Beatboxing (also beaboxingng or b-boxing) is a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of mimicking drum machines (typically a TR-808), using one's mouth, lips, tongue, and voice. It may also involve vocal imitation of turntablism, and other musical instruments. Beatboxing today is connected with hip-hop culture, often referred to as "the fifth element" of hip-hop, although it is not limited to hip-hop music. The term "beatboxing" is sometimes used to refer to vocal percussion in general.
Techniques similar to beatboxing have been present in many American musical genres since the 19th century, such as early rural music, both black and white, religious songs, blblues, ragtime, vaudeville, and hokum. Examples include the Appalachian technique of eefing and the blues song Bye bye bird by Sonny Boy Williamson II.
Additional influences may perhaps include forms of African traditional music, in which performers utilize their bodies (e.g., by clapping or stomping) as percussion instruments and produce sounds with their mouths by breathing loudly in and out, a technique used in beatboxing today.
Many well-known performers used vocal percussion occasionally, even though this was not directly connected to the cultural tradition that came to be known as beatboxing. Paul McCartney's "That Would Be Something" (1969) includes vocal percussion. Pink Floyd's "Pow R. Toc H." (1967) also includes vocal percussion performed by the group's lead vocalist, Syd Barrett. Jazz singers Bobby McFerrin and Al Jarreau were very well known for their vocal styles and techniques, which have had great impact on techniques beatboxers use today. Michael Jackson was known to record himself beatboxing on a dictation tape recorder as a demo and scratch recording to compose several of his songs, including "Billie Jean", "The Girl Is Mine", and others. Gert Fröbe, a German actor most widely known for playing Auric Goldfinger in the James Bond film Goldfinger, "beatboxes" as Colonel Manfred von Holstein (simultaneously vocalizing horned and percussive instruments) in Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines, a 1965 British comedy film.
Contribution to hip-hop
The term "beatboxing" is derived from the mimicry of early drum machines, then known as beatboxes, particularly the Roland TR-808. The term "beatbox" was used to refer to earlier Roland drum machines such as the TR-55 and CR-78 in the 1970s. They were followed by the TR-808, released in 1980, which became central to hip hop music and electronic dance music. It is the TR-808 that human beatboxing is largely modeled after.
"Human beatboxing" in hip-hop originated in the 1980s. Its early pioneers include Doug E. Fresh, the self-proclaimed first "human beatbox"; Swifty, the first to implement the inhale sound technique; Buffy, who helped perfect many beatboxing techniques; and Wise, who contributed significantly to beat boxing's proliferation. Wise inspired an entire new fan base of human beatboxers with his human turntable technique. Other pioneers of beatboxing include Rahzel well known for his realistic robotic sounds and for his ability to sing and beatbox simultaneously, Scratch a beatboxer and musician well known for further revolutionizing the use of vocal scratching in beatboxing, and Kenny Muhammad The Human Orchestra, a beatboxer known for his technicality and outstanding rhythmic precision, who pioneered the inward k snare, a beatbox technique that imitates a snare drum by breathing inward.
The Internet has played a large part in the popularity of modern beatboxing. Alex Tew (aka A-Plus) started the first online community of beatboxers in 2000 under the banner of HUMANBEATBOX.COM. An early example of modern beatboxing was seen in the 2001 South Korean romantic comedy film My Sassy Girl. In 2001, Gavin Tyte, a member of this community created the world's first tutorials and video tutorials on beatboxing. In 2003, the community held the world's first Human Beatbox Convention in London featuring beatbox artists from all over the world.
Sometimes, modern beatboxers will use their hand or another part of their body to extend the spectrum of sound effects and rhythm. Some have developed a technique that involves blowing and sucking air around their fingers to produce a very realistic record scratching noise, which is commonly known as the "crab scratch." Another hand technique includes the "throat tap," which involves beatboxers tapping their fingers against their throats as they throat sing or hum.
Today there is an increase in the variety in which we see beatboxing throughout musical culture. People have gone as far as adding beatboxing in with different instruments to create a completely different sound unlike any other. Artist Greg Patillo goes as far as adding in beatboxing while playing the flute to very iconic songs. Beatbox has become modernized and has even been seen in popular movies such as Pitch Perfect and Pitch Perfect 2. Both of these movies showcase classical songs performed with a capella covers in which all of the beats to the songs are done completely using the idea and technique of beatboxing to complete the sound capable to imitate the original song.
As with other musical disciplines, some form of musical notation or transcription may sometimes be useful in order to describe beatbox patterns or performances. Sometimes this takes the form of ad hoc phonetic approximations, but is occasionally more formal.
Standard Beatbox Notation (SBN) was created by Mark Splinter and Gavin Tyte of Humanbeatbox.com in 2006 as an alternative to International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) transcription, which had been used sparingly before then.
In a research study published in 2013 and based on real-time MRI imaging of a beatboxer, the authors propose a notation system which combines the International Phonetic Alphabet with musical staff notation, in part motivated by their observation that many beatboxing sounds can be adequately represented by the IPA.
Each beatboxer can produce a very large number of unique sounds, but there are three distinct linguistic categories of sound within beatboxing. Ejectives are the strong puffs of air from the voicebox that give intensity to percussive sounds. The "t", "p", "k", "d", "b" and "g" sounds can all be made into ejectives. “Ch” and “j” are examples of ejective affricates.
Nonstandard fricatives are the mechanical sounds such as snare drums, cymbals, and other buzzing noises in beatboxing that are made with fricatives. Certain sounds, such as velar lateral fricatives, bilabial lateral fricatives, and linguolabial fricatives, are all judged impossible according to the IPA but are technically possible and are sounds that are commonly used in beatboxing.
Coarticulation is the act of controlling a sound in two places at once. A common example of this is the sound created by rolling an “r” sound while saying a “v” sound. This is called a voiced alveolar trill with labiodental articulation. Similarly, epenthesis is the sound created when beatboxers sing and do percussion at the same time. Contrary to what the sound suggests, their tongue is not in two places at once. This effect is created by placing percussive sounds in the middle of words.
Multi-vocalism is a form of vocal musicianship conceptualized by British Beatboxer and vocalist Killa Kela. It describes Beatboxers who incorporate other vocal disciplines and practices into their routines and performances such as, Singing, Rapping, Sound mimicry and other vocal arts. Beardyman is a well known multi-vocalist.
According to the Guinness World Records, the current record for the largest human beatbox ensemble was set by Booking.com employees. The record involved 4,659 participants and was achieved by Booking.com employees together with beatboxers at the RAI Amsterdam in Amsterdam, Netherlands, on 10 December 2013 during their annual company meeting.
The previous largest human beatbox ensemble involved 2,081 participants and was achieved by Google (Ireland), Shlomo (UK) and Testament (UK) at The Convention Centre, Dublin, Ireland on 14 November 2011.
Before Shlomo's record, the previous record for the largest human beatbox ensemble involved 1,246 participants and was achieved by Vineeth Vincent and Christ University (India) in Bangalore, Karnataka, India, on 5 February 2011.
This list is a selected discography of commercial releases which are mostly/entirely beatbox-based or are otherwise notable/influential records in the history of beatboxing and its popularisation.
- Michael Winslow – Police Academy (1984)
- Fat Boys – "Human Beat Box" from "Fat Boys" (1984)
- Doug E. Fresh – "The Show" & "La Di Da Di" (1985)
- Just-Ice – Back to the Old School (1986)
- Wise – Just Say Stet (1985), Faye (1986) & Stet Troop 88 (1988)
- Biz Markie – Goin' Off (includes beatbox track "Make The Music With Your Mouth, Biz") (1988)
- Vanilla Ice – Havin' a Roni – from To The Extreme (1990)
- Snap! – Only Human – B-side on Mary Had A Little Boy 12" (1990)
- Kyle "Scratch" Jones – The Embodiment of Instrumentation (2002)
- Killa Kela – The Permanent Marker (2002)
- Esham – Out Cold (2003)
- Justin Timberlake – "Rock Your Body" (2003)
- Rahzel – Rahzel's Greatest Knock Outs (2004)
- Björk – Medúlla (2004)
- Joel Turner – "These Kids" (2004)
- Matisyahu – "Live at Stubb's" (2005)
- Biz Markie – Make the Music with Your Mouth, Biz (2006)
- Poizunus – A.D.D. (Active Dreaming Disorder) (2007)
- Kid Beyond – Amplivate (2004)
- Blake Lewis – A.D.D. (Audio Day Dream) (2007)
- Dub FX – "Everythinks a Ripple" (2009)
In popular culture
A GEICO radio commercial, featuring a supermarket employee beatboxing various announcements over a store intercom ("Cleanup on aisle 14" with beats interspersed), won the Westwood One Sports Sounds Awards Media Choice Award for best commercial heard during the radio network's coverage of Super Bowl LII.
- TOWARD A BEATBOXOLOGY, Human Beatbox
- The History of Beatboxing, humanbeatbox.com
- D. Stowell and M. D. Plumbley, Characteristics of the beatboxing vocal style. Technical Report C4DM-TR-08-01. 2008.
- Duchan, Joshua S. (April 4, 2012). Powerful Voices: The Musical and Social World of Collegiate A Cappella. Tracking Pop. University of Michigan Press. p. 43. ISBN 0-472-11825-0. Retrieved July 29, 2017.
- Thompson, Tok (2011). "Beatboxing, Mashups, and Cyborg Identity". Western Folklore. 70: 171–193.
- "Michael Jackson BeatBoxing" (Youtube video, 4:58 min). Jackson beatboxes while explaining how he composed "Tabloid Junkie", "The Girl Is Mine", "Who Is It", "Billie Jean", and "Streetwalker" (song on the Bad album 2001 Special Edition). 2008-03-27. Retrieved 2011-01-13.
- HISTORY OF BEATBOX: OLD SCHOOL, Human Beatbox
- "Doug E. Fresh". MTV Artists.
- "Darren Buffy Robinson | HUMAN BEATBOX". www.humanbeatbox.com. Retrieved 2017-02-02.
- Garfield, J. Breath Control: The History Of The Human Beat Box on IMDb . 2002. A documentary on the history of the art form, including interviews with Doug E. Fresh, Emanon, Biz Markie, Marie Daulne of Zap Mama, Kyle Faustino, and others.
- TyTe. "Standard Beatbox Notation". HumanBeatBox.com.
- Liu, Marian. "Beatboxing: An oral history; Hip-Hoppers Turn to Voice-Based Rhythms". San Jose Mercury News, California. Archived from the original on 2017-01-16.
- Proctor, M.I.; Bresch, E.; Byrd, D.; Nayak, K. & Narayanan, S. (2013). "Para-Linguistic Mechanisms of Production in Human "Beatboxing": a Real-time Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study". Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 133 (2): 1043–1054. doi:10.1121/1.4773865. PMC 3574116
- Victoria Fromkin; Robert Rodman; Nina Hyams (1 January 2018). An Introduction to Language. Cengage Learning. p. 199. ISBN 978-1-337-55957-7.
- "Guinness World Records". Guinness World Records. Retrieved 16 January 2014.
- Guinness World Records http://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/2000/largest-human-beatbox-ensemble. Retrieved 30 December 2013. Missing or empty
- "Largest human beatbox ensemble". Retrieved 2012-03-27.
- "Mary Had A Little Boy 12". Discogs. Retrieved 30 June 2016.
- "NaPom - Lips". swissbeatbox.com. Retrieved 2018-04-03.
- "Siri drops sick beats when you ask her to beatbox". CNET. CBS Interactive. 13 January 2016.
- Kate Dwyer. "iPhone's Siri Can Totally Beatbox – Teen Vogue". Teen Vogue.
- "Motel 6, GEICO Win Westwood One’s Sports Sounds Awards." Inside Radio, February 7, 2018. Accessed 02-07-2018.
Beatboxing-Communities supporting the scene since more than 10 years:
- Swissbeatbox.com - World's largest Beatbox Platform.
- Beatboxbattle.tv - Organizer of the World Beatbox Championship.
- Humanbeatbox.com - One of the first Beatboxing Online-Communities.
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