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Beatboxer EMC Making Noise at the DJ Olympics

Think back. You're a kid, and it's a dark, rainy, Sunday afternoon. You're bored, just hanging out on your own. You start making drum sounds with your lips. You start grooving around in your living room for a while, until you really start getting into it, the sound of explosions and electric guitars spitting from your mouth. Your mother, who has been trying to read the newspaper, snaps, and tells you to stop making so much noise. So you stop. Then you grow up. You forget all about making noises with your mouth.

Then there's Eric McIntyre (aka EMC), a two-time DJ Olympics (DJ-O) beatbox champion. He's sitting with me at the Second Cup on Spring Garden, making noises with his mouth. He's in training for the 2004 DJ-O beatboxing competition coming up on the 15th, and if he wins this year's competition, according to the DJ-O's 'unpublished three-time rule', he will be forced to retire from further DJ-O competitions in that category, achieving the same legendary status as Skratch Bastid.

"I've always been able to beatbox," says McIntyre. "As a kid, I used to just call it my 'one man marching band', because I could hum and do drum sounds at the same time, like 'Mmmbpmmmbpmmmbpmm.'" Combined with a love of rap music since grade four, this noisy talent eventually helped him become a major ingredient in the hip-hop scene here in Halifax.

McIntyre started out as an MC in around 1997-98. In 1999, he was playing in a group called RHYME FOR REASON when he suddenly rediscovered his beatboxing ability. "One day I was just fucking around on the microphone, and started trying to make drum sounds, and my DJ at the time was like 'Wow man, that sounds really good. You should keep trying to do that,'" McIntyre says. "So I started messing with it. Then I remembered -- Oh yeah! I can hum and do drums at once!"

Wikipedia.org describes beatboxing as "...the vocal percussion of hip-hop culture. It is primarily concerned with the art of creating beats, rhythms, and melodies using the human mouth." Dipping onto the general public's radar via Michael Winslow (of Police Academy fame) and Bobby McFerrin, vocal percussion has been a recognized part of the hip-hop scene ever since Doug E Fresh and Slick Rick released "La Di Da Di" in the early 1980's. Then there were the Fat Boys, who provided McIntyre's first introduction to the art.

"When I heard them I thought beatboxing was like... What??" McIntyre recalls. "I mean the Fat Boys were cool and all, but just all that "huh-uh-huh-uh-huh" [panting] that shit? I was just like nyyyah... Maybe not so cool."

Beatboxing quickly went off the radar in the late 1980's, and stayed deep underground until the mid-90', when its second wind hit.

You probably already know the four main elements of hip-hop: rapping, DJing, graffiti, and breakdancing. These days, beatboxing is perhaps even more prevalent than breakdancing in hip-hop culture, but is it considered an element? McIntyre thinks so. "Beatboxing is definitely number five," he says. "Some people say clothes or style are the fifth element, but no way man, beatboxing is number five. Beatboxing is huge now ... And recently it seems to be getting a lot more attention because of people like Killa Kella and Rahzel."

In the mid-90's, Rahzel, a member of the Philadelphia hip-hop group THE ROOTS, released a solo album entitled "Make the Music 2000". It was recognized as one of the first albums to focus primarily on beatboxing, and it eventually achieved popular success. The album features Rahzel's awe-inspiring abilities: He is able to produce up multiple sounds at once, to sing and beatbox simultaneously, and simulate turntable scratches. When Rahzel did a Halifax show at the Palace a few years ago, McIntyre and Kaleb Simmons (who McIntyre calls Halifax's "undisputed beatbox champ") shared a stage with the "Godfather of Noyze".

McIntyre is one of the founding members of the five-man hip-hop group SECOND FRONT, who released their first album late last year. Formed in the summer of 2003, SECOND FRONT is renowned on the east coast for their involvement in the activist community, their often angry, thought-provoking rhymes, and their tight production skills. They released their debut full-length album, "The Sound of Progress", last December to great acclaim. It eventually broke into the national top twenty on !earshot's hip-hop chart for April 2004 and was reviewed well. "If SECOND FRONT's debut album is truly the sound of progress," said hiphopcanada.com reviewer Troy Neilson, "Then I'm down to take some steps forward."

"We got some flack from some people who said we were more socially-conscious than style-conscious," he says. "Some of the super hip-hop hedz said that, you know what I mean? And that's cool. Whatever. Our main goal is to make good music with a message, and to keep it all our own. To just try and contribute something. And that's generally what we do, and we busted our asses to put out a really good album. And we're all really happy with it." Many of the tracks on the album feature McIntyre's beatboxing skills -- including "Revolutionary", one of the album's standout tracks.

These days, Eric McIntyre is a busy man. In addition to preparing for the DJ Olympic competition, he's working on Second Front's sophomore release, a solo album, and collaborating on a vocals-only album with another local beatboxer, Prolific.

With so much going on, and such little time to train specifically for the DJ-O, I ask him if there are any alternative ways of enhancing performance. "Booze!" he laughs. "I actually find you get tighter when you drink beer. I don't know what it is but it just starts to sound better. Maybe it's just in my head."

Catch EMC this Friday, October 15 at the DJ Olympics EMCEE and Beatbox Battles at Stage 9 (10pm/5$)

[this is an article I wrote for next week's edition of the student paper at Dalhousie -- The Gazette]

Second Front's website has a bunch of mp3s from their album. They're wicked.
Second Front - It's Just a Game.mp3
Second Front - Organized Greed.mp3
Second Front - Time to Go to War.mp3
Second Front - Surviving the Game.mp3 <--- EMC does a beatbox freestyle at the end on this one