People have been making musical sounds with their mouths for thousands of years: it's thought that the ancient Indians and Chinese did it, and people in Africa have traditionally used stomping, clapping and loud breathing and clicking sounds to make rhythms. But these didn't sound much like modern beatboxing, which has a much more recent history. The generally-accepted progenitor of beatboxing was rapper Doug E. Fresh -- AKA "The Human Beatbox" -- who honed his craft on the streets of New York in the early 80s. Here's an 80s-era street interview in which a documentary crew catches up with Fresh, and he shows off a few of his vocal beatbox talents:
There were other early pioneers of beatboxing, notably Biz Markie (who's probably more famous for the protracted legal battles over his use of unlicensed samples in his music that changed copyright law, and hip-hop, forever). Funny and weird, Markie made a series of bizarre appearances on the kids' show Yo Gabba Gabba in which he would teach kids how to beatbox -- though I wouldn't call him a great teacher.
Since the early 80s, beatboxing has come a long way. These days, beatboxing championships are held all over the world, and some of the best beatboxers out there make sounds you can hardly believe are coming out of a human's mouth. For instance, check out the vocal stylings of "Mr. Scratch" --
Felix Zenger is another amazing beatboxer. Check this out:
Even the kids are getting into it! Alex is a 14-year-old from Germany.
In the spirit of mixing it up -- that's what hip-hop's all about, right? -- here's a clip of a fellow who can play a hip-hop version of the Inspector Gadget theme -- on the flute -- while beatboxing.
If you liked that, take a look at this beatboxing harmonica player.