Beatboxing might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words folk music. But with roots that hearken to traditional African vocal stylings and early jazz scat, the “fifth element of hip-hop” is just that.
According to beat master Rahzel, aka the Godfather of Noyze: “Beatboxing is its rarest form.” While this form of vocal percussion began to get popular in the late 1970s, it blew up in the ’80s. Guys like Doug E. Fresh and the Fat Boys brought it out of working-class, New York neighborhoods to the mainstream, resulting in many a local battle in school cafeterias. That’s when Rahzel gave it a shot.
As a kid growing up in Queens, he’d sneak into Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five shows (his cousin Raheim was in the group) and come back inspired. He didn’t have fancy instruments or DJ decks, but working with limitations pushed him to get creative with his voice.
“At a very young age, I knew that I wanted to be a performer because it got me a lot off attention. I was an attention seeker,” he says, laughing. “The trick was being good at it.”
His goal when mimicking sounds is for listeners to not be able to tell the difference between him and a record, radio or live band if they close their eyes.
The performer’s first gigs were at various New York parks, but as his popularity grew he became a favorite at the Jamaica Park home of Jam Master Jay of Run DMC in Hollis, Queens.
“Jam Master Jay was always excited for a quick battle of the beats,” Rahzel says. Since then, he’s collaborated with people as varied as Bjork and Common and done voice work for such video games as “SSX Tricky.”
“I really love collaborating,” he says. “It allows me to experiment and visualize new ideas. No boundaries, no limits. That’s the greatest feeling.”
Most notably, he was a member of the Roots for a short time, which he says was “a great experience that allowed me to grow as a musician because they utilized me as an instrument.”
Anyone who has heard “If Your Mother Only Knew” from his first album, 1999’s “Make the Music 2000,” knows that his signature style involves singing a chorus and beatboxing at the same time. The result is mind-blowing.
“I actually studied many DJs to be able to pull off the same techniques they would use to control a crowd and rock a party,” he says.
Rahzel plans to keep the good times rolling for the Richmond Folk Festival.
“Good vibes, good people,” he says. You can expect some interesting collaborations, new music and a European tour in the near future. He’s also putting together a music festival called Rahzel and Friends, for all ages featuring “hip-hop from the golden era.”
The musical pioneer says there’s something missing from the current music scene, especially when hit music is really about branding.
“I feel that today’s music does lack creativity and positivity. I understand that we’re in the times of corporate branding and everything is for sale, but the music shouldn’t lose its value in the process,” he says. “Music is emotional and I truly believe that corporate understands how to use music to control those emotions and, most of the time, it’s not beneficial to the listener.”