Beardyman - he's the coolest geek in hip hop
Jews love beatboxing because it's so nerdy, says one of its best performers
Darren Foreman, aka Beardyman, on stage in Leicester during his recent UK tour. He began his beatbox career while studying for a philosophy degree
Of the British beatboxers who have risen to fame over the past few years, an extraordinary number -Beardyman, Bellatrix and Shlomo included - are Jewish.
Beatboxing - the art of making the sound of beats with the mouth - is known in the hip-hop world as the fifth element of the genre, after scratching, breaking, rapping and graffiti. Beardyman, known to his family in Stanmore, north-west London, as Darren Foreman, is trying to make sense of the form's appeal to Jewish performers.
"Maybe it's because it's so geeky," he says. "It might seem weird that there are Jews doing a hip-hop thing, but to be honest it's more like playing the clarinet. It's something you have to have a certain amount of discipline to do and maybe it helps that it's something you can hide from your parents. Hip-hop nerds will eschew hip-hop credibility because they'll be beatboxing in their bedrooms and on forums. That's how they roll."
Foreman, now 28, began beatboxing as young as he can remember, making "strange noises", he says. He believes that Jewish people are not as disproportionately represented in beatbox as we might think. However, he does point out that the form has often had a religious bent. Chasidic Jew Matisyahu performed a cross-culture show with the Muslim beatboxer Kenny Muhammad, while Gavin Tyte, who runs the UK website humanbeatbox.com, a hub for beatboxers, is a vicar who claims to have saved young people from the brink of suicide with the beatbox forum community as a support.
It was not religion that prompted Foreman to beatbox on stage, but seeing the pioneering beatboxer, Razel (who kick-started the genre's popularity), perform while he was reading philosophy at university.
"Everyone had told me to stop doing it all my life and suddenly it was cool; there was a market and a new way of making music, like it was a new art form."
Beatboxing is like playing the clarinet. You need discipline
Foreman was gigging so regularly that it became a part-time job, and soon he was winning competitions - he was twice voted the UK beatbox champion, and won best MC at Breakspoll, the beat world's Oscars. He also sold out a run of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.
"It became clear to me that I could make a career out of it and it would be stupid not to," he continues. "I really should have dived right into music at a young age but I had my parents being conscientious Jewish parents. I think it's relatively rare to find Jewish parents who won't encourage their children to get a proper career that they can fall back on and mine were no different. I never thought music was a proper job."
Today beatboxing is just one component of what Beardyman does, although he credits the genre with setting him on a path to becoming a musician.
"I don't think I'd be doing music now if it wasn't for beatbox. Most people still see me as a beatboxer, but fundamentally I'm not at the moment. For the past year I've not done just me on a microphone, beatboxing." Instead, he has been creating wholly improvised shows with keyboards, effects and beats and no pre-prepared music or samples.
Foreman has just released his debut album. I Done A Album makes use of his classical music background (he was playing guitar and was writing songs on piano from the age of six) in its amalgam of genres, which includes Balkan folk music, dubstep and Aphex Twin-style beats. Best displaying his beatbox mastery is a safari-themed track in which all the animal noises are entirely his creation. It also mixes in his comedic streak, influenced by the dark humour of satirist Chris Morris.
That the album has been a long time coming - 10 years after he first appeared on the scene as a beatboxer - he puts down to the time taken to develop the complex live production system required to get across the essence of his high-energy live shows.
"That's what people know me for - that sense of fun. When you get to sitting down in front of the computer you're not exactly pumped full of adrenaline so to get across what I do live I had to invent a new way of producing."
Beardyman's 'I Done A Album' is on Sunday Best records