Rahzel – arguably the world’s greatest beatboxer – provided some absolutely dynamite entertainment last Friday at The Hub. And that would have made for a fine night on its own, but the lucky few who made an effort to attend were treated to a rather unique MC Battle tournament as well, judged by the beatboxer himself.
As the rather small crowd approached the stage, the tournament began with some quick-fire 30-second rounds, which sorted the men from the boys. Judging the battles alongside Rahzel was his partner in crime, DJ JS-One, and The Hub’s resident DJ Stefan, who were unanimous in their decisions for the first few rounds of the battle. Then two individuals named Songco (a.k.a. Christopher Songco) and Kang (a.k.a. Kenny Kim) stepped up.
With the MC’s exhibiting completely different styles, it was left to Rahzel to cast the deciding vote. After obeying shouts of “Rahzel get off your phone!” he came to a decision: make them battle again. They did. And after that he made them battle again. Songco slipped up on a single punch line, and the human beatbox finally gave the victory to Kang. End of round two. After a short break, round three saw an MC by the name of Eternal step up and clinch a victory from his opponent Sir Phat, but an ominous voice whispered “I wanna see Songco battle this guy Eternal.” Rahzel gave Songco a second chance. He took it, ran with it and blasted Eternal away.
The eventual final looked a little familiar to say the least. Songco once again faced off against Kang, each given a minute to strip the other down. By now both were running out of steam, and as time went on it was clear that Kang had more left inside him. Slapping his freshman opponent with some fierce lyrics, he obtained the victory to win not only a cash prize, but the chance to rap on top of Rahzel’s homemade beats. Later describing it as “surreal…just fucking awesome.” It was obvious the senior UCSB student was relishing his time on stage with one of hip hop’s greatest figures.
Well, that was all quite entertaining, but the professionals truly know how to do it. Following some extraordinary scratching from JS-One – including some scratching with his foot (show-off!) – Rahzel began to do what he does best: completely boggle the human mind. Copying the beats of Kanye’s “Jesus Walks” and more impressively, Jay-Z’s “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” The Godfather of Noyze made sure the audience was begging for more, and more he gave them.
After throwing some banter around with the crowd – and going so far as to label one rather horny girl ‘Hotlanta’ of “Flavor of Love” infamy – Rahzel crafted an impressive beat betwixt a schizophrenic conversation between Gollum and Sméagol, and threw in a bit of Optimus Prime for good measure. All of this came from a mouth that, if you actually looked at mid-beatbox, did not move in a way humanly possible. But that self-proclaimed “bad motherfucker” had one last ace up his sleeve: “If Your Mother Only Knew.” For those of you who don’t know, this track is where Rahzel masters the beat and the chorus at the same time. Gently easing the crowd into this aural illusion, it was a sight (and sound) to truly behold, and justifiably, the crowd went crazy.
After the show wrapped, I managed to grab a few words with Rahzel, who told me how he appreciates the college crowd more than the average audience. He knows how word of mouth can spread about an artist you don’t even know about until you “do a little research, head over to YouTube” and genuinely become interested in that artist. He is very grateful for that aspect of the modern music industry – how an unknown can become a known in a split second – but he also has much to lament.
Whereas Rahzel was influenced by the likes of Grandmaster Flash and Biz Markie, he said feels there are very few artists that people can look up to nowadays. There are too many “fruity records; the industry is too ‘ringtone heavy.'” So when I asked him what he thought of the likes of new sensation Soulja Boy, he told me “It’s good…if you’re 11! I mean, it’s cute in a Sesame Street kinda way, but it’s the lowest denominator – like Disney’s greatest hip hop hits!” What makes it worse for Rahzel is seeing groups like Jurassic 5 and X-Ecutioners disband after so long. “Hip hop is in a weird place… people are being programmed, and America needs to catch up with the rest of the world.”
Despite such a seemingly morbid climate, he said he has found success by sticking with what works. While superstars like Kanye try to keep ahead of the latest trends, for the Godfather, it seems Old Skool is the best skool. “I never change anything. I’m still RUN DMC. I still walk this way.” He does have hope that with the Commons and the Jay-Zs, things can one day be more authentic. Until then… well, if you saw some random guy with a Yankees cap beatboxing on DP last weekend, let’s hope you were nice to him.