MenagerieThe fifth element of hip-hop
The fifth element of hip-hop
July 5, 2018
July 5, 2018

Imagine this: A sound underground, barely audible at first. Getting louder the closer you get, so you dare take a step forward. A smack and a pat-tat-tat of simple dubstep. Just when the rhythm was getting good, it switches. A symphony of orchestral instruments. The string and bass mixing together, blending and merging in nicely. Not a beat out of place. A flow of sound reminding you of polished marble floors and glinting, gold-adorned cushioned chairs. A red velvet curtain parting ways to reveal numerous seated musicians, animated with the movement of bringing an instrument to life. A polar contrast from the ba-dum-ba-dum that made your heart race. A woosh. A rise in tempo. Then, it’s different again. The varying genres that would’ve sounded odd in another time, now sounded like the perfect transition. From the refined, gentle melody rushed in the sound of pure passionate, raw energy. The hands of a thousand spectators coming up to punch fists into the air as the rave hyped them up.

Now imagine all those sounds— complete with the vocal baseline, musical hum of notes, and sharp smack of percussion —coming from the human mouth. That makes a different story, doesn’t it?


He’s got the beat

An audio art form that was once unheard of and barely noticeable in hip-hop rap battles was now one whole industry of its own. As 90’s beat boxer Nick Steele had said, “Sure, you could keep rhythm with your mouth, but that’s not necessarily beatboxing.” One would think that the essence of simple beat-to-beat mix would be so routine and rigid. To an inexperienced ear, it would sound just like that. But one reason why this art form seemed to attract musicians was the creative versatility and flexible musicality it gave. Given the chance and training, it is likely true that anyone could beat box. But, it didn’t take just one person to create this musical empire.

Although a revolutionary feat for the music industry and aspiring musicians alike, it was nevertheless a daunting task to get the hang of it — to modulate one’s voice to produce such new and distinct sounds and beats seemed as if it were only a natural-born talent. Any outsider from the beatboxing community has to wonder how the human mouth and vocal chords can handle the seemingly strenuous intensity of such an undertaking, and for Juan Bungalon, a university undergraduate and habitual beatboxer, it was not an easy ride to becoming as skilled as he is today. “Beatboxing can only be achieved by practicing different vocal techniques that would complement your beatbox style.” he shares.

For most of his life, Juan had been surrounded by the influence of hip-hop culture. Having listened to esteemed rappers such as Francis M., Gloc-9, and Eminem growing up, he had longed to emulate their slick rhymes and clear-cut musical stylings. But alas, striving to do so had led him onto a different path, as Juan confesses that he had “attempted to imitate and watch rap video tutorials” and yet had failed, instead discovering that he did not need any instructional video—all he needed was to master and manipulate his own voice into becoming his very own musical instrument.

As shared by the founder of the Philippine Human Beatbox Alliance, Jehu Temelloso believes that what makes beatboxing a unique art form is the fact that it studies the “structure of the design of each sound and instrument,” whereas the beatboxers themselves “try their best to execute and mimic the actual sound of the instrument or whatever sound they are trying to copy.” Contrary to the myth that some people were just born with it and some are not, beatboxers were those type of people banging pots and pans, drumming fingernails, and plain annoying everyone around them as they were struggling to relieve the musical itch they just couldn’t seem to scratch. To them, they say, it felt like a drum rhythm calling them. Any musical sound they heard was a new challenge itself in terms of personifying and mimicking it.


Slave to the rhythm

With the way it used to be, the industry of beatboxing surely has come a long way from the time hip-hop was beginning to dip its low-rise, baggy jeans and high-top, sneaker-clad feet into the music pool. It took awhile for people to get familiar with the concept before realizing that these musicians were personifying random sounds and fitting it all together to make melody.

What was once a mere fervent passion is now a field of career rampant with talented musicians. From participation in beat boxing tournaments to freelance performance, the industry has grown to accommodate the professionals who only want to monetize their love for the art. Juan Bungalon remarks that even the platform of Youtube is a common place for beatboxers to earn a living through sharing their music.

While it may be a passing interest to others, it is a compelling passion and lucrative profession for seasoned individuals, a good example being beatbox aficionado and producer of Beatbox Allstars, Ting Yap. As one of the earliest advocates in the industry, Yap helped pave the way for beatboxing to become so critically-acclaimed and widespread in the nation by organizing and promoting various beatbox competitions, some of which he himself had participated in. When asked about the current status of the beatboxing industry in the Philippines, Yap proudly shares that, “It’s growing not only in local communities but also on the Internet, where this generation is heading to.”


Turning noise into music

Seeing as the online and underground presence of beatboxing has steadily made its way to mainstream media, the waves of recognition and success bring about a whole new bevy of the curious and the  more curious, further propelling the industry to an undoubtable prominence.

A simple two-words that never really sounded of any grace and poise nor hinted of the raw contagious energy it was bound to bring. “Practice, practice, and practice,” Juan says, recounting that the music required at least years (if not, decades!) to get right. It was one thing to create sound and affect people; it was another to master it and give the crowd a taste of a sound they’ve never heard before.

An art form in its finest, beatboxing only continues to push the boundaries of the human mouth capabilities and what exactly the world would define as “music”. It is the fascinating moment that melody and rhythm is duplicated so perfectly and propelled from the lips of a human being; no different from us that we become so struck by how truly artistic beatboxing is.