The Fifth Element

Posted by Pete DeMola on 5. Nov 2009

BEIJING, Nov 5 - Known as the "Godfather of Noyze," this Bronx-native is quite possibly the world's best (and certainly the most well-known) practitioner of the form of vocal percussion known as beatboxing.

Having practiced the craft since 1980 after he became inspired by his cousin Guy "Rahiem" Williams (he of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five fame), Brown has since brought legitimacy and recognition to what many view as the forgotten fifth element of hip hop culture. (The others are breakdancing, graffiti, MCing and DJing.)

While he made his name with Philadelphia hip hop ensemble the Roots, he reached global prominence with his take on Aaliyah's "If Your Girl Only Knew."

Quickly becoming his signature song, "If Your Mother Only Knew" stunned legions with his seemingly-impossible ability to rhythmically combine singing and beatboxing at the same time. Since then, he's both toured the world and collaborated with dozens of admired musicians, including Mike Patton, Slick Rick, Bjork, Roni Size, KRS-One and Q-Tip.

His 1999 record Make the Music 2000 remains to this day the most influential beatboxing album in history.

We managed to get a few words with the tight-lipped maestro. (Maybe he's saving his breath for the gig.) Regardless, here he talks pure hip hop, his new record and what he anticipates from his Beijing performance.

WLIB: What have you been working on recently?

Rahzel Brown: I've been finalizing my new album Greatest Knockouts, Part 2.

WLIB: You've worked with many artists spanning many genres over the years. Which collaboration has been your favorite, and why?

Rahzel: I think working with Mike Patton and Bjork, because they so different than what people expect and shows their diversity.

WLIB: What should we expect at your gig in Beijing?

Rahzel: You should expect raw hip hop to the fullest.

WLIB: What do you anticipate from China?

Rahzel: I anticipate tons of Asians loving Rahzel and having a great time absorbing true hip hop.

WLIB: Beijing is an extremely ripe sonic environment. Any chance that you'll add elements of local noise into your repertoire?

Rahzel: I'm not sure. It's all about hearing a sound and it catching my attention and me hearing it enough to pick up the sound.

WLIB: Not many people alive can claim to have almost singlehandedly legitimatized an art form. How does it feel to have inspired a global audience?

Rahzel: It feels amazing to have a talent and able to have followers all over the world. Nothing like this feeling or experience.

WLIB: Where do you see the music industry five years from now?

Rahzel: Music will become all digital. Everything will be all about downloading and iTunes.

WLIB: While China's Mainland doesn't really have a hip hop scene, kids here are quickly absorbing and spitting back out Western cultural elements. Do you have any words of encouragement for aspiring beatboxers, MCs or DJs here?

Rahzel: Keep practicing and being creative and thinking outside the box.

WLIB: What are you listening to right now, at this exact moment?

Rahzel: I'm listening to reggae music, and I always stay up-to-date with Lil Wayne, Jay-Z and all mainstream music to date.

WLIB: If you could pick one interview question that you never have to answer again, which would it be?

Rahzel: "Am I still with the Roots?" Basically, all of the Roots questions as a whole.

Rahzel will perform on Fri, Nov 20 at Bling. Show kicks off at 9pm, 100 RMB at the door.

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