Why you should care
Because as Chris Celiz says, this is where “homeys can chill and feel comfortable and do what they love to do.”
Close your eyes and listen. You’ll hear syncopated drumbeats. Manipulated horns. A deep bass. This is a head-nodder track that any club DJ would deem worthy.
Open your eyes and you’ll see four dudes in sneakers and T-shirts onstage — producing sounds with only their voices. They’re members of New York City’s Beatbox House, a seven-person communal beatboxing group. It’s a fitting location for the place where beatboxing was made big by guys like Biz Markie. They live, party, play video games, eat and beatbox together. They used to compete against one another on the biggest stages; now they improvise with each other while doing the dishes, and play festivals together like OZY Fest this past July. The beatboxer Pepouni stayed with the group for a few weeks and was astonished by how they “leveled up their beatbox,” and were able to improve so quickly by challenging each other. “Every day you can have a heavy training session,” he says.
Damn, I want a safe space where all my homeys can chill and feel comfortable and do what they love to do.
In many ways, the collective’s members are pushing boundaries. A few have music school backgrounds, a few don’t. Gene Shinozaki, a Berklee College of Music dropout, adds musicality to his performance and leverages melody and harmony as key parts of his routine. Kaila Mullady is the best female beatboxer in the world. Napom is a young phenom who placed second in the World Beatbox battle. Chris Celiz, the group’s founder, is growing the beatboxing community in New York.
Back in 2010, Celiz watched how the scenes at beatboxing championships unfolded. Beatboxers were hypercompetitive. They guarded their techniques. They were solitary and isolated, rarely collaborating. Celiz thought, “Damn, I want a safe space where all my homeys can chill and feel comfortable and do what they love to do.” He rented a place in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood — he had more money at the time than the others — and allowed people to crash after gigs and rehearsals.
Like a good beatbox performance, the goals of Beatbox House are multilayered. One is to raise the profile of beatboxing from party trick to serious art form. Celiz tells the story of how he recently went to karaoke and beatboxed for the crowd. Afterward, the emcee praised Celiz for his “awesome trick” “That hurt my soul, you know,” Celiz says. “I put in time for this.” They ooze ambition too, with dreams of selling out stadium tours, which just might be possible, the way Pentatonix took over the professional a cappella world. Right now, they’re taking calls from air mattresses on the floor of the house they’ve moved into, where each member has a room of his or her own.
But can just anyone join? Beatbox House member Kenny Urban laughs. Not really, he says. But if you’re in the scene, you can crash there.