Best known for his periodic stints with The Roots, vocal percussionist Rahzel Brown uses the beat-box to take listeners back to the roots of hip-hop. A perfect accessory to any rapper, Rahzel has been linked to some of the most longstanding and successful artists. His 2000 solo project, The Fifth Element, spotlights Rahzel’s astounding ability to create and reproduce sounds, voices, instruments and beats. The self-proclaimed “Godfather of Noyze” went all out for GW fans at Saturday’s Fall Fest event in the Smith Center. After the show, the human prodigy took a few moments to rest his voicebox and sat down with The Hatchet to discuss the bare bones and new directions of hip-hop.
Hatchet: How did you first get hooked up with The Roots?
Rahzel: We were doing a lot of open mic sessions and jam sessions at the Lyricists Lounge, and we just kind of clicked. The rest is history.
H: What later inspired the solo project?
R: From day one I’ve been the biggest fan of the beat-box. I got the opportunity to put out a record and continue the tradition of hip-hop. (The beat-box) is a part of hip-hop that’s very important and has no barriers between age groups – everybody can dig it. It’s a part of hip-hop that’s kind of interchangeable, and it was missing.
H: Have you ever thought of straying from the beat-box to a more straightforward rapping style?
R: Naw, no, I can’t do that really. I’m an emcee, not a rapper. I’m a part of the blueprint for the show – we’re like cousins – but lately, instead of having that rapper, I’m just doing it myself.
H: So, for those who don’t know, can you explain any of the science behind the beat-box? Do you practice?
R: Oh, yeah, yeah. Like when you wake up in the morning, the sounds that you make.
H: OK, so you wake up in the morning. What next?
R: Take a shower. The acoustics in the bathroom are great near the sink. Start trying out some beats, scratches, voices, characters.
H: When you were younger you said you didn’t have the resources, didn’t have the turntables, didn’t have all the equipment. Do you think that’s what made you tap into this natural talent?
R: Yeah, it’s definitely because of that, making due with what you have. To me, that’s what hip-hop has always been about. You just use what you have and it can be big. Take the Fat Boys – three fat guys who people would make fun of. But they found the talent within themselves, without having to fit into some mold. Same thing with Run DMC or the Beastie Boys, the first rock white rap dudes. It wasn’t like they had to be black and act black. We just be who we are and make it big. To me, that’s hip-hop, not just following a trend.
H: On The 5th Element you do some experimentation with brass and jazz sounds. Where do you see the intersection between jazz and hip-hop?
R: It’s the improv – no set format, no set schedule. You have like a frame of what you want to do, but everything inside that frame. You can splash it with all kinds of colors, all kinds of sounds, and just paint a picture. To me, that’s where hip-hop and jazz kind of meet. I did a song with Brandford Marsalis and Me’Shell N’Degeocello, and I kind of knew they would fit that mold. They’re kind of free-form, they use a little bit of hip-hop, a little bit of jazz, R&B, South side – they fit perfect.
H: What do you see as the major issues facing the hip-hop community?
R: The industry letting the artists be the artists, and letting them have control. You have a lot of artists that sell millions of records, and they don’t make any money. When you take out a mortgage and you pay it off, you own the house. But with the record industry, you take out a recording budget, once you pay that back, you don’t own anything. You don’t own the rights to the songs, and to me, that’s an unfair practice. The biggest issue is artists owning their own material and the rights to their own songs. They took the time out, blood sweat and tears to write it, to produce it, to arrange it. Why not own it? You leave your family, your heritage, with nothing, and someone else is off riding into the sunset with all your money.
H: In what directions do you see hip-hop traveling, and what role do you hope to play?
R: It’s always gonna be commercial, because someone’s always going to want to sell it, use hip-hop to sell their product. But I see the underground piercing through. I’m just going to keep pushing the envelope with what I do, as far as the beat-box and how it can be implemented, different sounds to diversify, no barriers.
H: Ok, I have to ask, do you have a favorite sound to make?
R: (laughs) No, no, no favorite sounds, I like all of ’em.
H: Oh, come on …
R: All of them. I got a million. I can do one the kids like, ages five to ten, they love the … (makes noise)
H: Now I have to try to spell that out.
R: (laughs) Just write “B-L-R-R-R-R-R-R-R” (makes noise again)