Verbal Ase has made a name for himself performing in the New York City subway system since 2011.
Ase has been a staple underground, where he beat boxes popular songs the audience will recognize. When you mention subway performers, the first acts that come to mind are the many break dancing groups. Like break dancing, beat boxing is an element of Hip Hop that an even smaller niche of people do. Verbal Ase is one of those people keeping the beat boxing tradition alive, while adding his own spin on it.
Where did you get your name Verbal Ase from?
The Ase stands for Adym Stevens Evans, which is my real name. When you beat box it’s a verbal thing.
Where are you from and how did you get started?
I’m originally from Montclair, CA. I moved from CA to Las Vegas in 1996. I started beat boxing in Vegas when I was in high school. I always made sound effects as a kid. When I would play with my toys, I would mimic the sounds from all the old school video games. My sounds were different from the other kids. I started showing people in high school and word spread about me. A lot of people suggested to me that I should beat box professionally. I was one of the nerdy kids in school until I started beat boxing. It brought out my personality. Once I started beat boxing, I would figure out how to incorporate those sounds into my act. The first sound I incorporated was the cricket sound and the response to that was great. I started doing more like the fly sound, the cell phone, voice impersonations, and other sound effects.
Who were your influences?
Michael Winslow from Police Academy , Bobby McFerrin, a well-known vocalist from New York, and Will Smith from watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
Why perform in New York City’s subway system?
I came to New York City in 2008 and did a show in New Victory Theater. I performed there for three weeks with a break dancing group called Knucklehead Zoo. I got invited back to NYC in 2011 by Kid Lucky for a beat boxing festival (Annual American Human Beatbox Festival) at La Mama Theater. It was all expenses paid and I performed there. There were so many beat boxers there. The sound effects I do made me stand out. A filmmaker was shooting a documentary on a Japanese beat boxer was at the festival and invited me to perform with him in the NYC subway system. It turned out to be great, I made like $90 in a few hours. At that time, I was working for Marshall’s earning a small paycheck. I had stopped beat boxing for a while. When I saw the amount of money I could make—which was comparable or more than what I was making at Marshall’s—I decided to keep performing in the subway system. People noticed and appreciated what I could do. It felt really good. They gave me money for my skills. In 2011, I only had a microphone and speaker to perform with.
How do you choose which stations to perform in and what has been the reaction from subway riders on your act?
After performing in the subway stations for a while, I started performing in the subway cars. A viral video of me performing in the cars was cool, but it was and still is illegal. I found out about this program called Music Under New York, where musicians can perform legally. I didn’t apply for the first few years, but I applied and made it through the auditions. I got my permit. To perform, you have to call the Music Under New York office and tell them where, when, and how long you want to perform. I try to perform at the big stations.
What’s been the reaction from other performers in the subway system to your act?
I’ve been good with everyone. I was referred to the talent agency I work with (Allen Dalton Productions) by an electric violin player (Lorenzo Laroc) I met while performing in the subway system. He’s a pioneer of performing in the subways. I think all the performers know me, they’re all friendly.
What type of equipment do you use to perform?
Over time, I used the donations to get better equipment and improve the quality of the show. I got Bose speakers, L1 Model II, a custom podium with a name display, Boss RC 505 Loopstation. It can loop your voice, beats, and you are able to record on it. It helps me do cover songs, and use beats. I also use Korg Kaos pad, Crush Sounds for drums, effects, and bass. It makes it sound more musical. I try to use different machines and test them out on different people. You don’t need a laptop for the machines, you just plug the microphone and start the loopstation. It makes my beat box sound more musical. I don’t use a laptop because I want to be different and I want to take beat boxing to the next level. I never want to use a laptop because if it crashes that’s your whole show. I want to keep the live aspect to the show, that’s my personal preference. I don’t want to play a song and just have people dance to it.
How has your act changed from when you first started?
What I’ve been doing recently letting more of my personality out. My comfort is based on the audience’s reaction. There have been a couple of times I’ve had to handle hecklers. When beat boxing to break the awkward silence, sometimes I do voice changes, mix music, crack jokes, basically be an entertainer. Beat boxing opened doors to all my other talents.
How do you choose which songs to beat box to?
I started a lot of my own stuff, but I noticed people started reacting to my beat box cover songs. I do that to connect with the audiences more. I try to stay away from Top 40 songs. I do cater to what the crowd wants to hear. So I do the famous Beverly Hills Cop theme song, Ozzy Ozzbourne’s Crazy Train. My Crazy Train performance is probably my most popular routine. I came up with Crazy Train, it’s like body percussion mixed with beat boxing. I do that to try and separate myself from other beat boxers.
How was performing in Madison Square Garden and in places like Qatar?
To this day, MSG is the biggest group of people I’ve ever performed for. I felt like Eminem in 8 Mile with a lot of emotions, nervousness, excitement before I performed. I didn’t know they were going to show a documentary about me on Garden Vision before my performance. I walked to the middle of the court as the crowd was looking at the documentary. Then all eyes were on me, but once I started performing the nervousness went away. Once I was done, I got a big roar from the crowd and I wanted that feeling to last forever. That kind of thing warms my soul, it felt really good. When I went to Qatar in 2006, I was with the break dancing group I performed with at Victory Theater. We went to Doha and performed for the troops stationed out there. It was my first time out of the country. I don’t think I was as serious with my act as I am today.
What’s the reaction from the Hip Hop community to your act?
It’s different. A lot of people ask if I make beats. In Las Vegas, I did a ton of underground Hip Hop shows. Most of the stuff I get booked for are kids’ birthday parties. I got hired by local Dunkin Donuts franchises to bring people into their stores. I’m similar to a DJ, but my act is very different. Dunkin Donuts told me what to say, but they let me perform it and I put my own spin on it. I haven’t done too many Hip Hop shows. I did perform twice at Hot 97’s Mic Check Wednesdays, DJ Spynfo invited me. The first time I just performed with a mic, the second time I went with all my equipment. I mostly perform at Bar Mitzvahs and other kinds of kids’ parties. I’m open to all events, I just don’t do one category of music, I do a little bit of everything.
Where can people catch your shows?
I usually perform at major subways stations like 14th Street, 34th Street, Grand Central, Penn Station. I don’t usually perform upstairs. My schedule is on social media sometimes in New York.
Any upcoming tours and where can people find your videos?
I would like to go on tour. I want to go to different parts of the country and the world. I’ve met people from places like France, Japan, etc., who say that I would do great in those countries. There are so many videos of me on different social media websites and places like the Huffington Post.
How can people book you for a performance?
Anyone interested can book me at VerbalAse.com.
Photo Credit: Adam A. Corre