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But it doesn't draw everyone. Though MTV showed them some love, sister network VH1 failed to do the same during its third annual Hip-Hop Honors Week in October. Sponsored by Mayor Bloomberg, this year's event was a citywide celebration of all the elements: rapping, DJ'ing, graf writing, and breakdancing. All but one, that is. Beatboxing was conspicuously absent. Martha Diaz, a leader of the grassroots Hip-Hop Association and a friend of Beatboxer Entertainment, says VH1 had pledged to work with them but later "brushed us off. They made promises and then reneged. Sad to say, I'm really not that surprised."
Neither is Lucky. "Do we get respect?" he asks. "No, we don't. VH1, they may not be giving the culture its own shine like the others, but at some point they're gonna have to. They're just ill-informed right now. I'll take the 'I told you so!' down the road, ya know what I'm sayin'?"
"Our decision of what to put on the calendar for the week was based on good old-fashioned research of what was going on 'hip-hop-wise,' " counters VH1's Wendy Weatherford, the station's VP of consumer and music marketing, in an e-mail. "As far as the celebrity talent involved in HHH Week is concerned, we tried to book talent that was also involved in the [televised awards] show. Actually, our Celebrity Basketball game on Sunday was hosted by the original human beat box, Dougie Fresh."
True, but in all the promotional materials for Hip-Hop Honors, not once was Doug E. Fresh billed as the "original human beatbox." Instead he was one of many "celebrity MCs." A pedantic quibble, perhaps, but a significant one. As hip-hop officially becomes History enshrined in the Smithsonian and canonized by tastemakers at VH1 will beatboxers ever get their proper due? The irrepressible Kid Lucky takes the long view. "'No' doesn't mean 'never,' it just means 'not now,' " he believes. "You gotta pick your battles. Besides, history books can be rewritten."
Maybe if spurned long enough, beatboxers will decide they don't need hip-hop at all. Or other human beings, for that matter. The last time I speak to Lucky, all he can talk about are his dolphins. "This is like some Nobel Prize shit!" he cries. "I'm very proud of this. I mean, I didn't go to college like a lot of people. After you've been locked up in a small room for most of your adolescence, done the 'Yes sir, no sir' thing in the military, been homeless, sold drugs . . . " His voice trails off. "Yeah, this is big."
Back on the sweaty L trainstill jammed but now jamming in the tunnelthe smiles are as bountiful and organic as the beats. For just this moment, the beatboxers have everyone's attention. Then the robotic voice cuts in once more: "Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your patience. We apologize for the delay. We will be moving shortly." In the space of four kicks, two snares, and six lip smacks, the train rumbles to life and rolls toward Brooklyn.
This piece is dedicated to Ellen Willis.