The human metronome answers his own question.
“So what is a professional beat boxer?” he poses.
“It’s something like this. You ready?” he asks rhetorically.
And with that Jay R Beatbox’s mouth becomes a percussive instrument.
He begins by mimicking a series of snare rolls — crack! crack! crack! Then comes the kick drum and the downbeat — say the phrase “boots and cats” focusing only on the consonants if you want to try along at home — followed by swiftly enunciating the letter ‘T,’ which approximates the chatter of a hi-hat.
Beatbox rolls them all into a nimble-tongued rhythmic bed, his hands slicing the air, punctuating the beat, as he gives an impromptu demonstration of how he earned his surname.
A beatbox ambassador
“To this day, that’s one of my intros,” says Beatbox, a linebacker-sized presence in a black ball cap and matching T-shirt. “Then the first thing that comes after that is, ‘Oh, you sound like the guy from ‘Police Academy.’ ”
A woman sitting across from Beatbox at the PublicUs cafe downtown giggles in agreement upon overhearing that last line.
While beatboxing dates back to the dawn of hip-hop, and was a staple in the repertoire of ’80s rap favorites such as the Fat Boys and Biz Markie, it’s not featured as prominently or regularly as it once was.
This is where Beatbox comes in.
He’s something of a local ambassador for the art form — one of the rare performers of his ilk who can actually make a living at it — having played Life is Beautiful, opened for the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and Jazzy Jeff, jammed with rock bands and done innumerable private corporate and convention gigs.
Ready for battle
Now, he’s taking things farther with the inaugural Las Vegas Beatbox Battle, where nearly two dozen competitors from the region will vie for a $1,000 grand prize.
The first of what is intended to be an annual, all-ages event takes place from 4 to 9 p.m. Saturday at Downtown Container Park.
The competition is a culmination of years dedicated to the craft for Beatbox, the 31-year-old son of professional boxer and former Olympian Jorge Amparo (Beatbox’s given name is Jorge Amparo Jr. His stage handle, Jay R, represents the “J” and “R” in Jr.)
Beginning at age 15, Amparo taught himself how to beatbox with the aid of a now-defunct peer-to-peer file-sharing service.
“All I had was Limewire and a bad computer,” he says. “I used to wait hours on two or three different tracks to download.”
He was particularly enamored with “If Your Mother Only Knew,” a cut from former Roots member and beatboxing titan Rahzel.
“I was like, ‘How does he say, “If your mother only knew” and do the beat at the same time?’ ” Amparo recalls.
He’d eventually master the tune.
“You learn that, and everything else comes easy,” Amparo says.
‘You live it’
To be a legit beatboxer requires the hip-hop equivalent of a singer’s perfect pitch, the ability to discern a given musical note by ear.
Amparo possesses a similar trait, albeit rhythmically.
He honed the skill by challenging himself to discern a song’s BPM (beats per minute) within five seconds of hearing it.
“That was the test for me growing up, ‘How quickly can I pick it up? How quickly can I hop on a beat and start riding it?’ ” he says.
Nowadays, it’s all become second nature for Amparo — even while immersed in conversation, he can swiftly pick up the beat to the song playing in the background on the cafe’s stereo system.
“I’m always, in my head, always listening to different sounds,” he says.
It’s not something he can just turn off.
“You can’t,” he says. “You live it.”
He takes a beat.
“You learn to live it.”
Contact Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.