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Locals Only: : The Art of Noise

Chestah T puts his music where his mouth is

By Mildred C. Fallen · September 10th, 2003 · Locals Only
  Chestah T
Dale M. Johnson

Chestah T

Are you still down? Remember me? If beat-boxing could speak for itself, perhaps we would be entertaining these questions as food for thought. Once upon a time, long before Hip Hop became sanitized for corporate protection, beat-boxing was Guerilla Funk. It opened more ciphers than a decoder ring and was the wind beneath a wack emcee's wings. While pulses still race to the opening clicks from Doug E. Fresh when hearing "La-Di-Da-Di," many now see beat-boxing as a ghost of Hip-Hop past. Often dismissed like the relative you don't speak of in mixed company, it probably will never enjoy the same commercial success as Rap. Nevertheless, thanks to dedicated heads like Rahzel, Scratch, Biz Markie and Kenny Muhummad, this rhythmic ectoplasm is slowly spilling back onto the mainstream's consciousness. These days the beat is infectious even to the likes of those who don't identify with Hip Hop.

Cincinnati's own Chestah T (aka Terry Alexander) is a human beat-box artist who started out making the most of lunchtime at Walnut Hills Junior High by entertaining hungry emcees who thrived off beef.

Since then, he's popped up everywhere on the local scene, from his radio show on WAIF in the early '90s to deactivating into a beat-box with wonder twin, Abiyah. Bastardized at times by Hip Hop's rigid definitions of "legitimacy," the two are nerds of a feather who have risen above their ashes of rejection as phoenixes. As the perfect backdrop for Abiyah's melodic brand of Funk known as "Floetry," Chestah booms above the din of idle chatter, luring drunk alternative music lovers with his own brand of beats that are virtually sonic and organically perfect.

Big lips can be a beat-boxer's best asset. Chestah's lips are big and robust, vacuuming from the premise sideline residue standing in his way for the last 15 years. They bitch-smack emcees into giving their best delivery and make those with two left feet wind up their waists. Barely 30, his countenance is weathered from a constant intense expression, which is ever present until he performs. He described the intensity of needing to perform with a fervor that almost left spit on me.

"Beat-boxing is like, you got to hear the beat. You're trapped ... you have no music, you have no instruments, you have no electricity," he says. "You have nothing but you in an empty room and you have to deliver the music at all costs. That's how it feels when it comes from me, it's like if you don't deliver it, you will burst. Forget the microphone, forget the crowd, it's like ... the beat is in you and has to come out."

As of late, T has been busy touring as a permanent fixture in Abiyah's band, as well as collaborating with some of the local music scene's elite. In addition, he's also working with Hip-Hop network, Pass The Mic, as a self-proclaimed Hip-Hop enthusiast, recruiting new talent and performing in the shows at Top Cats. Moreover, his professional resume shows that his talents also lean toward audio and video production. When asked how he categorizes himself -- is he an emcee, a beat-box artist or a DJ? -- Chestah says he sees himself as, simply, "Hip Hop."

"Not that I'm the only one who's Hip Hop," he clarifies. "These are people who take the worst of something, and take something that somebody else may have forgotten about or thrown away, rearrange it and turn it into something beautiful and expressive. Anyone who does that, to me, is Hip Hop."

Like beat junkie Napoleon of local group IsWhat?!, Chestah is also showing people that Hip Hop can cross-pollinate with any genre of music and still be Hip Hop. After hearing him, groups from every genre across the map want to be blessed with Chestah's beat. Taking his newfound appreciation in stride, he explains why beat boxing was never intended to be mainstream.

"Beat-boxing isn't subtle. It's either in the background or foreground," he says. "The whole thing about beat-boxing is that it's very hard to taint (with) capitalism. You can do it, but it would be so obvious."

Who's to say? Fifteen years ago when Terry Alexander became Chestah, it wasn't obvious that Rap was headed for worldwide fame and appreciation. Now it has it's own Grammy categories. Perhaps beat-boxing will make enough noise and get people listening again. ©



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