Jason Tom / Jason Tom looks like any other enthusiastic, fast-talking Chinatown hipster. But the 27-year-old McKinley High grad has an unusual talent. He can emit noises from his body that, probably, no one else on the island is capable of emitting.
The art of beatboxing–making drum noises with just one’s mouth –isn’t exactly the largest sub-culture in Hawaii. That’s something Tom wants to change.
Tom began doing it at the age of 4, teaching himself beatboxing while listening to a cassette tape of, strangely enough, Michael Jackson’s “Bad.” He decided to record himself to make his own version of the song, but he wasn’t content with just singing it.
“I wanted to play the record and own it, so basically I got an audio cassette, recorded myself and just did it. I would sing the melody of the rhythm, then I would do the scat of it, then the inward snare… That was just my way of expressing music.”
It wasn’t until high school that Tom realized what he was doing at home by himself was actually an artform.
“I didn’t realize it was cool until my classmates in school would keep looking back at me while I’m beatboxing by myself doing classwork, and they’d be like, ‘Is that a radio?’ and I’m like, ‘No, that’s not a radio, that’s me.’ That’s when it hit me it’s not something everyone can do.”
From that point, Tom began investigating the sounds coming from his body and he discovered other beatboxers on TV and the Internet. He began experimenting with performance, doing open mic nights in the dance, hip-hop and poetry slam scenes. What sets him apart is the incorporation of dance into beatboxing, especially during his trademark Michael Jackson routine.
“I want to take the art further than anyone else has in Hawaii and share that art because I love doing it. I definitely want to pioneer it in Hawaii and do stuff with it that no one else has done.”
He eventually made contacts that led to opening for Michael Winslow, Quest Crew and the Jabbawockeez, as well as live performances with Makana, Kamuela Kahoano, Lapwing, Bridget Gray, Pimpbot, Lovechile, Missing Dave, Kings of Spade, Kealoha, Hawaiian Ryan and Jake Shimabukuro. He recorded with Faioso on her album Nobody Owns Me. He even does workshops in the community, teaching beatboxing to youth.
And with all that lip and mouth manipulation, yes, there’s a whole lot of spitting going on.
“Spitting comes with the territory of beatboxing. You gonna see spit flying. People tell me to spit! Just the other night I walked out of my building and these kids were like, ‘Can you drop us a sample?’ and I busted a sample, and even though I was spitting in their faces, they loved it. They were going nuts!”
Tom will be performing at this Tuesday’s edition of Kaleidoscope at thirtyninehotel in the hopes of raising funds to travel to Brooklyn, New York, for the 2010 International Human Beatbox Convention. To raise money for his travel expenses, he’s selling a striking Jason Tom “On the Beat!” T-shirt with a hand-drawn design by local artist JKS.
“I see on YouTube all these beatboxers from around the globe and I’m like, I gotta get out there! I need to go where the heart of the action is and bring that experience back to Hawaii.”