Representing the urban traditions of our nation at this year’s festival are two of the biggest names in beatboxing today: preeminent master Rahzel and rising star Nicole Paris. Their head-turning vocal abilities have redefined the possibilities of the human voice.
First emerging from working-class African American communities in New York City in the late 1970s, beatboxing is a form of vocal percussion considered the “fifth element” of hip hop culture, alongside DJing, MCing, graffiti, and breaking.
Known as “the Godfather of Noyze,” Rahzel can sing a chorus and beatbox simultaneously, embodying the hip hop philosophy that “‘not having’ is never an excuse for ‘not doing.’” The Queens native grew up when hip hop hit big, watching his cousin Rahiem perform with the Furious Five before he “could even see over the gate.” A one-time member of The Roots, Rahzel is credited with sparking the reemergence of beatboxing in the 1990s.
Twenty-five-year-old Nicole Paris of St. Louis was inspired by her father, Ed Cage, who would “beatbox her to sleep” as a child. One of their father-daughter beatbox battles went viral in 2015, leading to a breakout appearance with Doug E. Fresh and Rahzel at the BET Hip Hop Awards. Nicole quickly emerged as one of the genre’s freshest stars.