Artist Of The Week - Seme Rock
Seme Rock has been Beatboxing for over 20 years now. He started making the music with his mouth in the early 80's during the pioneering years of Hip-Hop and hasn't stopped since. Seme Rock’s been featured on various mix tapes and collaborations, an MTV commercial, and recently released an album, Light of a Thousand Suns, with his band, Green Acres, on the Horizon Music Group label. He’s shared the stage with a veritable who’s who of Hip-Hop, including Doug E. Fresh, DJ Scratch from The Roots and Rob Swift. Today Seme Rock’s sitting down with me to discuss his roots in beatboxing, what beatboxing actually entails, and what part of Hip-Hop’s roots he’d like to see everyone get back to.
Adam Bernard: You don't rhyme, you don't produce, you beatbox. For those who may not understand beatboxing explain what it entails and what unique abilities it takes to do it.
Seme Rock: Well, human beatboxers have the unique ability of using their vocal chords to create all sorts of realistic sound effects and beats without the use of anything other than a microphone. Basically you use your vocal chords, lips, tongue and entire mouth to imitate instruments. For me, that was one of the more fascinating elements of this art form, the ability to create music without any instruments or equipment at all, it was like magic. When I first started doing this I was really broke, so two turntables were pretty much out of the question, I had to learn how to scratch and make beats without them. Beatboxing also relies heavily on a good grasp of musical composition and rhythm. Being a beatboxer, as well as anything else in life, requires constant practice. I practice all the time and have since I first started. To be ahead of your game you need to create new sounds and beat patterns on the regular.
Adam Bernard: When and how did you figure out you had this skill?
Seme Rock: I used to always make various sound effects and vocal impersonations with my mouth as a kid, but it wasn't really until I saw Michael Winslow on Police Academy that I began trying to actually emulate beats and rhythm patterns. I must have rewound the parts in Police Academy where he is beatboxing hundreds of times. I couldn't believe what I was hearing and seeing was actually real. Soon after that I discovered Doug E. Fresh and Buffy of the Fatboys and after hearing them making Hip-Hop beats I knew this was the direction I was going to go in for life. Back in the early 80's I was mostly providing beats for MCs during battles and freestyle sessions. I developed my style by studying the way various MCs rhyme. I listened closely to the ways they would flow and based my style around them. I remember MCs trying to back out of battles because there was no boombox present, then I’d come stepping into the cypher with the beatbox..."no more excuses, let's do this!"
Adam Bernard: Ha! Yeah, can’t let em get away with that! How do you find most MC's you run into react to your skill as a beatboxer? Do you they consider you as an equal to an MC, or do they lump you in some other category?
Seme Rock: I've been really fortunate in receiving a ton of love from other MCs and the Hip-Hop community in general. I think most emcees love the art of beatboxing, especially the talented freestyle emcees I’ve worked with. Beatboxing goes hand in hand with freestyle rhyming as one of the original elements of the Hip-Hop culture. People always seem to forget that beatboxing is one of the original elements, and that's really sad. That's like forgetting about graffiti or the DJ’s role in our culture. Beatboxing is the fifth element of Hip-Hop. I remember even seeing a Hip-Hop ceremony on VH1 not too long ago and all the elements were mentioned and showcased except for beatboxing. The weird thing about that show was that Doug E. Fresh was one of the main hosts and they still didn't even mention beatboxing as one of the elements of Hip-Hop.
Adam Bernard: That’s a damn shame, man. People may not know this, but beatboxing has a lot of events surrounding it. Talk to me about some of the events you've been involved with?
Seme Rock: I am part of crew called Beatboxer Entertainment out of NYC founded by the legendary Kid Lucky. We are the largest and most active beatboxing entertainment agency in the world today. We have been traveling around the states battling various DJ crews with our mouths, we call it the Man vs. Machine battle series. So far we are undefeated. Recently our crew, BBE, has done work with MTV and Verizon. We have a new series starting this month at the Bowery Poetry Club in New York called "The Nights of Music" which will feature collaborations with beatboxers and other musical artists teaming up to create live music like you've never seen before. You have to see these shows to believe the vibe. 100% raw Hip-Hop.
Adam Bernard: Finally, while rappers can get across a message with their lyrics, how does a beatboxer go about getting across his or her message?
Seme Rock: Hmm, that's a good one. For me, I think it's really important to stay positive in this game and spread that vibe to others around you. As beatboxers I think we try and spread our message through our skills by bringing things back to the basics, and by making something out of nothing at all. My motto is “each one, teach one,” and always has been. Take the time to pass down your skill or knowledge to someone else. Originally the Hip-Hop culture was passed down from person to person and I think we may have forgotten that along the way. Let's take graffiti for example, you had to be taught graffiti by an elder in the game or a more experienced graff writer. There were no text books on our art form, so everything you learned you made up yourself or learned it from someone else.
For more Seme Rock check him out at myspace.com/semerock and beatboxerentertainment.net