Interview with a Jewish Ivy League beatboxer (as seen on YouTube)

Jeremy Liss and I both grew up in Michigan, with a day school and a Jewish summer camp in common. The similarities mostly end there: Jeremy is younger, more mild-mannered and a whippersnapper Ivy Leaguer (a Columbia graduate currently in his first year at Yale Law School).

But the thing that most sets Jeremy apart from the pack wasn’t brought to my attention until the last night of Hanukkah, when a video of him beatboxing at the Yale Law School Winter Recital was posted to YouTube. Naturally, I had some questions for him, and he was kind enough to oblige via Facebook chat at the late hour that I reached him.

JTA:  Jeremy – this is eminently bloggable. Care to provide some background on how old you were when you picked up this habit/skill of beatboxing?


JEREMY: Thanks! Sounds cool.

As a kid, I used to day dream frequently and provide sound effects for the stories I imagined. A friend showed me a beatboxing video in the 7th grade, and it seemed like a natural application of my “skills.”

I started practicing more seriously as an undergrad at Columbia, and my plan is to try out next year for the U.S. National Championships.

Have you come across Orthobox? Do you consider him a collaborator or competition? (promise this won’t go on forever, just a couple Q’s to sauce up my blog post)

Oh, definitely. He’s qualified for nationals twice — that’s top 16 in the country.

I don’t know him personally, so I can’t properly call him a “collaborator.” But I’d certainly welcome the opportunity to cypher with him.

Who else is on your short-list of worthy Jewish beatboxers to watch?

Obviously, Matisyahu has been dropping beats for over a decade. My friend Jordan Fontheim is a sick beatboxer. He’s beatboxed all over the world with the Rochester Yellow Jackets, and was  even on The Sing Off several years ago with his group. Ben Folds said, “It was like you brought the wind.”

Matisyahu's beatboxing skills were on display in 2004, when the then-Hasidic Reggae star performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. (Screenshot, ABC)

Matisyahu’s beatboxing skills were on display in 2004, when the then-Hasidic Reggae star performed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. (Screenshot, ABC)

I’m going to sleep now. If you have any more questions, just shoot me a message and I’ll follow up in the morning.

Last one: In your mind, is there a specific “type” of beatboxer? If someone closed their eyes and heard your routine, would you forgive them for not picturing a … well, a 1L Yale Law School student named Jeremy Liss?

There is no specific type of beatboxer, unless you’re talking about musical style. If you go on youtube and check out the best beatboxers, you’ll see that they hail from all over the world: KRNFX from Canada, Reeps One from the UK, Dharni from Singapore, etc. It’s a truly global community.

Thanks, Jeremy. And on behalf of Jewish a cappella nerds everywhere, thanks for giving us something this Hanukkah to supplement our Maccabeats intake.

haha, my pleasure

Adam Soclof is JTA’s Associate Director of Outreach and Partnerships and coordinates presentations and advertising/marketing opportunities for the news agency. A digital archives enthusiast, Adam has authored more than 300 blog posts for The JTA Archive Blog and was responsible for its social media presence and weekly newsletter, This Week in Jewish History. Adam has presented at several conferences in the form of game shows, interactive social media campaigns and Powerpoint presentations. Follow him on Twitter: @hypersem