Courtesy of Rahzel
Courtesy of Rahzel
As if simultaneous beatboxing and rapping wasn’t interesting enough, mix in artists like Björk and Ben Harper and you can see why Rahzel has been called the “Godfather of Noyze” and “greatest beatboxer of all time.”
Tonight, coming off tours of the East Coast, New Zealand and France, Rahzel will perform at the Abbey Theatre as the opener for The Coup, a hip-hop group from Oakland, Calif. The concert is a benefit for Fort Lewis College community radio station KDUR-FM.
Rahzel grew up in the same New York neighborhood as Run-DMC, Russell Simmons and LL Cool J, and trained himself to beatbox while at the same time being influenced by hip-hop pioneers such as The Fat Boys and Doug E. Fresh.
“Once I heard (Fat Boys), that kind of lit the fuse. I taught myself at a time when it was a new thing, Rapping was my first love, but beatboxing became my wife,” (Beatboxing essentially is percussion sounds created by voice only.)
While studying accounting at a community college in Queens in the mid-1990s, Rahzel took a break from classes to tour with a friend. It might have been his most productive break ever. On the tour, he met two of hip-hop’s legends: ?uestlove and Black Thought of The Roots, which now is the house band for “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.”
The three hit it off, and soon after Rahzel found himself as the official beatboxer for one of the most infamous and critically acclaimed hip-hop groups. While with The Roots, he landed two Grammy Awards for his beatboxing role – the first and only performer to achieve the feat.
“We were performing weekly in lower Manhattan,” Rahzel said. “That was around the time they (The Roots) signed with Geffen Records. They had heard some of the stuff I did and ?uestlove invited me to come into the studio and record a few tracks for an album. The rest is pretty much history after that.”
If he hadn’t landed with The Roots, which he left in 2001, his life might have taken a much different turn, perhaps onto Wall Street.
“If I wasn’t doing this, I’d probably be an investment banker,” Rahzel said.
Rahzel doesn’t need much to entertain. Just give him a microphone and he’ll fill the room with a seemingly infinite number of beats and sounds.
Since recording his first album at age 16, he has been called “the ultimate iPod” by Dave Chapelle and the “ethnic robot” by Björk, with whom he collaborated for her sixth album, “Medulla.” He provides beats on Björk’s “Who is it,” which they have performed together on the U.K. television series “Jonathan Ross Show.”
And who is that beatboxing on the song “Steal My Kisses” by Ben Harper? Yep. That’s Rahzel, too.
“It was a great experience working with Harper. He’s a true talent,” Rahzel said.
Rahzel is well-known for the hidden track “If Your Mother Only Knew,” on his 1999 album “Make the Music 2000.” The song features a remarkable combination of him singing a beat and chorus at the same time – a talent that makes Rahzel truly intriguing. One live video performance of the song has garnered more than 4.5 million hits on YouTube.
He has contributed to 10 platinum and gold albums throughout his career. In addition to Harper and Björk, he also added backing beats to songs for countless DJs, The Crystal Method, R&B singer Erykah Badu and Toots and the Maytals’ “True Love” album for the song “Bam Bam,” which received a Grammy Award for Best Reggae Album in 2005.
Currently, Rahzel is working on a new album that he hopes will be released in early 2013. Other than that, he’s been playing shows around the world and spreading his message through the mysterious art of beatboxing that is his own.
He might be the best living beatboxer right now, but for him, there’s always something to learn.
“I’m the ‘Godfather’ at heart, but with the world we live in, I will always remain the student and have an open mind to learn new things.”