Sharing his voice

By Kyle Hobstetter on April 12, 2021

COFAC Innovator-in-Residence Shodekeh Talifero partners with Cook Library, becomes first Maryland hip-hop artist with special collections archive

Shodekeh Talifaro performing
Hip-hop artist and College of Fine Arts and Communication's Innovator-in-Residence Shodekeh Talifero found an escape in beatboxing. (Photo by Lauren Castellana) 

Dominic Shodekeh Talifero, the College of Fine Arts & Communication’s innovator-in-residence, was almost just a statistic.

When he was younger, Talifero fought intense battles with suicidal ideation.

A 2018 study performed by the National Institute of Mental Health showed suicide is the second-leading cause of death among Black children, ages 10–14, and the third-leading cause for Black adolescents aged 15–19.

After experiencing physical, psychological and sexual abuse throughout his childhood and teen years, Talifero thought suicide was the only answer.

But he found another—beatboxing—that remarkably led to a partnership and collection with the Albert S. Cook Library.

The collection features his work, inspirations and collaborations through his life and music career. Titled Ideations of Potential: Shodekeh's Innovation Lab of Embodied Scholarship & Hip Hop Imagination," the collection launched April 5 and serves as a capstone project for Talifero as COFAC’s innovator-in-residence. It also makes him the first hip-hop artist in Maryland to have their work archived and the first beatboxer in the world to have a special collection dedicated to their work.

The collection can be found through the Special Collections and University Archives website. Talifero and the SCUA team worked hard on the digital side; getting images uploaded, compiling video, making annotations, creating a timeline and putting together a bibliography.

A way out

Growing up in Prince George County, Maryland, Talifero watched legendary beatboxers Doug E. Fresh and the Fat Boys’ Buffy the Human Beatbox and emulated them while hanging out with friends.

“Having beatboxing in your skillset was like having a badge of honor,” Talifero says. “I was hanging out at another kid’s house, and he started to beatbox. Then the other kids started egging me on.

“They would say to me, ‘You could beatbox. You’re always practicing; you should do it.’ So, I got the gumption to demonstrate what I could do. Once I was done, the other kids looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, you can beatbox.’ After that, it stayed with me.”

Shodekeh sitting in seats, by himself
Growing up with an abusive childhood, Shodekeh Talifero had thoughts of suicide. But thanks to hip-hop, he found his life's path. (Photo by Lauren Castellana) 

As a teenager, he considered himself a “cultural practitioner,” who beatboxed for fun. But after his freshman year of college, he decided to make music his career. Now going by the stage name Shodekeh, he has performed professionally for the past two decades.

As an adult, Talifero understands why he was drawn to beatboxing.

“The people I saw on TV and movies, they were inspirations, but the real reason was so I could turn my body into something I could use to fight back against the abuse I experienced as a kid,” Talifero says.

“That’s the real reason why I keep doing it, so that I can keep my body in check. And I’ve been doing it mostly for myself, but now it’s time for me to do it for kids who might need inspiration.”

Talifero has beatboxed with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, at the Salzburg Global Seminar in Austria and has been a regular performer at clubs and events in the Baltimore area where he usually serves as the musical accompanist for poets and rappers.

Visit the collection

Witness first living archive of a professional beatboxer anywhere in the world.

A transformative experience

One night in 2006, Towson University dance professor Vincent Thomas was at a poetry slam where Talifero performed. Afterward, the two exchanged business cards, and the beatboxer has been working with Towson University ever since. 

"Sitting in a cafe chair my body and spirits began to move. I was so intrigued with what sounds were being captured in the tightly held microphone," Thomas says about that initial meeting. "It was a musical journey, like riding the roller coaster of Space Mountain. I had to know more about him and to hear more of his musical abilities. My mind immediately raced to my modern dance classes I was teaching at Towson University."

"I knew his musical abilities would pair with physical bodies moving through space. This, is artistic and educational research firsthand, Thomas adds. "This collaborative journey of movement and sound/music has been so rich for the learning and creative aspects of our students and faculty alike. It has expanded possibilities of our art and adds to the rich fabric of our department."

Talifero initially thought that working with TU meant just coming into to speak with students once in awhile. Little did he know that first meeting with Thomas would lead to a decade long working relationship with all of COFAC. 

“I thought he meant teaching a few master classes, but he wanted me for the entire semester as a regular musician for the entire program,” Talifero recalls. “Since 2006, this has continued to be a really fantastic and grand experiment.

“When I perform with the dancers, they are using their bodies as instruments, I’m using my body as my instrument and we definitely connect on some very dynamic wavelengths coming from that shared paradigm.”

Shodekeh sitting at the edge of the stage
Starting in 2006, Shodekeh Talifero started working with Towson University's College of Fine Arts and Communication. This partnership has continued, with him being named COFAC's Innovator-in-Residence. (Photo by Lauren Castellana)

A lasting work

Ashley Todd-Diaz, assistant university librarian for Special Collections and University Archives (SCUA), has been working with Talifero on his collection. The archives staff usually doesn’t get to work closely with a donor, but Talifero was ready to collaborate.

“Shodekeh has been very involved and invested in the development, organization, description and promotion of the collection,” Todd-Diaz says. “This lays the foundation for a richer collection since it allows us to combine our archival expertise with his subject expertise.”

Shodekeh standing in front of Albert S. Cook Library
Shodekeh Talifero is partnering with Albert S. Cook Library to produce a special collection that archives his work. He is the first hip-hop artist in Maryland to have an archive of his work. (Photo by Lauren Castellana)

The collection also lets the library continue adding diverse and unique viewpoints to its archives. And what better way to celebrate the upcoming  50th anniversary of the creation of hip-hop than to host the first archive in Maryland dedicated to a hip-hot artist.

“Our department has been looking to diversify our collections and Shodekeh’s partnership with TU makes us ideally suited to host his body of work and to provide access and reference for students, researchers and the public,” says John Esh, processing archivist for SCUA.

“His collection will exist as a living entity and we can’t wait to see what we can accomplish in collaboration, outside of the traditional archival model, to showcase it for the world.”

They are also gathering up physical artifacts (CDs, books, etc.) that evidence Talifero’s artistic endeavors. Once all of that’s squared away, the next step is to start assembling it on SCUA website.

At just 43, Talifero wants it to grow with his career. He will be constantly adding materials as he continues to perform at Towson University and beyond.

He’s also using the collection to raise awareness for Black youth suicide, a subject he's been more aware about after working with the McSilver Institute for Poverty Policy and Research at New York University's Silver School of Social Work

Talifero is dedicating the collection to the memory of a family member who took their life in the 1980s; to those affected by Black youth suicide; and to anyone who's struggled with suicidal ideation and systemic racism.

Through his passion and gift, he wants others to know it’s possible to take back control.

“I was abused, and I’m taking my body back. Now I’m protecting it for the rest of my life, and, hopefully, I can inspire other people to do the same,” Talifero says.

Counseling Center

Suicide Prevention Information

If you, or anyone you know is thinking about suicide, please know there is help available.

The Counseling Center can provide a variety of services for students who may be feeling hopeless or thinking about suicide. They can also assist you if you are concerned about someone you know. Contact the Counseling Center at 410-704-2512 for an initial appointment to help determine what type of services best fit your needs.

Along with the Counseling Center, the following resources are available to students who are concerned about suicide: 

When the Counseling Center is closed, students in crisis who need immediate support can call the Center after-hours, during evenings and weekends. Phone: 410-704-2512.

Grassroots Crisis Intervention Telephone Hotline: A telephone counseling that uses volunteer and peer counselors, funded by Baltimore County. Phone: 410-531-6677

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: A 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis. Phone: 800-273-TALK (8255)

Learn more about Suicide Prevention, including warning signs, protective and risk factors through the Towson University Counseling Center.