« Bobby's famous dad passes | Main | NPR Hosts 5-Part Radio Series on Black Choral Music »

December 1, 2006

Beatbox innovator Kid Beyond uses his voice as an instrument

Pasadena Weekly (CA):

Lots of kids mimic sounds of various instruments in favorite bands. Few, however, translate that into a career. Fewer still have the vocal chops to also cut it as a soul or rock singer.

Kid Beyond is an exception. Growing up in New York City, he performed in plays and musicals and vocally imitated instruments he admired — but, he says, with no dreams of going professional. “I wanted to be John Bonham in Led Zeppelin,” he recalls, speaking by cell phone from Norfolk, Va., before performing with Imogen Heap, for whom he'll open at the Wiltern tonight.

“I wanted to be a drummer,” he explains. “When hip-hop came around and I started hearing beatboxing, I was like, ‘OK, this is sort of like what I'm doing, but cooler. … This is a real art form.'”

Indeed. After graduating from Brown University in Rhode Island, he accepted a friend's invitation to start an a cappella funk-rock band in San Francisco, the House Jacks, in which everyone not only sang but also generated instrumental sounds with their voices. They elatedly signed with Warner Bros.' Tommy Boy Records, but while the band “wanted to rock out,” the label tried to refashion them as a boy band — so their album never went anywhere.

“It was incredibly crushing at the time,” Kid Beyond recalls, “[but] now I'm doing something that's a lot closer to my values and a lot more my own. That feels right.”

What he's done is carve a singular niche for himself as a beatboxer equally at home in the worlds of indie rock, funk and conscious hip-hop. He creates all instrumental sounds with his voice, then processes them through his computer. (Onstage, his “instruments” are a microphone, laptop and foot pedal.) What makes him distinctive is the limber soulfulness of his voice and the musicality of the tracks he creates. The avowed Buddhist's EP, “Amplivate,” is evenly divided between original anthems like “Deep Inside” and “I Shall Be Free” and remixes featuring actual instruments.

“When I made my EP, my thought was that this album has to stand on its own merits … because if I'm just relying on the sort of impressiveness of how it's done, that only gets me so far. That gets old pretty quick. It's like conceptual art: ‘Oh, that's a cool concept.' But ultimately, once you're past that, if the art doesn't move you — if the song doesn't move you — if you don't want to dance or call your ex or take action in your community, or whatever a song can do, then at the end of the day I'm a novelty, not a musician. And I want to be a musician.”

Posted by acapnews at December 1, 2006 12:07 AM