Beatboxer wunderkind Spencer Polanco is proving that beatboxing is not only an element of the hip-hop culture, but that the vocal-percussive music can also serve as a diverse endurance test. The 21-year-old’s latest video — “One beatboxer, 14 Genres” sees Polanco tackling 14 different styles of music with relative ease using a single take of his impressive avant garde vocal capabilities. We spoke to Polanco about the health benefits of beatboxing, as well as what it takes to slaughter 14 styles in one sitting.
What was your introduction to beatboxing?
I started with music in middle school, that’s the first time I picked up an instrument. I started with brass, with the trumpet, then the flute but I wasn’t getting enough “umph.” I picked up the drumset, I liked the percussive element of it but wanted to make it more than just what it was as an instrument. One of my friends started beatboxing at tennis, and I was amazed. I was like “Dude, that’s music!” He said there’s things online and I started researching it, all types of media of what beatboxing was and what it was becoming. From then on out, I made it my life.
Were your parents and friends pretty supportive of your new skill?
At first, it was a bit difficult for me to show it in public because I realized I had to treat it as an instrument. But, I was really excited to show it to my friends. I started practicing as much as I could, listening to the radio and pop songs inspiring me to add more grooves to this. Eventually, I saw myself as more of a freestyle jazz musician, going from one place to another, rhythm-to-rhythm, melody to melody. My parents have been my biggest supporters, as has my sister.
When did you decide to “turn pro”?
As soon as I got into it in high school, there wasn’t as much of a strong music program, so I had to think outside the box. I started attending hip-hop clubs and hip-hop club events by my high school and started performing for them. My friends started having me perform for their charity events and S.M.A.C. (Student Movement Against Cancer), I started performing for [them] and eventually I made a video online. An a cappella group found me from Rochester called the Midnight Ramblers, alumnus from Rochester University. At the time, I think I was 17 and they flew me out to Miami to audition for “Sing Off.” It was the first time I was put in an environment where I had to work in a group with my beatboxing and it started my whole career. Now I’m an a cappella group from New York called Backtrack and we recorded a hit every month. I started my professional career the more I started performing more and meeting more artists.
What inspired you to attempt beatboxing 14 genres at once?
There’s this video going around online called “One Girl 14 Genres” and it’s this girl from, I believe Finland, and she had a video about languages. I love the study of language, it’s what got me into beatboxing as a whole, breaking down our voice and what we can do with it. I tell every person who wants to work with me that I want to show people that they’re more than just a voice, but they’re more than just a human being. I say that because, when you hear beatboxing, there’s the “wow” factor where people can’t believe what they’re hearing or seeing. If I have a goal in life, it’s to show people they can do anything they want with their voice and they can use it for anything in music, per se.
I found this language video online about languages, and a few weeks later the girl makes this “1 Girl 14 Genres” video. I told it to my friend who produces, had the idea for a week, came into the studio with 21 genres and went through as many thing as I can. Eventually, I wanted to offer it as a tribute to her video so I narrowed it down to 14. The purpose of the video was to actually take it from hip-hop and show that it could be any type of instrument playing any genre. It’s taking off right now, and I’m very happy.
What was the most challenging genre for you to mimic?
I would have to say would be jungle. That’s why I think I put it first. That drum and bass kind of style is very paced, and you can get tongue-tied. I’ve been practicing it for a long time to get it down and it’s been very difficult.
So, you recorded all of this in the same day?
Couldn’t all that beatboxing potentially damage your vocal chords?
Beatboxing, as far as I currently know, it’s actually healthy for the voice. I’ve been looking up stories the past couple months that it’s not only healthy, but therapeutic. Funny story, as a child, I ended up having asthma as a kid, which sucks if you want to become a beatboxer. As soon as I started beatboxing, I realized I was able to control my voice and calm myself down. Rhythmically, I was able to control my breathing and realized I was able to rid myself of the so-called disease. I have not suffered any sort of asthmatic problems since.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 10, 2014