahzel's own show-stopper 'If Your Mother Only Knew'. The album was also the first to feature vocal scratching - a technique that has since been developed globally. Beatboxing was back.

    Catching the New Wave

    Since the year 2000, beatboxing has become more mainstream with artists such as Justin Timberlake and Daniel Beddingfield taking up the artform as well as artists such as Bjork using beatboxing as a basis for her music. In 2001, Eliot and the - beatboxEliot - berlin - munich - vienna - Screamo - crew released the very first beatboxing compilation DVD called Beatboxing Vol.1. All the songs on the compilation were produced vocally and featured artists such as Killa Kela, Box Style Bern and Bauchklang. This was also one of the first albums to feature layered studio beatboxing. The crew then released a beatboxing LP, 2 maxi singles and a tape plus four beatboxing videos that were shown on music television. This was the very first time that music videos featuring pure beatbox tracks were shown in heavy rotation on TV. In 2002, Beatboxer Entertainment was formed - the world's first artist agency dedicated to human beatboxing. Beatboxing featured in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in 2004. Also in 2004, Australian beatboxer Joel Turner had 5 weeks at No.1 with his song 'These Kids' after performing on Australian Idol. The past five years has also seen the Internet become a method for networking beatboxers and defining the art form . Beatbox jamming and battling has grown in popularity and beatbox battles and competitions are happening with more regularity thanks to the work of artists and organisers such as Shlomo (UK), Bee Low (Germany) and Kidlucky (USA).

    In 2005, the World Beatboxing Federation (WBBF) was formed to connect the major players in the beatboxing world. The WBBF work together to promote the artform and where possible, work together on products and events. It is too soon to say whether the WBBF will succeed in its mission, but all the signs are that beatboxing is on the up, and unlike it's demise in the early 1990s, this time it is here to stay for good. Also in 2005, the All From the Mouth beatbox agency was formed showcasing the best of UK beatboxing. As for the history of beatboxing? We're still making it.

    Special Reports

    The Internet Revolution

    The Internet has enabled beatboxers from across the globe to discuss and share the artform. Although there were a couple of beatboxing Web sites in existence, few, with the exception of the German site - beatboxEliot - berlin - munich - vienna - Screamo - had any content to speak of. In December 2001, A-Plus registered and within days, he had put up a forum - a stroke of genius. On that first day, several beatboxers signed up including names such as Banardo, TyTe, Emcee Live and Eliot who are still active members of the site today.

    In 2002, TyTe created the world's first beatboxing tutorials using text and some short MP3 recordings. In March 2003, the site was redesigned, rebranded and relaunched as HUMANBEATBOX.COM - Home. In 2003, TyTe added 52 video tutorials to the site and in 2004 released the tutorials on the Learn to Beatbox Vol.1 DVD. In April 2003, the first international gathering took place in London (see inset). In late 2004, TyTe purchased the Web site from A-Plus and in 2007 sold the site to Archangel. The Internet has enabled a core of people from across the globe to define the artform in terms of sounds and techniques.
    The Human Beatbox Convention

    On 26th April 2003, A-Plus - founder of - decided to gather beatboxers from across the world with the first International Human Beatbox Convention. The convention took place in London and attracted beatboxers from all over Europe, North America and Australia. The idea behind the convention was not simply about having a competition or a battle, but to network, exhange ideas and educate.

    Apart from showcases from international artists, there were also talks on technical, performance and business topics. The day was a huge success and a 2003 Beatbox Convention DVD was produced.

    The second International Beatbox Convention took place in NYC in 2004 and was hosted by Beatboxer Entertainment.

    King of the Jam

    "The internet is nothing without Jam." - Mark SPLINTER The idea was simple, to meet in the park, with no electronic sound devices, and make music. The most enthusiastic and creative participant was to receive a pot of jam. It was just a bit of fun, and a way to remind the world that music is made by people, not by machines. Nobody really knew what would happen next. On Saturday 6th July 2002, the first King was crowned. It was Arro, he travelled to London from Leeds and almost didn't find us. Shlomo was unsure about beatboxing as a serious career, but surrounded by beatboxers and passing ravers shouting their appreciation, he changed his mind. Mowgli amazed everyone and then disappeared as usual, and A-Plus saw that his website had inspired real music, not just talk about eggs.

    So the first Jam was four beatboxers, one MC, and a bunch of spectators on drugs. It would have been completely forgotten, but Mark put the video on the Internet. Now people from all over the world were watching five guys spitting in the park. Soon there was a second King of the Jam, 2002B, and then every year since has seen two London Jams and more mini-Jams in other cities. Now the London Jams attract around fifty people, and thousands have seen the videos. Other people have started their own Jams and all this comes from the magical power of the Internet, making a tiny niche of art into a worldwide phenomenon. Mark wants to see a world where there is a Jam every week, so here are his tips for starting your own:

    1. Don't worry about how many people will turn up. You only need two people to Jam.
    2. Set a date and stick to it. If you don't set a date, nobody can look forward to it.
    3. Tell people in your town and on the Internet, but don't beg. Remember the first tip.
    4. Record what you do and show the world.
    5. Do it again.

    Thanks to HUMANBEATBOX.COM - Home for this in-depth look at the history of beatboxing.
  2. B-BoyFroZone

    B-BoyFroZone Frozone aka DTrix

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    Yigo. Guam
    nice man......somebody sticky this sh**
  3. Bboywhiterice

    Bboywhiterice CIRCLE NERDZ CREW

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  4. BBoy.Allycasta

    BBoy.Allycasta New Member

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    under your bed
    finally and we need some videos of skatting
  5. rasif

    rasif New Member

    kto xocet paznakomitsya
  6. bradcapo1

    bradcapo1 New Member

    Thanks for the feedback. That is very useful.
  7. Bboyjamaica

    Bboyjamaica New Member

    yo that hot
  8. popiNwilson

    popiNwilson BEAT BOX KING

    A Man Yr Now Yr History About Beat Boxing I Do To Im A Beat Boxer
  9. Cat-Daddy

    Cat-Daddy Shuffler-K1D

    Ive been wanting to learn how to beatbox, but never got to it. I should be starting to learn in a couple weeks. & This is amazing! I learned alot from this!

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