For Trung Bao, everything changed in middle school.
At the time, Bao still lived in Vietnam, when he caught a show by American beatboxer and former Roots member Rahzel.
“That moment was it for me,” he says. Bao returned home and began honing his own vocal percussion technique. “Basically, I learned everything from YouTube in my bedroom.”
Today, Bao, who now studies graphic design and visual arts at Pacific Northwest College of Art, is one of the world’s premier new-school beatboxers. He competed on the world stage for the first time in 2015, shortly after making his way to Washington state as an exchange student in high school. By that time, he’d been beatboxing for four years, developing a style inspired by the percussive EDM of producer Flux Pavilion and the vocal tics of the Vietnamese language.
He became the first Vietnamese citizen to win a wild card to an international beatbox championship, and though Bao didn’t win, the competition pitted him against the very same beatboxers he idolized online, and put him on the community’s radar. The next year, he finished second in the American Beatbox Championships.
But what really brought Bao international recognition were the many videos of his battles, recorded and published by the beatbox-specific streaming platform Swissbeatbox. In the past year, Bao began working with the company to create competitions in his home country of Vietnam.
“I think beatbox and the beatbox community are growing so fast that in a few years it will be huge,” he says. “And I’m so damn excited about it.”