When the human beatbox first caught the public eye in the early '80s, it was treated (as with rap in toto) like a fad -- ephemeral, ready to disappear with the next strong breeze (or another "fad"). However, it survived, and Philly's Scratch (born Kyle Jones) emerged as one of its masters. A no-frills percussion machine born to replicate the backbeat sound, he helped to keep the art form alive into its third decade. Born in Camden, NJ, one of the United States' most violent cities of the late 20th century, Scratch moved to Philadelphia in his youth, both to escape the violence and to make his mark on the city's fertile hip-hop scene. While showing off his skills in the mid-'90s with the local group Schoolz of Thought, Scratch caught the eye of Philly's chieftains and leading international hip-hop innovators, the Roots crew. He earned a showcase track "? Vs. Scratch" on the 1996 smash LP Illadelph Halflife, where he battled the Roots' world-class drummer ?uestlove to a draw, and toured with the group as DJ and as second-chair beatboxer (behind Rahzel).
By 1998, Scratch joined the Roots as a full-time member, a position he would hold for two of the group's most acclaimed records, Things Fall Apart and Phrenology. He released the well-received The Embodiment of Instrumentation in 2002, one of the first all-beatbox records, and the following year left the group to pursue his own sound. While he displayed his talent in fields ranging from pop to jazz over the next six years, he didn't release a sophomore solo effort until 2009's Loss 4 Words. A diverse record aiming for a newer, more universal sound, featuring guest shots ranging from the ubiquitous Kanye West to fellow Philadelphian Musiq Soulchild to alt-rock gadfly Damon Albarn, the record furthered Scratch's rep as a musical explorer. ~ Jason Thurston