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Peachy to friends, Peach to competitors

Peter Choi ’20 to compete in the American Beatbox Championships, ranked the 14th qualifier

It started three years ago with a faded orange hat and an effort to bring a stoic first-year out of his shell. The result was a stage name that Peter Choi ’20 will perform under at the Brooklyn Bazaar Nov. 10 armed only with a microphone.

Alone in the basement of Wayland House, Choi set up a camera and took a step back. He introduced himself as ‘Peach’ and proceeded to perform a two-minute beatboxing routine he had been perfecting for months. Six minutes before the Oct. 5 deadline, he uploaded his submission for the American Beatbox Championships and took a shot at breaking into the elite level of competitive vocal percussion.

Last November, Choi dove headfirst into the competitive beatboxing scene with only slight knowledge and no experience. The 2017 American Beatbox Championships was his first live beatboxing event, and he approached the open mic elimination round with little more than a rough draft of a competitive routine. Choi didn’t advance to the top 32 but left the competition with fresh sounds, more precise delivery and the newfound understanding that top performers didn’t just wing it on stage. They prepare “carefully crafted and structured” arrangements and strategically maneuver the microphone throughout their routines to control sounds like whistles, zippers and hums.

After jamming at the competition with some of the icons of the artform, Choi felt like “everything leveled up.”

“I definitely thought that I was really good before I went to last year’s championships, and then I was very rudely awakened to how large even the American scene was,” he said, and noted his struggles with mic technique the first time around. “But (the competition) was great, it was really eye-opening.”

A gap year midway through his Brown career allowed him time to polish the skills he learned from the veterans, and he fully committed to music. He practiced beatboxing daily and switched from studying engineering to pursuing the computer music and multimedia track in the music department. After the brief hiatus, Choi reclaimed his spot in the Jabberwocks and used the group’s performances as opportunities to compose new routines that accompanied the group’s a cappella arrangements.

Smash Sounds, a smaller competition Choi attended in New York this past summer, gave Peach a chance to showcase the fruits of his labor as he survived the initial elimination round and reached the head-to-head battles before falling to the eventual champion.

Since getting a taste of the beatbox community and its competitive opportunities, Choi hopes to keep battling for as long as he can. But competing wasn’t always the avenue he envisioned for his beatboxing career. Long before Choi had heard of any beatboxing championships, he stumbled across a video of Australian beatboxer Tom Thum doing an unconventional TEDx Talk. It features little lecturing but lots of vocal manipulation, and is a popular TEDx Talk clip with 67 million views. A 17-year-old Choi was enthralled. He spent the next few months learning from YouTube videos and practicing the basic “B,” “T” and “Pf” sounds to bolster his high school a cappella group’s performances. Within a month, he could imitate the kick drum, a hi-hat cymbal and a snare drum well enough to keep rhythm for his fellow singers.

But Choi wasn’t satisfied with merely conquering the basics and went beyond the drum set to shape his own style — one that leans more toward the melodies and harmonies associated with musicality than the speed and complexity of technical beatboxing. It’s that quality which prompted fellow Jabberwock Caymus Price ’20 to call Choi’s creations “Mozart-esque” and resulted in Peach achieving a 14th seed going into the American Beatbox Championship.

Distinct from the qualification process used in previous years, the 2018 American Beatbox Championships required hopefuls to post a video showcasing their skills. Rather than allow every interested beatboxer to show up to the competition for a large elimination round, a panel of judges reviewed the submissions and selected the top 32 beatboxers from 115 applicants. Those chosen to vie for a chance at the title in New York will perform a 90-second routine on the first day of competition to determine the 16 moving on to day two.

After the judges cut the field in half and reseed the competitors based on day-one scores, the beatboxers face off in single-elimination battles where they will be judged on their stage presence and the originality, musicality, technicality and flow of their routines. Each beatboxer gets two 90-second rounds to impress the panel and one-up their opponent with the winner advancing until only two remain in the fight for the national title.

Choi is far more prepared than he was for his previous two competitions, he said.  He has around nine routines in mind this time around whereas he freestyled his way through the 2017 championship and Smash Sounds  — but he waves away the notion that he will breeze through his first performance. When Price alerted the crowd at the Jabberwocks concert over Family Weekend to Choi’s national ranking and qualification to the American Beatbox Championships, Peach’s reaction was far from boastful.

“The first thing he said after the concert was ‘Why did you have to tell everyone that? It’s not that big of a deal,’” Price remembered. “And then he kept trying to downplay it like ‘Not everyone goes to this competition. Some people are just too good. They don’t even apply.’”

It’s true that a portion of the beatbox community chooses not to compete, but Choi is rising in the ranks of those who do. His place as 14th seed indicates that the judges feel he is in the top half of the field coming into the competition, and if he showcases more of the musicality the experts appreciated in his submission, he has a chance at making the cut.

The artists who engage with Choi’s music on a consistent basis are confident that he has what it takes to separate himself from other competitors as he stands out among past and present Jabberwocks.

“Musically, he is unlike anybody we have ever had in the group,” former Jabberwock Brendan George ’18 said. “I can say with confidence we have never had a beatboxer like Choi, and certainly not a beatboxer and vocalist like Choi.”

Choi credits George for first shortening his full name into “Peachy,” but George “gives Peter a lot of credit because he has now fully embraced it and has made Peach into what you know it to be today.”

The beatbox community may not be fully acquainted yet, but it will soon become very familiar with a 21-year-old from New Jersey, an American up-and-comer and a much-improved competitor threatening to shake up national rankings come Nov. 10 in New York.

He’s Peachy to friends, Peach to competitors and 14th-ranked beatboxer in the country to everyone who has yet to be introduced.



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