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UCLA’s ‘Beatboxing Rhino’ of the night

If you ever find yourself walking across Wilson Plaza late at night, listen closely for the sounds of electronic hip-hop music.

At first listen, the music may sound pre-recorded, but you will quickly notice the absence of any speakers or boomboxes.

The synth-like music actually comes from the vocal chords of Moonsoo Jo, a first-year mechanical engineering student and self-proclaimed beatboxer “Beat Rhino”.

Jo practices in the plaza once, sometimes twice, a day, often preparing routines for Bruin Harmony, a campus a capella group he joined last year.

Mojo caught up with him on a chilly Sunday evening to film the impromptu performance (see below) and find out more about this beatboxing night owl – or should we say rhino?

First things first: The beatboxing sessions usually last between two to three hours. He begins each practice with a vocal warm-up, and then moves on to perfecting a routine or mastering a new sound.

Recently, Jo learned how to imitate the sound of the snare drum. Learning how to manipulate the voice, Jo said, is just like learning to play any other instrument.

“Take guitar, for instance – it’s just like tuning a guitar,” he said. “In your head, you have an idea of what it’s supposed to sound like, you play around with it for a while, feel it out.”

Jo said he receives a lot of quizzical looks from bystanders while practicing. Once and a while, people stop and watch him. Sometimes strangers join him, freestyle-rapping along to his beats.

But usually, it’s just him, a water bottle and the open air.

The spaciousness of Wilson Plaza is what initially drew him to the spot, Jo said.

“To free-style, I need the freedom to move,” he said. “Beatboxing is kind of like exercising – it takes a lot of energy and I can’t ever stay in one place.”

The unbounded, airy environment helps stimulate his creativity, he added.

“There’s no limit to what you can do in beatboxing,” Jo said. “There’s always something new to learn.”

Note: This is a continuation of a Daily Bruin feature series called “UCLA at Night.”

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