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Seme Rock - And The Beat Goes On
Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Most of us have, at some point, been stuck on a Metro North train with an insufferable drunk. They make what would normally be a quick ride seem like an eternity. But did you know there’s a person you can call to rid your train of these pests? Your friendly neighborhood beatboxer.

In Connecticut, the best in that biz is New Haven’s Seme Rock (pictured left).

Seme recounts his latest late night train ride, saying, “the last person to get on the train was the drunkest guy you have ever seen. He was loud and obnoxious and he had a bottle on him.” A realization began to sink in, “I was like, this is going to be the worst hour and a half of my life.” The rest of the passengers felt the same way. Seme, however, overheard the drunk asking how far it was to Stamford, and when the train made its first stop at 125th Street a devious plan entered his mind. The drunk hadn’t heard the announcement of where the stop was, so Seme, who was sitting directly behind him, went to work. “I imitated the conductor’s voice. I knew his stop and I mimicked that stop, so I dropped this guy off in Harlem at two in the morning. When he got out and the doors closed the entire train started clapping.”

Very few people can imitate the sound of a conductor over a train intercom, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Seme’s skills. According to Brooklyn emcee Tah Phrum Duh Bush, “Seme is an inhuman android. I don’t know how sounds that dude makes can come from a creature made of flesh.” AFA member, and frequent collaborator, Sketch Tha Cataclysm adds, “I remember how it blew my mind the first time I heard him do his vocal transformer scratch. It’s so precise. ’ve never heard anyone do it that well. It constantly impresses crowds that don’t believe it’s not a DJ.” Tah counts himself as one of the impressed, saying he experiences, “pure astonishment and awe every time I see him on stage.” On stage, or in the case of the passengers from a certain late night Metro North ride, on the train.

Moving from one kind of train to another, Seme Rock is also heavily involved in Beatboxer Entertainment’s annual Subway Series, where beatboxers and emcees get together on a specific train and collaborate musically. Seme appreciates these events because of the way they utilize the beatboxer. He notes one of the main reasons he started beatboxing was that he was tired of hearing rappers use a lack of a beat as an excuse for backing out of battles. “If you were able to beatbox,” he explains, “there were no excuses.”

Beatboxing has made some impressive leaps in recent years from the subways and small stages of NYC to national ad campaigns for the likes of McDonald’s and Chili’s, and even Broadway, where beatboxer Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights took home a Tony Award in 2008 for Best Musical. Seme has performed at Madison Square Garden, been featured on MTV, and, in what can only be described as some sort of divine poetry, did the voiceovers for a campaign for the Albany metro system.

Ironically, while beatboxing is gaining mainstream notoriety, it’s still not being fully appreciated by many in the hip-hop community. “I think more people are recognizing it now because of the explosion of beatboxing, but I’m still not sure that in the hip-hop world it’s where it needs to be,” Seme laments. “I remember three to four years ago, circling to some of the local clubs in Connecticut and you would see people who would claim they’re hip-hop artists, or rap artists, and they would look at beatboxing like it was something they had never seen before. I was like, this is insane, you represent the same culture that I represent and you’re not familiar with this at all. It amazes me.”

Seme has been working hard to change all that as he recently provided beats for Chadeo that will be used for a project by Adeem (of Glue), and did some work on Sketch Tha Cataclysm’s collaborative effort with Phenetiks’ Deto-22, The Sharing Is Caring EP. Seme also has a still unreleased album that he recorded with his former group, Green Acres. Green Acres consisted of Seme, Kris Keyes, and Chadeo, and according to Chadeo, “the material is timeless, and if/when the time is right, it may still see the light of day.”

To say there’s a lack of competition in the beatboxing field would be an understatement, and while many would be thrilled to be in such a situation, Seme sees the dearth of beatboxers as a very big problem. “I would like to see more (beatboxers),” he says, “we need another generation of beatboxers, soon.”

Without a new generation of beatboxers we could lose a key element of what makes hip-hop what it is, and for as much as people may love their iPods, they can’t provide the soundtrack to a battle, and they stand no chance of ever being able to drop off a drunkard in Harlem.

Story originally ran in the FairfieldWeekly.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 1:15 PM  
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