A Hip-Hop Flutist? Perhaps every hip-hop music can name his or her favorite old "school" beat boxer, can spot skills on the turn tables, and knows that no matter what, you've got to pump up the bass. But do you know what fluteboxing is? Host Michel Martin speaks to Nathan Lee, a master fluteboxer, about why he mixes beatboxing and the flute.
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A Hip-Hop Flutist?

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A Hip-Hop Flutist?

A Hip-Hop Flutist?

A Hip-Hop Flutist?

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Perhaps every hip-hop music can name his or her favorite old "school" beat boxer, can spot skills on the turn tables, and knows that no matter what, you've got to pump up the bass. But do you know what fluteboxing is? Host Michel Martin speaks to Nathan Lee, a master fluteboxer, about why he mixes beatboxing and the flute.

MICHEL MARTIN, host:

Now we want to talk about beats. In the beginning, hip-hop sampled beats from other records, and then MC's came along and made a name for themselves as beat box artists. Beatboxing is, as you may know, a kind of vocal percussion. More recently, beats have been produced on computers and then manipulated as the artist sees fit.

But now, a new artist is bringing the beat from a new and somewhat unexpected source: the flute. His name is Nathan Lee, and he practices what he calls flute box. And Nathan's joins us now from our London bureau, and he's brought his flute along.

Welcome. Thank you for joining us.

Mr. NATHAN LEE (Master Fluteboxer): Oh, no. Nice to be here.

MARTIN: Now, Nathan, for those who don't know what you're talking about, why don't you just give us a taste?

Mr. LEE: Okay.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: Well, all right. Excuse me.

Mr. LEE: Hey.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: That was hot. How did this happen? Was this a happy accident, or what -how did you figure that out?

Mr. LEE: Well I've been beatboxing - I was beatboxing at school. Over here, we call it secondary school. Then, yeah, no, when I was about 20, I got a flute, and that was that. And I always just listened to jazz and hip-hop and everything else.

MARTIN: You didn't pick up the flute till you were 20?

Mr. LEE: Yeah. No, that's right. Yeah.

MARTIN: What gave you the idea to put the two together?

Mr. LEE: Well, I don't know. I just - it wasn't so much an idea. I don't think it's like a conscious sort of thing. It just sort of happened, I think, and it was just like the way I played the instrument, I guess.

MARTIN: And you first were fluteboxing in performance, how did people react? Did they just go crazy, or did they go what? What?

Mr. LEE: Yeah. No. I mean, I got a good reaction. I wasn't - didn't realize that anyone would like it, but it's good. And then, I mean, it sort of makes sense. When you're next to the speaker boxes, you can hear the sub base and you can hear the base. You can feel it. So it was - it makes sense.

MARTIN: Your background kind of lends itself to fusion, in a way.

Mr. LEE: Yeah. I think so. Yeah.

MARTIN: Does that seem fair?

Mr. LEE: Yeah. I mean, I suppose it is. I come from a mixed background. I'm mixed race and…

MARTIN: You have South Asian and Scottish roots.

Mr. LEE: That's right. That's right. Yeah. And…

MARTIN: South Asian by way of India.

Mr. LEE: Yeah, by way of…

MARTIN: Half that, and then half Scottish.

Mr. LEE: …by way of India, and I have family all over the place, in Tanzania, Singapore. Yeah.

MARTIN: Yeah. And so you think maybe just the idea of introducing various elements comes, you know, just part of the deal - part of the package, right?

Mr. LEE: Yeah. I guess. I mean it's just it's like hip-hop and jazz, it's just closely related, and I think you're going to see a closer relationship between the two. Or I'd like to see that.

MARTIN: How did you fall in love with hip-hop?

Mr. LEE: Well, I think it's just one of those things where I think it's got something to say for everyone. I mean, how can you not love hip-hop?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: I mean…

MARTIN: Oh, I don't know. They're…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: I mean - oh, no, no. You probably - yeah, yeah right. I know you got its…

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: There are some.

Mr. LEE: You've got its critics, and, like, a lot of people don't like the way it's gone. And I can understand that. But hip-hop, to me, is progression of jazz, and I love it all, really.

MARTIN: And I don't see too many jazz artists with jeans sagging around their butts and watching their tidy whites like I see on your YouTube video. So I'm just saying, not a lot.

Mr. LEE: Right. Yeah, I know. I hear you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: I hear you. Well, I've got a belt now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Ah, Yes. Because you've matured, right? You got a belt?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: Well, I got a belt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You collaborated with the group Prodigy, which is a multi-platinum electronic group both here in the U.S. and in the U.K. How did that come about?

Mr. LEE: I was doing a sort of a - where was it? It was the after party for the Prodigy. I was doing it in Brixton Academy, and I was doing the sound check, and then Liam, one of the guys from the Prodigy came up and basically he just liked my stuff and so, yeah, he asked me to do some stuff with him. I was, you know, I was honored. Really honored.

MARTIN: I just want to play a little bit of you and the Prodigy at work. This is from a live appearance on BBC Radio 1.

Mr. LEE: Oh yeah, wicked.

MARTIN: And let's just take a listen and hear a little bit. Here it is.

(Soundbite of music)

PRODIGY: (Rapping) I got the poison. I got the remedy. I got the pulsating, rhythmical remedy. I got the poison. I got the remedy. I got the pulsating, rhythmical remedy.

MARTIN: How's it sound?

Mr. LEE: Yeah. Nah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: I haven't heard that in a while. I haven't heard that in a while.

MARTIN: Sometimes when people kind of advance a genre, they meet a lot of resistance. It's like, what are you doing? Like when you find, say, gospel artists who bring hip-hop into gospel, they found resistance. That doesn't seem to be your story, from what I'm hearing. What do you think it means? You just think it means that all things are open now, or what?

Mr. LEE: Yeah, I suppose that it just shows that the instruments, the tools we have, it's just another way of expressing, you know, who the person is, the player. And there's a lot of things which I suppose when you grow up in London you relate to hip-hop, and some of the things around you that you hear about in hip-hop are around you in London. And so the person becomes like what he plays. And so hip-hop exists, and so I suppose it was just a matter of time before the flute became more hip-hop. Does that make any sense?

MARTIN: It makes absolute sense. Can we hear a little bit more before we let you go?

Mr. LEE: Yeah, of course.

MARTIN: Will you play a little for us?

Mr. LEE: Oh, yeah. No.

(Soundbite of song, "Rockit")

MARTIN: Nathan Flutebox Lee is currently touring the U.K., performing the flutebox. He was kind enough to join us from our studios in London.

Nathan, thank you so much. Good luck to you.

Mr. LEE: Oh, thanks a lot, mate. Take care.

(Soundbite of music)

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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