Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Memories: The Human Beatbox and Entertainer

Picture the scene with me.

It is 1986. In Harlow, Essex, England there is an unusual culture mix at secondary school. Predominant among most kids is 'Casual' rather than 'New Romantic'. There were also a lot of Heavy Metal fans, some Rockers, and a few Mods. Largely, though, people didn't strive to stand out, it was more important to fit in. I was sort of a Casual.

An outsider would have defined Casuals as 'white kids and hip hop'. We were big into hip hop. Music, fashion, culture. The lot. We were also a relatively multi-cultural school, being just outside London. But we were still white kids, which made it all so much funnier looking back on it. We were into Miami Vice mixed with Duran Duran. We would take train trips into London looking for West End Girls.

At my school we had a school uniform. I think this is generally a good thing. You don't have to try to fit in, or impress anyone, because your outfit is already determined for you. Girls would push the envelope and wear makeup. Actually, some boys did as well - the whole 'New Romantic' thing. Boys would untuck their shirts or make their ties huge or tiny. The thing that really stood out in terms of individuality was the footwear. Trainers. The cooler the better. Either Nike or Reebok, sometimes Puma or Adidas. Some of the styles were amazing, and could be upwards of 60 pounds a pair - which by todays money would be 2 gagillion pounds. Rocking out with a new pair of trainers would cause everyone in the playground to come over and check you out. If you were cool, there would be oohs and aaahs. If you weren't cool enough, everyone would try to stomp the fuck out of your new shoes, dirtying them up. Fun times.



Anyway, that's not what this was about. Just setting the scene.


I grew up with music on the radio, but also my parents records. That meant I listened to such things as Elvis and the Beatles (Mum) and Otis Redding and James Brown (Dad). My favourite group at the time was The Police, three white English guys who played reggae punk. This may explain my eclectic music taste now.

My best friend introduced me to Hip Hop music. I can recall hanging out with him and his monster of a ghetto blaster listening to Herbie Hancock, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, Eric B. & Rakim, and all sorts of other great stuff. Damn, that was a cool boombox.

One of the most popular songs was called "The Show" by Doug E Fresh. As well as being a rapper, he was one of the first beatboxers. His partner was Slick Rick, and together with the Get Fresh Crew they rapped over riffs taken from the theme to Inspector Gadget - which just made it even more awesome. On the b-side was another song called "La Di Da Di" which was a rapped story about the day in the life of Slick Rick, with beatbox accompaniment by Doug E Fresh.

I have many fond memories of being on Prefect duty with my best friend and performing this song. He would rap, I would beatbox. We were good. We weren't great, but we gave the performance our all. It was a bonding moment, a shared experience based on a love of hip hop music. We didn't have an audience (apart from his girlfriend, sometimes, and my girlfriend, sometimes, but they didn't complain). We didn't need an audience. It was for us.



Let's jump forward roughly 10 years.

It is July 1997. I am at a joint stag weekend - my friend Chris is getting married in September, I am getting married in August. We are walking towards Fistral Beach in Newquay. It is the weekend of the Surfing Championships. My best friend is there - which makes me very happy, because for the past two years I haven't seen him due to my failure to resolve a conflict between my fiancee and him. Everything is fixed, but I feel there is still a lingering sense of unease, which is hopefully just residue guilt on my part. All the cider and dancing probably didn't help either.

We stagger along a busy high street, a crowd of around 12 guys spread out depending on how fast we're able to shuffle along. My best friend walks with me, and without prompting starts rapping the opening to "La Di Da Di". I start beatboxing along, sinking into the groove that we have shared for over 10 years, everything rushing back to how it was. Only, 10 years have passed. In those 10 years, music had evolved in the UK. So I beatboxed in the style of Drum and Bass. We really got into it, too. Walking, rapping, beatboxing. Several people commented how cool it sounded as we went past. What they didn't know at the time was that, as we were heading towards the beach, every problem I imagined in my relationship with my best friend was healing.



Now, 10 years later, he is still my best friend. There is a resurgence of things from the 80s - The Police have toured, Miami Vice was rebooted as a movie, styles tend to eat themselves. But it's good to know that the rappers are still keeping it real:
The Show live
Ladi Dadi live
Post a Comment