The nation's top beatboxers are converging today in New Jersey to show off their skills at the American Beatbox Championships, which are taking place in Atlantic City over Labor Day weekend. And thanks to a newly added contest for international competitors, this year's battle has global repercussions. Kaila Mullady of New York City is a two-time winner of the Beatbox Battle World Championship, and a member of the group Freestyle Love Supreme. She also co-hosts and produces the American Beatbox Championship, and recently spoke about the competition with WNYC's Morning Edition host Michael Hill – even performing an impromptu duet with Hill live on the air.

[The following transcript has been edited for clarity and concision.]

Michael Hill: Give us a preview — what are you most excited about this year?

Kaila Mullady: Oh my gosh, are you serious? The coolest thing about beatboxing, right, is that humans are literally inventing sounds that have never been done before. So when you go to the American Beatbox Championships, I see these younger kids, these newer beatboxers coming in, and they're doing things that I didn't even know was possible with the voice. So after a two-year hiatus because of the COVID shutdown, the fact that we can all join together and hear new sounds that humans are inventing for the first time, that is what I'm most excited about right now.

Every time you go to a beatbox battle, it's like being at a sound buffet. I hear something from over here. I'm like, ooh, I like that. I'm gonna use that. Over here, ooh, I'm gonna take a little bit of that. Ooh, I take a little bit of that. And I just put these little sounds on my plate and make my own version of a beatbox style.

The coolest thing about the beatboxing event is, it's such a beautiful community event that when you go into the space – besides the amazing sound system that we have, and the stages that we have – when you walk outside of the event, you see people in little ciphers, everywhere. Ciphers are little circles where everyone’s in one circle, looking at each other and jamming with each other. So you step into these circles, and you walk into one circle and it's like house music playing. Then you come over here, it's pop beatboxing playing. Over here there's a group doing beatboxing.

And you can go up to any beatboxer that you meet, and if they're doing a cool sound, you could just ask them flat out, 'Hey, how are you doing that? Can you show me?' And everybody shares sounds. And we all learn from each other during this weekend. So on top of it being a celebration, it's really a spot for beatboxers to come together, learn, and grow from one another.

You mentioned that there was a hiatus because of the pandemic. What has happened during that pandemic though? Tell us about how the community managed to do what it needs to do during the last few years.

Well, the best thing about beatboxing is that you can do it anywhere at any time, right? It's not like you need to carry this big, heavy instrument around with you. Whether you're at a doctor's office, if you're on a subway, if you're on a park bench, you could still make music and always create from anywhere.

There was also a challenge during COVID for people to get together, so what our community did, they still held online jams and battles through Zoom, through Discord ⁠— they still found ways to get together. We ended up having battles that were just make a music video of yourself. People really got creative, and were still pushing themselves during the pandemic to create new sounds, new styles, and new techniques. So the fact that now for the first time in two years, they get to take those sound styles and techniques and put them in front of a stage is going to be insane.

With beatboxing, it sounds amazing acoustic, but when you hear beatboxing through huge sound systems and huge speakers, that's when you see the real power of beatboxing. If you've watched a beatboxing video, maybe on YouTube or on Instagram or TikTok, you have not seen the real power of beatboxing. When you're in a room and someone goes [makes a deep bass sound], and the ceiling shakes and the bass is pumping through your body, that's when you realize how spectacular and amazing this magical art form is.

Doug E. Fresh, seen performing in Hollywood in April, is among the beatboxing pioneers whose influence has traveled around the globe.

I can feel it. I can feel it. Any particular artist or techniques you think are especially interesting?

Yes, absolutely. Our event throughout the weekend has solo battles, two people versus two people battles, it has Loop Station battles. And for the first time ever, it actually has the founder's tournament, which is an international battle, so we're gonna be welcoming beatboxers from all over the world. The best beatboxers from different countries — South Korea, South America, Asia, we have people from Europe, coming to the United States, the birthplace of beatboxing, to get to meet with the founders and really learn the history of beatboxing and the real philosophy of it.

So we're gonna have hundreds of beatboxers from all over the world coming out, and there's gonna be sound techniques that no one's heard because, you know, each country has their own style and it's really based off of the influence and the culture from that country. If you're coming from India, you may have a way different style than someone who's coming from Guatemala or the people in the United States. So for us, the fact that now this year we can welcome people really for the first time in such a large scale from all over the world is gonna be an incredible cross-cultural event for beatboxers and beatboxing fans alike.

We are so excited about it this year, to have hundreds of beatboxers from all over the world, under one roof, where we can celebrate this art form that we love so much ⁠— and, more importantly, learn from the actual pioneers that we have here in the United States. What a wonderful gift we have, you know? You can't talk to the people who invented jazz anymore, but you can talk to Doug E. Fresh, who is the original human beatbox. So to have people like Doug E. Fresh or Rahzel under the same roof with the new-school beatboxers, that's how we keep the heart and soul and the philosophy of this art form that we love so much, to be able to pass it to the next generation.