We recently met up with professional beatboxer Stevie Soul, who is also a person who stutters. As a young child, Stevie used stuttering to transform into an award-winning artist. You can check out some of Stevie’s video on his website, and read his interview below!
National Stuttering Association: Tell us a little about yourself. Where do you live, and what do you do?
Stevie: I’m 28, I live in Detroit, Michigan, and I’m a professional beatboxer. When I was a kid, as soon as I could talk up until about high school, I would stutter so bad, that I would struggle to speak and weird sounds would come out, like clicks and pops. As a way to teach myself to speak, I would arrange these funny sounds into beats and patterns. It gave me structure and a little bit of rhythm. I used that as a technique to understand sentence structure and a beat to talk to, and then I discovered I could beatbox.
I kept doing it – it was my technique to help me speak better. I kept developing and growing and stuck with it. I became really good at it when I was young…fast forward to current day, and it helps me overcome and not stutter as much. Kids would pick on me for not being able to speak, but then I found out that they were the same ones asking me to do that “thing that I do.” It was an incredible transformation – even my brothers who would pick on me before would now ask me to do this thing. They were amazed to see that I somehow figured out a way to pull it all off. My parents were both immigrants and spoke English, although not that well, so I did what I could to figure this out on my own but with their support. Once I figured out music and beatboxing became my voice, it’s what I’ve been doing ever since.
My friends started signing me up for talent competitions, and I found out this was something I wanted to do for a career. I researched what beatboxing was, the contribution it has had to hip hop music, and the icons in beatboxing, and I was obsessed with how they stayed relevant and made a living as artists. I wanted to incorporate elements of singing into beatboxing – there’s so much more to the art form than standing on a corner making a beat – I started incorporating singing and other instruments and making music. Who would have thought that this thing that I was doing when I was stuttering would let me make a living out of it?
I’m also a film producer, and I work on film projects like commercials. Performance is a big part of what I do, so that’s kind of one part of it, and I also fell in love with the production part of it. I started producing music for producers and then was introduced to film. I love film because it mixes every element of art into one thing. Film is the highest level of art in a sense, where everything comes together. Now I work in Detroit as a filmmaker and a film producer.
NSA: What is your experience with stuttering?
Stevie: It affects me in general conversation. I’ve only recently opened up about it. I never talked about it – why would I want to remind people that I stuttered? It was only recently that I wanted to share it. Stuttering doesn’t affect my music as much, but as an adult I still stutter as I speak. I still do struggle with it, but I do my best to pause for a second and recompose myself and go through it. I’m sure it’s different for everybody. For me, sometimes I can predict when it will happen, but the worst part is that you never really see it’s coming.
NSA: What advice could you give to others who stutter?
Stevie: Take it slow. I’m going to be my parents now, but there is some truth to that. It’s hard because I don’t have any great cutting-edge, ground-breaking advice because everyone’s doing this differently. Learn to beatbox! Basically, just be yourself and don’t let stuttering define who you are. No one can do you better then you!
I also was given the opportunity to teach in the Detroit public school system as a working artist. For many years, I worked with 6th-12th graders in music production and graphic design. The public school system consolidated every class into one program due to budget cuts, so I worked on that program. I would tell these stories to every class, and every class, there were one or two people who stuttered. There are more of us than you might think. I have a special place in my heart for that.