Beatboxing is a form of vocal percussion primarily involving the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, and voice. It may also involve singing, vocal imitation of turntablism, and the simulation of horns, strings, and other musical instruments.

Beatboxing today is connected with hip-hop culture, being one of ‘the elements,’ although it is not limited to hip-hop music.

People have imitated percussion sounds vocally throughout history. Two early examples are ‘bol,’ which originated in India several thousand years ago, and the Chinese ‘Kouji,’ a type of vocal performing art. These had little or no relation with rap, however, and have no direct connection to modern Eastern Hip Hop. Other vocal imitative styles may have had some influence on the development of hip-hop, although this idea is difficult to prove. Significant examples include ‘scat singing,’ associated with jazz music, and ‘puirt a beul,’ which originated in traditional Scottish music. Jazz, which developed from the blues and other African-American and European musical traditions and originated around the beginning of the 20th century, has also influenced hip hop and has been cited as a precursor of hip hop.

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’ and ‘The Girl Is Mine.’ He also uses his body to create sounds by breathing, stomping and clapping in varying ways in many of his songs. 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.

The term ‘beatboxing’ is derived from the mimicry of the first generation of drum machines, then known as beatboxes. ‘Human beatboxing’ in hip-hop originated in 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 the popularization of beat boxing proliferation. Wise inspired an entire new fan base of human beatboxers with his human turntable technique. Beatboxing’s current popularity is due in part to artists such as Rahzel of the Roots, Kenny Muhammad, and Matisyahu who have promoted the art form across the globe. Sometimes, artists will use their hand or another part of their body to extend the spectrum of sound effects and rhythm.


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