Jack Gross aka JackNasty with Chris Celiz and host Kenny Urban
Sep 27, 2021
At the Beatbox House, a monthly battle in Bushwick
America's top beatboxers go head to head in advance of a world championship in Europe next month
About a dozen concert goers are huddled in a Bushwick back alley behind an artist’s loft called Blank Bamboo, bumming smokes and buzzing over what’s about to go down. “Who do you think will win?” they ask each other
For the next four hours, the region’s best beatboxers will trot out their newest routines in front of them at The Beatbox House’s monthly battle, with six beatboxers stage testing their newest material ahead of next month’s Great Beatbox Battle in Warsaw, Poland. Made up of Kenny Urban, Gene Shinozaki (aka Gene), Neal Meadows (aka NaPoM), Amit Bhowmik (aka Amit), and Chris Celiz, The Beatbox House is “a collective of some of the most talented beatboxers in America,” and maybe the world, says Celiz, the group’s founder and unofficial front man.
They host battles like tonight’s to make sure American beatboxing stays on the map, and they host the battles in New York because beatboxing “is some real New York shit,” he says—and the world needs to know.
The world doesn’t seem to know.
Since 2005, Europe has been the hub of international beatboxing, a fact that confuses many Americans who associate hip hop with New York City. While in America hip hop has morphed into the lingua franca of pop music, there is an international community that has dedicated itself to the fifth of hip hop’s original elements (the five being emceeing, deejaying, break dancing, graffiti and beatboxing).
Beatboxing’s European popularity can be traced to 2005, when Alexander “Bee-low” Bülow hosted the first Beatbox Battle World Championship in Berlin. Seven years later, Andreas “Pepouni” Fraefel, and his company Swissbeatbox founded The Grand Beatbox Battle (GBB), hosting it first in Basel, Switzerland before moving it to Warsaw. With the GBB and Beatbox Battle World Championship firmly rooted in Europe, a generation of young beatbox fans around the world have no idea beatboxing started in New York.
The proliferation of beatbox content on YouTube made the art accessible to new fans, but Kaila Mullady, the two-time reigning female World Beatbox Champion and a former member of The Beatbox House views that as a double edged sword. If an influential old-school beatboxer is not on YouTube, she explained in an earlier interview, “new fans don’t know who these people are.” Legendary names like Doug E Fresh, the Fat Boys (specifically Buffy the Human Beatbox), and Rahzel don’t mean anything to them.
Enter Brooklyn’s Beatbox House. Between 2015 and 2018, Celiz and co. went to Europe to put America back on the map. And they did just that. From 2015 to 2017 a Beatbox House member won every GBB title: In 2015, NaPoM was the runner up at the Beatbox Battle World Championship, and in 2018, Celiz and Gene won the Beatbox Battle World Championship two-on-two tag team category with a tribute to American beatboxing’s rich history, covering Rahzel’s famous beatbox track “If Your Mother Only Knew.”
After making a series of powerful statements abroad, the Beatbox House turned their focus inward, hosting monthly battles in Brooklyn for local beatboxers to “experiment, grow, share and get better,” says Celiz, first at Bushwick Public House, and now at Blank Bamboo. (Says Celiz, “Bushwick Public House said ‘there are too many people coming to your events, we cannot handle it.’”)
At the Blank Bamboo
Back inside the Blank Bamboo more than 100 people start filing inside. Unlike the Public House, Blank Bamboo does not list its address online—attendees must DM for that—creating a mystique around both the space and the performances it hosts.
The Beatbox House Battle consists of two parts, an open-mic style showcase round, and then a battle between the eight beatboxers with the best showcases. Fans filter in throughout the night, but the beatboxers show up at 6:30 sharp for the chance to showcase their new routines, and potentially be included in the battle.
With 26 showcases, the crowd is treated to a wide range of styles: slow-building bass lines punctuated with sharp snares; heavy metal beatboxing with pounding kick drums; technical beats with rapid fire snares and high hats.
GBB 2021 competitor David Tverskoy (aka DKoy) has from Massachusetts just to be here—although he is late after having been stuck on the subway. Another beatboxer drove seven hours from Pennsylvania with his parents just for the chance to perform a showcase.
Brandishing his own mic—the Beatbox House parties are BYO-mic in the post-Covid era—DKoy lets out of flurry of bird chirps and high-frequency blips, earning him the second seed in the battle round, and a wholehearted “no biggie” when he spilled a fan’s drink on his way off stage.
As Blank Bamboo staffers clean the spill and the judges make their final showcase rankings, the crowd splits between the bar and the back alley. Out in the alley, one first-time beatbox fan, Michaela Riter, punctuates drags from an e-cigarette with astonished excitement. “I heard there were gonna be world class beatboxers here, but I did not know what I was getting into,” she says.
In her excitement, Riter becomes a beatboxing missionary, earnestly explaining the work ethic and skill level required to be a competitive beatboxer to the person to her left. The fact that that person is Alex Sanchez (aka Bizkit), the two-time reigning American tag-team champion and GBB 2021 competitor doesn’t stop her. But, to the whole alley’s surprise, Bizkit appreciates her energy. “That’s what I need. If you’re dead in the crowd or off talking to your friend, then I would be like aww.”
The contestants on their way to GBB next month are at different stages of preparation for the big event, but they all express a similar attitude towards the Beatbox House Battle: Winning would be nice, but this is their last chance to test battle rounds on-mic and in front of a live audience before solidifying which patterns and routines they will take to Warsaw. That said, it is clear who had come to Blank Bamboo ready to battle.
DKoy flames out in the semifinals against Gene, and on the other side of the bracket NaPoM and Bizkit produce the battle of the night, an overtime stunner that saw Bizkit knock out the former GBB champion and top-seeded battler. In the final, Gene performs a snippet of the routine that earned him entry to the GBB, his vocal acrobatics and polyphonic harmonies impressing the judges enough to give him the title over Bizkit.
As the battle winds down, The Beatbox House crew engages in a friendly jam session and the crowd thins out. Back in the alley, the topic turns to the GBB. The cost of flights from JFK to Warsaw, and, again, “who do you think will win?”
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