On the hip-hop scene, ``beatboxing'' -- the term for the art of creating rhythms and sound effects with the human voice -- has taken a back seat to rapping, DJing, emceeing, break dancing and graffiti art since it surfaced in the '80s.
The popularity of beatboxing is growing, and one indication is the 2007 West Coast Open Human Beatbox Battle, which takes place Friday night at the Ashkenaz music and dance club in Berkeley, where artists will create all kinds of beats, sometimes while playing along with other instruments.
Thirty-seven-year-old Anthony Rivera (a.k.a. Click) has been beatboxing for 22 years. His work was heard in the 2002 Eminem movie ``8 Mile.'' Rivera says, ``I've seen beatboxing change. People are starting to get more creative, getting closer to the actual sound (of percussion instruments) than we did back in the day.''
Beatboxing has gained an international following and an online audience, with artists uploading their beats to bulletin boards, fans mixing beats and some people even using them for ring tones.
The first official international beatboxing competition took place at the 2005 Hip Hop World Challenge in Leipzig, Germany.
The artist frequently cited as the original beatbox pioneer is Barbados-born Doug E. Fresh (Douglas E. Davis), whose 1985 single ``The Show/La Di Da Di'' caught the attention of many future beatboxers.
``You had knucklehead kids in sixth grade like me, back in 1985 . . . , huddled in a little corner . . . bopping heads, all down to a beat that really wasn't that advanced,'' recalls Maximillian Reynolds, a 33-year-old Sacramento producer who is part of the Bay Area beatbox crew known as the Vowel Movement, which is sponsoring the competition at Ashkenaz.
``What's happened now is kids have taken it. You've got hip-hop influences, trip-hop influences, jazz influences, rock influences, drum and base, techno, house. (Beatboxing) has gotten to a whole different element.''
In the late '90s, Rahzel from the hip-hop band the Roots was one of the most visible beatboxers, singing and creating beats simultaneously. He perfected an imitation of turntable scratching.
Rahzel says, ``Beatboxing . . . is still relevant to what's going on today, because a lot of the kids are producing, emceeing. That's the foundation of beatboxing -- the creative sounds and noises. It's fortunate that a new generation is taking hold.''
Last year, Humanbeatbox.com created notation for beatboxing, and now the ``booms'' and ``chicks'' of performers can actually be written down.
In the Bay Area
The Vowel Movement has become the leading organization for beatboxers in the Bay Area. Launched in 2003, it has attracted artists from as far away as Sacramento, who meet about once a month to perform and listen to other innovators.
Recalling an early Vowel Movement event, 22-year-old Joshua Walters, a full-time beatboxer from Berkeley, says, ``It was a small venue, . . . just two guys who originally wanted to do a spoken-word event but decided the Bay Area had too many and so decided, `Why don't we do a show dedicated to beatbox?' For me and the group I was with, it was just an opportunity to perform.''
Vowel Movement organizer Mike Tinoco recalls, ``It kind of grew every month, going and going, . . . very freak-show at times.''
``There's no one way'' to do beatboxing, says Tinoco, who helped organize Friday's ``battle'' at Ashkenaz. ``There's so many different genres of music. People have their different interests, their different tastes.''
But the first thing a wannabe beatboxer needs to learn, he says, is rhythm. The basic percussion sounds, he adds, imitate the kick-drum (a ``p'' sound), the high-hat (a ``th'' sound) and the small snare drum (a ``kuh'' sound).
Beatboxer Terry Lewis (a.k.a. Kid Lucky) recommends, ``If you want to be a better beatboxer, listen to drum machines, listen to (drum) sounds, don't listen to other beatboxers.''
And Rivera, who has beatboxed in movies and on television, lays out these rules for beginners:
• Master the fundamentals.
• Do what you feel.
• Be yourself.
• Don't degrade the art.
• And remember, practice makes perfect.