Scratch The Embodiment of Instrumentation

Mention "the fifth element" to any hip-hop head and they'll likely interpret it as beat-boxing. Yet despite being a vital staple of any freestyle cipher, the emulation of drumbeats and other sounds has taken a backseat role against the culture's acknowledged foundation of rap, graffiti, DJing and B-boying. By recording an album, Scratch has already gone further than many practitioners; the fact that he and Rahzel, who also recorded a beatbox album, are affiliated members of the Roots is highly ironic. However, Scratch takes a totally different approach. While Rahzel unwisely tried to turn himself into an MC on his album, Scratch sticks to spitting high-hats and snares and lets some of his friends handle the microphone techniques. Given the origins of the beatbox, it is not surprising that many of these tracks play like extended freestyle sessions, and the sequencing of the album could have helped in spreading them out over the duration. Nevertheless, Scratch gets a chance to shine, and even though it seems he's doomed to play the background on his own release, he still manages to construct beats, like the cascading drumbeats on "Com'n Alive," that are more interesting than the verse being dispersed. But he's not content to do just the expected, and some of the best moments come when Scratch begins to expand the horizons of what is expected from a beat-boxer. On "3 Barstoolz Away," he accompanies a spoken word piece about bar flirtation, and "Breath Of Fresh Air" finds Scratch combining with live instrumentation, anchoring an Afrobeat-inspired jam session. But it's the collaborations with the vocalists that like to stretch their voices in different ways throughout that are perhaps the most memorable. "Floetry" consists of a spoken word poet and a scatty singer combining beautifully with Scratch on the pining "What Happ'n," and Bilal gets to flaunt his jazz background on "Square One." Although there could have been more of a balance with the collaborations with the vocalists and MCs, and fewer skits, Scratch's effort to advance an underrated art form should make pioneers like the late Buffy the Human Beatbox (of the Fat Boys) and Doug E Fresh proud. (Ropeadope)