Lips Inc.

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

up4 Tryin' to beat us, that doesn't make any sense
He's Ready Rock C, and I'm the Fresh Prince
In the rap industry we're ranked as first
Ain't a better combination in the whole universe!

up4 So if you wanna battle your future looks muddy
up4 'Cause you just can't beat my buddy

"That's when hip-hop was fun, you know?" Ready says. "You could just go head-to-head, display your craft to one another, and no one gets offended or pulls any guns." The duo eventually brought in local DJ Jeffrey Townes, and the rest was history. Unfortunately, Ready was largely left out of it—"My Buddy" appeared on 1988's wildly successful He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, credited to DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Ready appears on a number of tracks from that album and claims to have conceived the idea for mega-hit "Parents Just Don't Understand." He says he didn't mind being left out of the group's name at first, because his beatboxing was often at the forefront. But over time the omission was telling. DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince went on to sell millions of records, winning rap's first Grammy in 1988. At the awards ceremony Ready was asked to sit out the group's performance onstage, and shortly thereafter was booted from the group altogether.

Ready blows his nose clear of mucus and spits in a small Styrofoam cup. "I mean, I was kept in the background. 'Cause to be honest, I was a threat, and Will wanted the spotlight all to himself." He creases his brow. "'My Buddy' was written by Will Smith and composed by myself. In spite of how Will Smith treated me in the long run, that's how I know he felt about me. That song was about our friendship."

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 a friendship that's grown acrimonious over the years. A few years ago Ready filed a lawsuit asking for back royalties he contends never came his way. The case went before federal court but was thrown out due to the statute of limitations. Ready shakes his head. "He promised me and lied to me all these years, which is why I waited. He's very smart and manipulative." (Through a PR rep, Will Smith declined to comment.)

Ready is wearing a white T-shirt emblazoned with his own "READY ROCK C" logo stretched over a pronounced paunch. He strokes his close-cut beard and sits forward in his seat. "See all of this?" he asks, gesturing with his brawny arms at the comfortable middle-class possessions that surround him. "None of this is Ready Rock C money. I worked hard, got an education, and made this through my IT company. Will hasn't done this—pulled himself up by his bootstraps, I mean." The burly beatboxer is a seesaw of emotions. "But I'm blessed— children clothed, roof over our head, meat in the fridge . . . " His voice fades out as his face tightens into a grimace. "Even though I pray for Will, I need my money. I need to get paid!" By now he's almost growling, but quickly laughs it off.

"Ready Rock C's a cat who got hurt," Lucky says. "No doubt." He's been trying to bring his childhood hero out of retirement for some time now. "But it's like he's trying to recoup all his lost dollars—crazy dol lars— at once. We can't do that, but we can give him a mic and a stage." At times like this Lucky seems more like a support group leader tending to his flock of bruised egos. He's bruised himself, but his optimism is infectious. "Here's the thing," he continues, clapping his hands together. "Why have we survived so long? Live shows! That's it. Our live shows are bangin'! I mean MCs just go back and forth, back and forth." Lucky mimics them swaying lazily from side to side. "But people are amazed and dazzled by our live shows. Cats are just bending and breaking notes all over the place—you'd think TV would wanna see that."

Sometimes TV does. A couple of months ago NBC approached Lucky's crew about participating in the next season of their hit reality show America's Got Talent. Andreas Thai-yan, Lucky's manager, says the beatboxers chewed it over but eventually turned NBC down. "The people who do these things are not taken seriously," he explains. "They're looked at as a novelty." Lucky concurs: "Some of the guys were worried about being pigeonholed. The issue of exploitation came up. Fact is, so much is going on now, we can afford to turn it down."

He's got a point. Despite their struggles in hip-hop, beatboxers are thriving elsewhere. They work fashion shows, peddle their own line of ringtones, and have inked promotional deals with everyone from Google to Verizon. "I like authenticity and originality, and beatboxers can really make the crowd go crazy," says Matt Herron, executive producer of MTV Networks, who hired Beatboxer Entertainment a few months ago. "We used them for an e-mail blast and an advertising upfront. They just had that certain . . . something." Thai-yan thinks he knows what that something might be: "Honestly, it's very nonthreatening. Hip-hop without the dirty words; just dope music that draws you in."

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