Jumping into the ring with competitive beatboxing champion Zhang Ze

Articles: News
Aug 06, 2020 Written by:Katherine_Vu

The rhythm is insistent and rapidfire, blitzing across concussive beats. Kick, hi-hat, and snare; B, T, K. You might not have expected such a dizzying volume of sounds at first sight. He looks unassuming, standing on the stage in a simple sweatshirt and red-laced sneakers. But the second the music starts, the trap is set. He lures you in, steady as a pulse. Listen for a second, and Zhang Ze will have you hooked.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the sheer variety of sounds at his command. Equipped with nothing more than his voice and an innate sense of musicality, he tears through bars of fricatives and ejectives with practiced expertise. In the time it takes for the crowd to let out a whoop, he’s spit through enough syllables to stun.


He’s precise. He’s professional. He’s Zhang Ze (张泽), a professional beatboxer based out of China with the CNBeatbox crew. A regular at the world’s most prestigious beatboxing competitions, Zhang Ze’s prowess is well-known, and his specific mastery of zipper techniques is legendary. The sound this technique produces is as the name suggests: a rush of metal against metal. With a tight lip roll and quick intake of air, Zhang Ze’s zippers are crisp and controlled, zooming wherever his musical impulses take him.

Zhang Ze’s technical skill, artistry, and relentless enthusiasm for craft allowed him to build a remarkable career as a musician. ROG had an opportunity to talk to him recently about his training, inspirations, and experiences as a serious competitive beatboxer. Given his fluency in Chinese, we spoke to him in his native language and translated answers into English for our audience.

Becoming the one to beat

Beatboxing competitions bristle with all the heat and energy of a live beehive. Everyone’s buzzing – the crowd, the judges, and most literally, the competitors. One of Zhang Ze’s favorite competitions is the Grand Beatbox Battle, also known as GBB, where he participated as a performer in 2016 and 2017, and as a judge in 2018.

“Every year, excellent beat boxers throughout the world gather together [at GBB]. Each competitor comes with their own unique style and skills. The atmosphere of the scene is explosive! It’s the stage that many beatboxers dream of.”


GBB is an international beatboxing competition hosted by Swissbeatbox, a popular YouTube channel, that showcases a variety of styles and techniques. There are basic solo and tag team battles, in addition to loopstation solo and tag team categories where beatboxers employ a Boss RC-505 or other hardware to loop, tweak, and modify their beats and arrange multi-part music on the fly.

The second competition that stirs up Zhang Ze’s excitement is the CHINA Beatbox Championship. “Like GBB, every year the best Chinese beatboxers gather in Beijing to face off. Confrontations are always fierce, and champions can participate in a variety of categories.”

Thousands of spectators come to see these beatboxers perform. “Of all the competitions I’ve been to in the past, the scale of these two is particularly shocking. The intensity of the atmosphere alone ranks them among the top in the world. It’s a multi-day competition, and spectators and beatboxers are there almost from beginning to end. These competitions bring the best competitors from all around the world. It’s amazing to watch these masters perform on stage.” Contestants are judged on their originality, musicality, technicality, and showmanship. To be the best, beatboxers need to show off their creativity and innovation, their clinical precision, and their storytelling. When they perform on that stage, they leave it all on the floor.

Practice makes percussion

Zhang Ze’s story as a beatboxer started 10 years ago. The moment he discovered the artform, he was captivated. “The rhythm! The rhythms of beatboxing are so unique. I heard the work of another beatboxer that drew me in. Later, after getting in touch with him, I took to it and found that this is what I want to do. This is what I need to do.”

As a competitor himself, Zhang Ze is sharp. Focused. He lets his experience and training guide him during every performance. Even under the heat of the stage lights, regardless of how much fire he spits, Zhang Ze keeps a cool head.


“There’s no special feeling when I get up on stage. It’s another practice, like any other. I do my best to show my prepared work as best I can with no mistakes.” The main person he works to impress is himself. “Every time I go on stage, I tell myself that as long as I’m satisfied, the people who came to watch me perform will be satisfied,” he says. “Music is a subjective thing. It’s not strong or weak. It’s preference, so I don't overthink it. I treat every competition like it’s just another performance.”

Don’t mistake that for a lack of competitive drive. When he practices, Zhang Ze says, “I usually prepare three or four months in advance for every competition. I train almost every day… Sometimes I create from sudden inspiration, and sometimes I can calm down and slowly hone a skill. There is no fixed pattern.”

Still, despite his clear commitment to the beat, his own success came as a surprise. He was shocked when he won his first Chinese beatboxing championship. “It was a particularly unexpected situation, because I didn't think about winning the championship at all, at the time. While I was performing, I only tried to present my own work as best as I could to the audience. Then, suddenly, I was declared champion!”

The drive to perform

Plaudits and prizes are all well and good, but they’re not Zhang Ze’s primary motivation. “Of course I feel very happy when I win competitions, because after all, my efforts have been rewarded and recognized,” he says. But his beatboxing mastery stems from his deep love of music itself. “My inspiration comes from all kinds of music… Whenever I’m inspired, or when I come across a favorite song, it motivates me to try to write my own.”

Inspiration must strike often, because Zhang Ze’s catalog of original songs is deep. His viral hits can be found all over the internet on YouTube, Weibo, and NetEase. He makes up new beats wherever he finds time, using devices like his ROG Zephyrus G14 to cut quick songs and stay creative on the move. He’s comfortable working solo with technology that helps him arrange his own music and performing with other popular beatboxers.


One of his proudest works was a collaboration with Brooklyn-based American beatboxer, NaPoM. “I’ve done 3 songs with NaPoM, all of which I like very much. The first one was What You Think?, the second was Temple, and the third was a freestyle.” On the collaboration, Zhang Ze says, “NaPoM is a champion. The process of cooperation, the whole time we were working – it felt like a natural creative process. We didn't think about what kind of work we had to produce. We just played.”

“Just playing” – being true to his interests regardless of how niche or misunderstood they seemed – is how Zhang Ze has found success in the world. He approached beatboxing with diligence and humility. And now, as he’s risen to the top of his field, one of his big goals is to help usher in the next era of beatboxers and further legitimize the artform globally.

“Beatboxing has only been embraced widely by the public in recent years… I think it’s because beatboxing has become more and more precise, and the music created has become more and more unique.” As his star continues to rise, Zhang Ze says that he “will continue to push beatboxing into public view” and “do more work to give back to my fans and viewers.”

Zhang Ze is living out his dream, beat by beat, moment by moment. He may not have expected to wind up as a pro beatboxer, but he worked every day to get there. And to all the people who look up to him, he says, “Stick to your dreams! Stick to what you love. Be true to yourself, and all your dreams can come true.”