How an Astrophysicist Became a Beatbox Jedi

 
Meet beatboxing champion Shlomo. He doesn’t wait for the beat to drop b ecause, well, he is the beat.

Shlomo’s story begins with a drum kit. As an eight year old, he became obsessed with the hypnotic rhythms of jazz drumming. “I grew up in a very noisy environment, lots of singing lots of dancing, lots of opportunities to show off,” he told Lenovo. He picked up vocal percussion as a way to practice without irritating the neighbors.
 
 
Growing up, Shlomo recalls playing every “instrument I could get my hands on -- I was always really hungry to learn, to explore and to create stuff.” When he was nine or ten, he first used a computer to make music, which unleashed a world of sonic possibilities. “Other kids would play with football computer games -- I’d try to have the computer make as many different noises as possible, that was my idea of fun.”
 

In college, Shlomo officially ditched the drumkit, and in 2002, he cinched his status as beatboxing royalty. The same year that Nickelback and Nelly topped the charts, Shlomo was named the King of Jam in the UK’s annual tournament. The cheeky prize? A pot of Bonne Maman jam.

The win spurred him to drop out of Leeds University in order to pursue beatboxing full-time, quite a contrarian path from his astrophysics studies. “It went against that classic thing that every child has, which is do the right thing, do the sensible thing, go get a real job,” he said looking back on his decision to leave university. “It wouldn’t work for me. I just breathe music every day. I would have been unhappy if I got a real job.”

From Leeds, Shlomo pioneered a bevy of beatboxing techniques, most notably his 2-mic trance box routine, a style he invented upon discovering the deep bass noise that vibrates in the lower half of the throat. The resulting sound is subhuman, extraordinary in its range. Sometimes, he refers to himself as a “Beatbox Jedi” for this otherworldly ability to manufacture sounds that both mimic musical instruments and occupy a sonic category all of their own.

 
The next ten years of Shlomo’s career is a checklist of musical accomplishments. In 2004, his collaboration with Bjork was heard by 3.9 billion people at the Athens Summer Olympics opening ceremony -- the largest audience for a beatboxer in history. 2007 was the year he founded the Vocal Orchestra, the world’s first beatboxing choir. And in 2015, the BBC named him a Music Ambassador, a formal acknowledgement of his role in developing beatboxing as a respected musical genre.
 
“The people who make a career out of beatboxing have tended to be incredibly exciting musicians who happen to use beatboxing as one of their tools for creating their music, rather than the other way round,” he said. “There really isn’t a precedent.”
 
Shlomo is hardly alone out there on the frontier of beatmaking. Graduating from a mess of disparate equipment to a savvy Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, Shlomo now uses the computer as a soundboard, loop station and synth all in one. With the ThinkPad, all Shlomo needs is his voice to create highly layered, complicated beats and melodies. He describes himself now as “a beatboxer turned live technologist, composer and producer.”
 
 
Shlomo cites social media for enabling his beatboxing to reach a wider, more diverse audience, but these days, he’s more interested in making “human connections” than online ones. He’s the father of two young sons -- “They just come and hang out in the studio, make beats. They think that’s what dads do for a living.” -- which has shaped his career in unexpected ways. Beyond spurring the realization that “there are things outside music that matter,” Shlomo thanks his children for keeping his creativity bubbling. “Spending time with little ones just completely recharges that element of your personality,” he said.
 
Shlomo’s vocal calisthenics highlight a do-it-yourself aspect of music we often take for granted. Such is the widespread appeal of Shlomo: he makes one consider that which we often ignore. For Shlomo, it’s all an exercise in innovation.

 

“You’re getting to be creative, you’re getting to express yourself on a daily basis -- that, for me, is like living the dream.”