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Beatox is Taking Beatboxing to Another Dimension

The Winnipeg-based singer and rapper is using tech innovations to move his craft forward.

by Ben Boddez

Photo by Josh Kirschner

Some might view beatboxing as a novelty of a cappella groups or associate it with various eras of hip-hop, but Winnipeg singer, rapper, producer, and vocal percussionist Beatox believes that it’s not only a universal language, it’s also good for mindfulness due to its reliance on consistent breath work. 

Combining his vocal work with sunny and optimistic jazz-funk beats, positive lyricism and a personal passion for tech, the rising artist is an innovator in his field. Initially inspired at a young age by falling down YouTube rabbit holes – his favourite video was always a certain performance of Rahzel’s “If Your Mother Only Knew” – and hearing beatboxing on radio hits by Snoop Dogg and Justin Timberlake, Beatox began applying it in real life after moving to Winnipeg for high school.

Linking up with some aspiring hip-hop artists after making beats for them at parties, it ultimately took him into the recording studio with them. “It’s the classic ‘Hey, can anyone make a beat?’ and I’m like ‘Well, I can,’” he tells RANGE over Zoom. 

“There’s also some pretty heavy-hitter jazz players that go to the University of Manitoba. I knew a few of them, they saw me performing, and they were like ‘We would love to back you as a jazz-funk band.’ The beats that I usually lean to are pretty funk-leaning, so I was down. Fast forward 10 years, I’ve worked with funk, soul and jazz musicians from all over, and the album is a culmination of elevating that beatboxing and integrating it with different genres.”

The idea of adding his own lyrics on top of his vocal percussion fell into place naturally a little later on, inspired to elevate things even further and tell musical stories of his own after hearing so many from the rappers surrounding him – as well as hearing them at home from his mother, folk singer-songwriter Rachel Kane. When it comes to the stories Beatox is telling lately, his latest album Been A Long Time finds him imploring listeners not to get caught up in the doom and gloom. It was conceived during an isolated Winnipeg winter during the pandemic, but many of its messages still ring true with today’s news cycle.

We’ve heard a lot of COVID-centric albums over the years, but for Beatox, someone who places extreme value on deep personal connections, travel, and achieving mindfulness and happiness through these means (even the name Beatox is meant to be a portmanteau of “beat” and “detox”), the experience of being cooped up could have been even worse had he not been keeping his head above water with a series of tunes about dancing, following dreams and finding happiness.

“For me, staying positive takes a few pillars,” he says. “Being present, being grateful and aware that we are alive is pretty special. If you have access to nature, seeing the sun and getting outside is really helpful, especially in such a digital age. Sports, dance, performing, these things help you get out of your mind and into your physical well-being – and then friendship. That’s something I’ve been trying to work on, trying to reappreciate that and learn to develop those skills in my thirties – how to make authentic friendships.”

When it comes to new realizations, Beatox says that part of the reason he felt so confined during COVID was the fact that in addition to it being part of the lifestyle of a successful musician to travel, moving cities and changing scenery has been a constant of his life for the past eight years. “It’s sort of ingrained in this field to be willing to travel, but I’m realizing you can still have a home. You can still have a home base, and then tour. So that’s a new thing,” he says.

The positivity that manifested on the record is even more impressive when you consider that Beatox was also in the middle of work on producing an album for his mother – one which had a decidedly different vibe. In return, however, she appears alongside Beatox’s sister to guest on Been A Long Time track “Never Hold Back.” While he says that it’s “not for the faint of heart” and that making a whole album with his mom was “a bit insane,” he still advises any aspiring artists to collaborate with their family at least once – as it brought him even closer to them.

“It’s beautiful and amazing and one of the more special things about the album, that they’re on it. But working with family is very hard. Working with my mom is especially difficult because she’s an artist as well, and struggles with mental illness. I had to be an engineer and producer for her very sad songs that were talking about her getting old and kind of giving up a little bit on life, to an extent. And I’m realizing that my album is kind of the opposite, and my response to it is to stay happy and stay sane.”

Beatox has a Master’s Degree in music technology, and he teaches courses on beatboxing, music production and multimedia production, where he advises people on integrating tech into their work. When it comes to his material, you can see it the most prominently in his music videos, which are often created with visuals made through the use of AI, and his use of his beloved Vochlea Dubler, a device that turns voice recordings into MIDI – a beatboxer’s dream, allowing them to transpose their rhythms and melodies into a more traditional-sounding instrumental. Beatox says about half the album’s instrumental moments were produced in this way. While it’s already useful, he has even bigger ideas for it in the future to support his biggest dream – making music more accessible to anyone.

“The biggest thing with beatboxing is that it’s quiet – you need microphones to amplify it,” he says. “I make a really quiet kick sound, I have to hold a mic to my throat, but it’s full of expression. It would be nice to be able to express yourself in a humanistic way, but blend electronics. Doing it live, and maybe live looping. That’s where I’m trying to go with music and tech.”

Beatox understands that generative AI can be a polarizing subject, but he believes that the benefit of being able to create thought-provoking and eye-grabbing visuals at a discounted price, in a world where he believes visuals are becoming all the more important to attract people to music, outweighs all of its drawbacks. He finds that strides forward in AI are democratizing artistry for creatives of all backgrounds.

“Whether you’re jazz, funk, rap, doesn’t matter, country, to get your music on social media and recognized, it needs a visual. That’s just the reality we’re in,” he says. “That can be really expensive and hard to start with; a lot of musicians just aren’t visual people. Just like the computer helps artists create music, they don’t have to depend on an engineer who records on tape, now we all have access to computers as a tool to create your ideas.”

“I just think it sucks if someone is like ‘I don’t know how to do this and I need a huge team to make this happen,’ to make their dream or their vision come true,” he continues. “For a lot of people who maybe don’t have the means of creating, it all of a sudden just evens the playing field a little bit.”

While using these tools, however, Beatox knows that it’s important to retain the human aspects of connection and pure joy. He’ll be the first to tell you that his DMs are always open to fans or other artists who want to talk about some of the issues and inspirations behind his songs, and often talks about a desire to connect with his inner child when he creates. Mostly, that just means he wants it to feel good, rather than achieve a certain kind of checklist based on technical things and music theory.

“I think why certain songs on this album have done well – as in, connected with people – is because it’s sort of carefree, and I was able to tap into the inner child that doesn’t worry what other people think,” he says. “The true feeling I’m trying to express and share is usually curiosity, having fun, and laughter. Those are the innocent kid things about who I am. I love to make people laugh; I love to make silly sounds. I can do a Donald Duck voice. All these silly things that the music industry, jazz musicians or whoever, would be like ‘What? That’s not music.’ But it’s like ‘No, this is just who I am.’”