Volume 93, Issue 46

November 19, 1999


Weekend Pass

Rahzel doesn't forget his Roots

Canadians are getting a sweet taste of Choclair


Crows give good show, despite early flight

Rahzel doesn't forget his Roots

Gazette file photo
STOP LOOKING AT ME SWAN. Roots beatboxer Rahzel has broken off on his own with a successful new solo record and a North American tour. He plays at Lush nightclub in London on Sunday.

By Luke Rundle
Gazette Staff

Rare is the musical artist who develops a novel approach to his art form – an untested and undiscovered method which becomes universally admired and respected within the genre.

As a member of the Philadelphia-based hip-hop group The Roots, Rahzel, a self-proclaimed "vocal percussionist," is one of those few individuals doing something truly unique with his craft and setting the course of the industry in a completely new direction.

Besides remaining a member of hip-hop's most cutting edge group, Rahzel has also found a certain degree of success in the solo realm as well. His eagerly anticipated debut album, Make The Music 2000, was released this past summer to great success. Currently conducting a solo tour through Canada, Rahzel is clearly bent on showcasing his unique stylings to the world.

A practitioner of what rappers deem the "beatbox," Rahzel is so adept at imitating record scratches, drum beats and other auditory effects with nothing more than his mouth, that The Roots don't need to keep any mixing equipment onstage during their performances.

When asked to describe the beatbox technique, Rahzel explains it simply comes naturally, not only for him, but for humans in general. "Everybody does the beatbox," he states. "It all goes back to when we were children, when we imitated things we saw on T.V., our mom, our dad, our sisters, whatever. I just took that and ran with it."

One of the few individuals abiding by the old school credo of working your way from the ground up, Rahzel has been learning about the ins and outs of the business since his formative years. As a youngster growing up in New York, he looked up to his cousin Rahim, a founding member of the hip-hop pioneer group Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. Later, as a roadie for the Ultramagnetic MCs, Rahzel carried records, sound tested mikes and watched the legends of the era from the sidelines as they practiced their craft with an honest, blue collar work ethic.

Rahzel whole heartedly agrees his grounding in the roots of the genre has given him a better understanding of its workings. "A lot of people overlook [that Rahim is my cousin] and I try to tell everybody that was my first influence, that's what started me rhymin.' It kind of puts you in a situation where you're able to observe other people's careers and you get to see the do's and don'ts, you know? So, it's like I've had years of training," he explains.

With so many artists sampling sounds almost to the point of absurdity, The Roots remain an anomaly amongst their peers and to a certain extent, Rahzel is quite integral in that distinction. However, he does not fault the actions of his sample-happy peers, arguing creativity, rather than unoriginality, is the basis behind their actions. "I think people have been doin' it for years, but no one's really noticed it," he reasons.

"I can remember when I was young, we'd go into the studio and it was live musicians playing the track with Grandmaster Flash cuttin' on top of it," he reminisces. "This is the way its been from the beginning. Somebody does a loop, it becomes a big hit and all of a sudden it's like nobody plays their own instruments. But when you think about it, the record that they loop is a band. It's always going to be a part of music, 'cause without an instrument, you can't make music – period."

Asked what the future holds, Rahzel asserts that despite his recent solo effort, he is still a member of The Roots and has no plans to leave. "Y2K is [about] just expanding – keepin' it goin.' With The Roots, with Rahzel, it's all about keepin' the creative process goin.' I'm just tryin' to do everything within my means and I'm thankful that I get to be a part of it."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999