The History of Beatboxing: Rahzel Talks to British Pathe

We recently uploaded the video below onto our YouTube channel, titled “World’s First Beatboxing Champion in 1938“, in which an impeccably dressed man gives us some good spit on the Pathé Studios mic:

We were then surprised to see several comments accusing us of faking the video! “Just a bunch of guys dressed like the date, with a set for the date” suggested one viewer. And so we were forced to come clean and admit that yes, this clip wasn’t actually beatboxing (as we know it today) but was a man impersonating a “big string bass” – but that’s not to say it’s a fake. The video is an original reel from 1938.

The piece actually comes from this video The Radio Revellers from our free online archive, and the song is called “There’s a Tavern in the Town”

For the YouTube version we tightly edited the video, a few seconds prior to where the YouTube version takes off one of the Radio Revellers actually says that the guy is about to impersonate a big string bass (double bass / cello etc.) We also cropped the YouTube video’s frame size so that his hands (which are playing “air double bass”!) are less visible – fortifying the illusion that it is beatboxing. Our hope was that this would help the video fall before the eyes of a younger audience who like beatboxing and so subsequently introduce them to the thousands of delightful music hall clips in our archive.

Then, to our amazement, world-renowned beatboxing superstar Rahzel got in touch with us sharing some insight on the history of beatboxing. Rahzel told British Pathé “Your video is actually of scatting, and if you Google scatting that guy wasn’t the first. When technology kicked in in the 1980s, i.e. drum machines, Grand Master Flash made the Gemini drum machine called “the beat box”, and then a gentleman called Douglas E Fresh was called “the human beat box” because he imitated it so well, hence beatboxing was born.”

We asked Rahzel if beatboxing was derivative of scatting and learnt that it is in a way although if we look back further we can find beatboxing routes in the West African tradition “hocketing”.

Rahzel then asked if we could play the movies “Beat Street” and “Wild Style”. We’re not sure if these are feature movies, Rahzel beats, or just videos on YouTube – we were too shy to ask the mighty Rahzel (although we don’t think he was referring to any British Pathé reels!)

Although you may think us a bunch of archive woolies – we’d actually already heard of the beatboxer Rahzel here in the British Pathé archive as a couple of us here are Bjork fans and Rahzel provided the beats for Bjorks’ single Who Is It, as well as other tracks on her acapella album Medulla (beatboxing percussion is allowed with acapella you see!).

Here is Mr. Rahzel in action:


Words by Jack Cullen.

Author: British Pathé

British Pathé holds the world's finest newsreel collection. We also represent the Reuters historical collection. All 220K films are viewable on our website.

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