Breaking Out Of The Beatbox

Features appearances by Q-Tip, Slick Rick and Erykah Badu.

After seeing Rahzel live, be it solo or with his bandmates in the Roots,

it's tough to judge whether Make The Music 2000 is a shining

accomplishment or a bit of a letdown. In a live situation, Rahzel plays

entire songs (bass, vocals, drums, samples, keys, guitars) using only

his vocal cords, lips and tongue. Without the aid of instruments or

recordings, he expertly mimics a DJ cutting and scratching his way

through a round of hip-hop and R&B songs. He also does a rendition of

the Art of Noise's "Moments In Love" that is chillingly accurate,

especially given that he isn't using any drum machines or DATs to back

him up.

On Make The Music 2000, however, Rahzel allows actual bass,

vocals, drums, samples, keys and guitars into the mix, oftentimes

recalling his work with the Roots, though just as often taking off into

an entirely different (and — gasp! — commercial) direction.

"Make The Music 2000" and "All I Know" (RealAudio excerpt),

for example, each features Rahzel's spot-on imitations of drum loops, industrial machine movements

and scratching, but they also incorporate traditional hip-hop loops and

Rahzel's decent rapping skills (pretty fly for a beat guy, as the Offspring might say). The

purity of Rahzel's artistry aside, both songs groove in the right places

and would fit in well on commercial rap radio.

The remainder of the album doesn't hit the same peaks. It's a lot like a

producer showcase album, with guest artists appearing alongside the

headliner. Erykah Badu's scat singing on "Southern Girl" is performed

over pure beatboxing, though its slow pace is out of tune with the

remainder of the album. On an album of her own it could be an odd hit,

but here it just sticks out. Missing the mark entirely is "Steal My

Soul" (RealAudio excerpt), which features Me'Shell

NdgeOcello doing some sort of poetry reading and Branford Marsalis

playing a horn every once in awhile. Rahzel's beatboxing is solid on the

track, but the accompanying poetry slam is just annoying.

Hitting the target, on the other hand, is Slick Rick, who bounces his

way through "Night Riders" as Rahzel backs him with vocal scratches and,

uh, duck calls. Q-Tip also turns in a fine performance, riffing over a

solid beatbox session accented by synths on "To The

Beat," which sounds like vintage A Tribe Called Quest.

Those of you who are hardcore beatbox fans needn't worry too much.

Sprinkled throughout the album are snippets from a San Francisco show

that featured Rahzel performing LL Cool J's "Rock The Bells," Wu-Tang

Clan's "Wu-Tang Clan Ain't Nothing To Fuck With" and a version of

Aaliyah's "If Your Mother Only Knew" (RealAudio excerpt).

When Rahzel gets the beat, bass

and vocals going at the same time on "If Your Mother Only Knew" and you

hear the audience members' "whoa!" reaction, you know they experienced

the same goose bumps you just did.

The goose bumps continue on a hidden closing track that features Rahzel

going head to head with ex-Young Black Teenagers spinner (and current

MTV fave) DJ Skribble in a cutting and scratching battle that truly

displays Rahzel's amazing talent. Why he chose to accent this talent

with instrumentation and guests is anyone's guess, but when this

experimentation hits the target, it truly scores a bull's-eye.