When Are Beatboxers Artists, and When Are They Just Making Noise?

Slate in motion.
March 21 2014 7:00 AM

The Beatboxer’s Playbook

How to tell the art from the noise.

Listen to enough beatboxers, and you can immediately detect the difference between the casual hobbyist and the truly passionate noisemaker. Most beatboxers begin by imitating drums before moving to other instruments, but for beatboxing to stand on its own, a performance requires much more than mimicry.

“A great beatboxer is creating a landscape of sound and visual,” two-time Beatrhyme champion Kaila Mullady said recently in New York. Engaging an audience is the pivotal challenge—and the key to engagement, Mullady said, is developing your own style. “When you’re onstage you’re giving the audience a piece of yourself. It’s about bringing your own soul music.”

In the video above, several beatboxers walk through the art, from the first syllables to the transformational moment with a crowd.

Ben Mirin is the project coordinator for Slate Custom. He is a producer, field ornithologist, and musician living in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter.

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