Lips Inc.

Hip-hop disrespects them. Subway patrons love them. Beatboxers make some serious noise.

His powerful voice is quiet now. He's sitting on a low ottoman in his unkempt Crown Heights living room, carefully rolling a blunt. "I was always making music with my mouth as a young kid," he says. "It just kept me really happy, doing it when I was alone." Lucky leans back and slowly exhales. "One time I was put into solitary confinement, and while I was in a straitjacket, I was beatboxing. And they told me to shut up or they'd take away certain privileges. Make me wait, you know, hours before I would eat my next meal." His eyes squint at the memory. "But I just stayed on making that music despite all that, and when I got out of there, you know, it was a constant companion."

The cries of Lucky's baby boy, Psyence, ring out from another room. Dad tries a little cooing to calm him down, but can't resist adding just a hint of hip-hop to his lullaby. Convinced that Psyence is awake for good, Lucky raises the volume: Buddha—boom-boom—dap! Boom-boo-boom—dash! The beatboxer's black-rimmed spectacles vibrate in rhythm to his mouth's bursts of sound. Save for his lips and tongue, he's remarkably still as he loops the same rhythm of snare, kick drum, and hi-hat cymbal over and over again. To the neighboring tenants, the strange noises coming from apartment 4K must sound something like a syncopated demonstration of kitchen appliances, a five-piece combo featuring a grinding can opener, groaning trash compactor, flowing sink faucet, crackling skillet, and spring-loaded toaster. But to Psyence it's simply how Daddy talks.

"He wakes up every morning at 6 a.m., like clockwork," Lucky remarks with a grin. "I just hope Tarsha fed him." Tarsha is Lucky's wife of eight years, a social worker with a degree in psychiatry and, as Lucky freely admits, "the love of my life and a grounding force for me." Lucky was a dope dealer when they first met almost a decade ago at an Alphabet City needle exchange where Tarsha volunteered. "She's helped keep me on the straight and narrow," Lucky says. With the birth of Psyence she's taken to calling him Papa Lucky, and the nickname has stuck.

Kid Lucky (center, with sunglasses) and his salivating crew spice up your commute.
photo: David Yellen
Kid Lucky (center, with sunglasses) and his salivating crew spice up your commute.


Hear it for yourself: World-class beatboxing by the inimitable Ready Rock C

It's an apt moniker, since Lucky, 34, is a kind of father figure to the restless community that shares his skill. Numbering around 20, they rely on his upstart production company, Beatboxer Entertainment, to provide an outlet for their eccentric talent. Long marginalized, this new generation of beatboxers often comes across like the X-Men of comic-book lore—freaks with a special gift who are often misunderstood.

Masai Electro, a country-club cook in his mid-thirties, says even his own mother didn't get it at first. "I knew I had something different when my mom thought I was possessed by the devil 'cause of the voice. She really thought something was wrong—'That boy got the devil in him!'" he recalls, imitating her shrill cry. "She thought I was kinda crazy. Then fortunately, around the mid '80s beatboxing came around, and it gave me a format to turn my raw sounds into something constructive." His specialty is an uncanny rendition of the Knight Rider theme, complete with the whoor-whooorl sound of David Hasselhoff's car, KITT. When Electro busted it out at a recent show, the crowd first whooped, then fell all over the place cracking up.

That reaction poses a problem Electro and his mates have never quite solved: Their crowd-pleasing antics sometimes come off as corny. Several beatboxers confess to idolizing actor Michael Winslow, better known to the public as that guy from the Police Academy films who makes bizarre and hilarious noises with his mouth—not exactly the thuggish image preferred by today's rap industry. These guys are sensitive on this topic. So it's with some astonishment that I listen to Kid Lucky's latest idea for Beatboxer Entertainment. He's as excited as I've ever seen him. "Yo, are you kidding me?!" he exclaims. "I was trying to figure out what would be dope, you know, the most far-out thing we could do. And I remember watching Flipper a few years ago on TV and I had this idea. And, really, it's not so far- fetched . . . " He arches his eyebrows, relishing the suspense until he breaks down and bellows with laughter, his Yankees cap falling to the floor. "I believe that beatboxers could actually communicate with dolphins!"

He pauses to let this sink in.

"Yo, I'm not kidding! I mean, I was nervous about it being a joke, but the research is serious. Look at the way the dolphins' lips are, the mouth. . . . I'm sure there's stuff we can't do, but they—the Dolphin Research Center— actually got back to me." He catches his breath. "It could really happen." He proceeds to spit out the clicking noise of a dolphin.

Located in the Florida Keys, the Dolphin Research Center is one of the country's top institutes for marine mammal research. "I'll admit, when Terry first approached us, well, it was unusual," says Mary Stella, media relations coordinator for the DRC. "But he was so sincere, so nice, so . . . earnest that I took my notes and ran it by my staff. Bottom line, it's not harmful and he's so enthusiastic."

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