This weekend, 16 of the country’s top talents will mouth off during the third annual American Beatbox Championships. Competitors from California to Delaware will display their tongue-twisting skills in an open mike on Saturday 11, prior to being judged by a panel including Rahzel, the Godfather of Noyze, on Sunday 12. Before the festivities get under way at Littlefield (and move on to Le Poisson Rouge), we asked last year’s champion—JFlo, who hails from Long Island—to share his tips for beat-boxing success. (Check out a video of JFlo in action above.)
The judges pay careful attention to “whether you can keep a drum pattern without skipping a beat,” explains JFlo. Certain beat-boxing sounds require highly controlled breathing and lightning-quick tongue work to avoid muddling the rhythm or mixing tempos. Skillful execution of these complex elements will mark you as gold-medal material.
“You don’t want to be too technical,” warns JFlo. Though beat-boxing is primarily concerned with percussive sounds (its name derives from a nickname for programmable drum machines), humming a tune in between beats gets bonus points. JFlo notes that a melody and the rhythms should be interspersed so that they sound simultaneous, as though there were multiple instruments playing at once.
Creativity is essential to winning over the crowd and being memorable in the minds of the judges. Some beat-boxers go for laughs by poking fun at different music genres, or by creating sound effects à la Police Academy’s Michael Winslow. Parodies of Top 40 hits are also popular. JFlo likes to incorporate dubstep’s wobbly bass sounds and deep drums. The key is to mix it up. The reigning champ appreciates “someone who is always creating something, who doesn’t [tap into] the same genre over and over, but who can develop something new and imitate new sounds.”
This doesn’t refer to profane language,which is always acceptable, but rather the tightness and articulation of beats. Being able to spit out rapid and distinct sounds—for instance, clearly imitating a kick drum as opposed to a snare—requires different mouth formations that must alternate rapidly. JFlo practices his routines for three to four hours per day to develop the muscle memory needed to fire off a flawless freestyle performance.
BEAT DOWN! Intergalactic Open Mic Series, Littlefield, 622 DeGraw St between Third and Fourth Aves, Gowanus, Brooklyn. Sat 11 at 6pm; $15. • 2012 American Beatbox Championships, Le Poisson Rouge, 158 Bleecker St at Thompson St. 6pm; $35, weekend pass $45. For details, visit americanbeatboxchampionships.com.