By Justin Lee
Since its origin, four distinguishing elements have defined hip-hop culture: MC-ing, DJ-ing, b-boying, and graffiti. But one aspect that has always had a presence, despite being drastically overlooked, is the beat box–otherwise known as the fifth element.
Back in the day, artists like Biz Markie and Doug E. Fresh lead the rest of the pack in beat boxing. Today, the sound is defined by the human beat box, Rahzel (aka The Godfather of Noyze).
Best known as a member of the critically-acclaimed hip-hop group, The Roots, Rahzel sets the standard for beat boxing, past, present and future. From Wu-Tang beats to an up-tempo trumpet solo, Rahzel skillfully recreates a vast archive of sounds by using nothing more than his mouth and a mic.
On his debut album, Make The Music 2000, Rahzel emulates by mouth what takes the average producer hours to create: a creative, cohesive blend of different musical genres. From the jazzy "Steal My Soul," to the Southern drum-and-bass track, "Southern Girl," beat boxing plays an eminent role in Rahzel’s passion for hip-hop.
"It’s something that I’ve always done as a kid," Rahzel explains. "What I always used to do is to take tapes out of my cousin’s [Rahim of The Furious Five] room that he used to have of the group and I used to take the tapes home and try to do the tapes myself. I didn’t have DJ equipment or nothing like that; I had the beat box, you know, and I’d rhyme on top of the beat box.
"I had two tape-recorders… I used to dub beats and dub vocals. I used to make my own tapes and then people would swear that it was a group of people [producing the beats]."
The common reaction to Rahzel’s skills at imitating the most detailed sound patterns is, "Damn, how’d he do that?" Rahzel doesn’t seem to mind though.
"Especially in hip-hop, when people figure things out, [it becomes] a novelty. As long as you keep them guessing, they don’t know how you’re coming. [When] you keep them on their toes, that’s when you pretty much stay around for awhile."
In this day and age where technology has elevated hip-hop music to a new level with samplers, synthesizers and other production equipment, just where does beat boxing Þt?
"I think beat boxing [the role it’s starting to play] is more of the instrument, instead of the person. I think it’s becoming more of the instrument where it’s blending in with other instruments… it’s starting to blend in with different production techniques," he offers.
With Make The Music 2000, Rahzel attempts to bring beat boxing back into the mainstream of hip-hop.
"Basically, just exposing it to a newer audience, a younger audience [in order for it to] keep thriving. Bringing it back to the forefront with some type of style and diversity and skill that’ll definitely give it its place."
Although it is unclear as to whether the beat box will ever gain equal recognition alongside the four elements of hip-hop, it would be safe to say that the undisputed Godfather of Noyze will be the one who brings it to the masses.
To experience true hip-hop at its best head out to see Choclair and Rahzel perform at the Republik on Sun., Nov. 28. Tickets are available in advanced at Ferochous and Megatunes and at the door.