By Michael Atkinson
By Luke Winkie
By Steve Weinstein
By Brian McManus
By Brian McManus
By Dan McQuade
By Dan McQuade
By Brian McManus
Stella cautions that the idea is still in the early stages, awaiting a formal research pro posal. But she seems genuinely interested. "I didn't know what beatboxing was until Terry explained it," she admits. "There's not a lot of beatboxing in country music, which is what I mostly listen to." She notes that the center has tried out music before. "We've had choral groups, a cellist, and I even think a didgeridoo player before, but this is unique. Terry said they believe in 'edutainment,' and we are the same way. Our dolphins are always curious." In fact, she mentions one in particularTheresa, or T for short. "T is a totally goofy show-off, and has an unbelievable repertoire of sounds," she says.
Maybe Lucky's onto something here.
"On the surface, people will think it's a gimmick," he acknowledges. "But from 1978 to 1984 there was research about dolphins communicating using verbal sounds like vowels and consonants. And human beatboxers are essentially trained to do just that. Plus, I got a beatboxer down in D.C. who's a high school science teacher, ya know? So I was like, let's try it."
But not all beatboxers are interested in the call of the wild. The more conventional among their ranks have eked out a living on tour, often revving up a crowd for the bigger acts to follow. Perhaps the busiest mouth around is Rahzel, a/k/a the Godfather of Noyze, who gained notoriety in the mid '90s with Philadelphia hip-hop crew the Roots, wherein he was joined by Scratch, another beatboxer known for his signature turntable sound. Rahzel was one of the first to create vocal beats while singing lyrics simultaneously, and he went on to a modestly successful solo career. Kenny Muhammad, the "Human Orchestra," has carved out a niche, once donning a tux for a gig with the New York Philharmonic. And then there's that crazy Orthodox Jew whose percussive tics became an Internet phenomenon Brooklyn's Matisyahu may be an international reggae star now, but he got his start as a beatboxer on the same bills as Lucky.
Lucky likes to point out that several a cappella vocal groups now also tout themselves as beatboxers. He mentions Björk's 2002 album Medúlla, constructed entirely of human vocals, beatboxers foremost among them. And he's got special affection for Justin Timberlake, who dabbles in the art briefly on both 2002's Justified and this year's FutureSex/LoveSounds. In the meantime, Lucky has made it his mission to track down all the old-school greats, guys like Biz Markie, Jock Box, Wise from Stetsa-sonic, and Doug E. Fresh. He's held court with most of themthe only major figure to elude him was Buffy from the Fat Boys, who died of a heart attack in 1995 at 28 years old and 450 pounds.
But there was one other legendary name who, though still very much alive, was particularly tough to draw out. "I finally found him just outside Philly," Lucky says. "In fact, I was the first in the beatbox community to get his contact info. Dude eventually called me back on Christmas Day."
Long before he moved to the Philadelphia suburbs, acquired a beautiful wife and four rambunctious kids, was born again through Jesus Christ, and sued boyhood-friend-turned-superstar Will Smith for $2.6 million, Clarence Holmes, now 38, was simply Ready Rock C, the human beatbox. "I was always ready," he explains. "To do what? Rock. What's the first initial in my name? C. That's how it came about: Ready Rock C. Ready to rock a beat!" He's yelling all this while reclining in a plush leather love seat on a recent afternoon in his duplex's spotless living room. Ready's personal website lists his favorite color as "all of them"; he's just as magnanimous in person.
Like most beatboxers, he discovered his unusual gift early in life. A shy kid from the black middle-class neighborhood of Wynne-field in West Philadelphia, Ready liked making funny noises with his mouth. One particular routine he became known for was the Sanford and Son television theme, but with a twist: He pretended he was underwater. "That came about, me just sitting home in the kitchen with a cup of juice or something," he recalls. "I was drinking at the time, blowing bubbles, you know? And then God inspired me. I just felt it in my spirit. Like, OK, that's cool, now lemme see you do it and make a beat." Ready tries to resurrect the tune, but he's nursing a nasty cold and only manages to cough out a few frustrated notes before giving up. Embarrassed, he scoots to the kitchen and grabs a box of Clorox disinfectant wipes.
Around the time Ready's big mouth evolved into a booming beatmaker, he met a lanky rapper with big ears who called himself the Fresh Prince. "We played basketball together, went to the arcades, put change together to buy burgers from McDonald's," Ready recalls of his new friend Will Smith. The young MC needed to build his reputation as a freestyler, and it helped to have a mobile percussionist like Ready Rock C to supply the beats. Hanging out in West Philly, they were always looking to test their skills against other crews. "I mean, we would literally pull up on guys," Ready remembers. "If we seen them bobbing their heads on the corner or in a B-boy stance and it looked like they was rapping, Will was like errr!!, pulling over, out of the car, kachutt!! 'Yo, you wanna battle?!' And we're going at it." The scene is captured on the beatbox classic "My Buddy":