A microphone and his voice – that’s all Paris Reed needs.
The 19-year-old is a beatboxer, using only his throat and mouth to mimic drums, bass and guitar. The Chicago native moved to Plano a few years ago with his family with dreams of some day making it big using his unique talent.
Beatboxing originated in the hip-hop era during the 1980s and is a form of vocal percussion where the artist creates instrumental sounds and music using only their mouth. The beatbox sounds can be incorporated with singing and rapping or stand alone by themselves, according to the website humanbeatbox.com.
Reed recently placed fifth in the American Beatbox Championship this fall in New York City, competing with more than 100 beatboxers from around the country.
The competition involves two beatboxers on stage in front of a crowd beatboxing back and forth to a panel of judges. Reed says the objective is to top your opponent but also build off of what they are doing.
“Your main goal is to get your audience into it and feeling it,” he said. “That’s an awesome moment and it gives you more movement. If you see the crowd feeling it you get more hype on stage and it also makes you a little more comfortable. For my elimination round I was very scared going on stage and about 10 seconds in I started hearing the crowd and I just went nuts.”
Reed says he lives for the moment when the crowd gets into it and is feeding off of what he is doing. Unlike with a band, everything Reed is producing comes from him and goes right into a microphone.
“I live for that support,” Reed said. “The focus is to be clean on the drums, powerful and sound loud... have rhythm and mostly have fun.”
Reed always liked music and said he started singing at church choir when he was just 3 years old. He began rapping and making noises with his mouth at 9 years old.
He would enter school talent shows and began beatboxing at age 13. He said after beatboxing at school talent shows, he went on to perform at some venues in Chicago before moving on to competitions.
Growing up in a rough neighborhood on the west side of Chicago, Reed says beatboxing gave him a hobby before his mom moved the family to the western suburbs and eventually to Plano a couple of years ago.
“Everyone gets into those bad areas and my mom didn’t want to be part of that,” he said. “We were just trying to go to school.”
The thing he noticed when he moved out to Kendall County was how quiet it was.
“The silence is good, it’s better than having to watch your back walking down the street,” he said. “I feel like beatboxing has been my medicine. When you’re stressed or feeling down about something a lot of my beatbox friends would tell me to just beatbox, and you realize once you beatbox you can get outside your head.”
Reed adds that Chicago can get a bad rap from the violence that makes daily headlines.
“If you’re from there you have less chance of something happening because everyone knows each other, but there is always that out-of-the-blue moment when something bad can go wrong,” Reed said. “It’s the young gangs, they’re just – their minds are not there.”
Reed said he did well in school growing up, something that could be a liability.
“I was like an outcast. I was weirdly good in school and I was like an honor student,” he said, adding that he likes English and math.
However, his friends were accepting of him, which was unusual, he said.
“People would usually downgrade you for being smart,” he said.
Reed works at Wal-Mart in Plano and will sometimes practice beatboxing at work. He says he tries to quietly beatbox but sometimes he gets weird looks from customers or his fellow employees if they hear him working on a sound.
Reed wants to make a career of beatboxing and says he would some day like to put out an album creating songs by layering his beats and rapping or singing over them. For now Reed is able to post his competition and videos on YouTube and social media and connect with other beatboxers.
He says the community atmosphere and interconnectedness of beatboxers is what keeps him going.
“I like the beatbox family,” he said. “We communicate with each other through beatboxing. Right now I just have my microphone and my hand.”