In some circles, Mike Lackey is a celebrity. The Fort Worth-based beatboxer has elevated his craft far beyond the ’80s-era Fat Boys standard of spit-spit-breath-pose, arms folded. The guy can make noises with his mouth that would make Police Academy’s Michael Winslow take notes –– and Lackey does it in rhythm.
Lackey is considered by those who know to be one of the best beatboxers in the world, consistently placing at the top of national competitions as well as being featured in a commercial for McDonald’s. Yet, with beatboxing still being a largely underground phenomenon, the 25-year-old Fort Worth native is still struggling to get consistently booked for shows.
Lackey got his start in the music scene playing guitar in local hip-hop/rock fusion act Nightschool Ninjas. After parting ways with the band, he often found himself playing his own style of experimental guitar compositions around town. Guitar was his first love, but it wasn’t something he could work at as much as he wanted to.
“When I started beatboxing, I realized I could practice it anywhere,” Lackey said. “It’s not like I could set up my guitar, pedals, and amp at work and write new material. Beatboxing allows me to constantly create. All I need is something to record into [such as a phone], and I’m set.”
But how does a beatboxer gain a following when the craft is mostly looked at as a gimmick? Lackey shook his head and noted the lack of opportunity for gigs nationwide.
“There is a group in New York City called The Beatbox House,” he explained. “They are the most popular. They are on MTV, and they do that kind of shit all the time. That’s the top level. Right underneath that, there’s me and a few other people who get booked on shows a couple of times a month, but there is only a handful of people that are doing it.”
Lackey is on a mission to show that his art isn’t just a gimmick, but, he said, the lack of opportunities for shows keeps the genre from gaining momentum. He still thinks beatboxing has a long way to go before reaching the mainstream.
Lackey also sees a lack of creativity and showmanship in other beatboxer’s routines as a roadblock for the craft, with many artists relying on “one trick.”
“My act is about more than just getting up there and doing five or 10 minutes,” he said. “I can do a 30- to-45-minute set. Most of these guys can’t do half that.”
It is this level of confidence, an attribute that Lackey oozes, that has soured the beatboxer on competing in the major events –– despite his previous success.
Citing a system that is set up to allow a predetermined few to advance through the brackets, Lackey skipped this year’s edition of the American Beatbox Championships, which took place in Brooklyn earlier this month. Lackey is undefeated in previous battles against the 2016 champion, Mark Martin, but Lackey doesn’t think the competition would have been judged fairly.
“I don’t know that ‘rigged’ is the right term,” Lackey said. “I know I am better than [Martin].
With that mindset in place, Lackey has turned his attention to building his brand in other ways. A YouTube search of Lackey’s name turns up dozens of battles from numerous competitions he has entered as well as clips of performances at showcases such as SoFar Sounds’ house shows. Now his plan is to collaborate with other artists live and in videos to grow awareness of his act and other scenesters that he respects –– he tossed around some big ideas about possibly collaborating with local accordion master Abel Casillas, among others.
But viral videos and a presence across social media platforms can take an artist only so far. Lackey said that only playing live will get him to the next level of success.
“I’m a live performer first,” Lackey said. “There are very few people in the world that can do what I do anywhere near as well as I do it. I’m going to stand out. I’m going to find a way to get it out there, get myself shows.
“When people see me live, they understand,” he added. “They reach for their phone to record me. That’s what I’m all about.”