Since their The Sing-Off third season win in 2011, vocal quintet Pentatonix have gone on to become a cultural phenomenon. Whilst the group’s numbers are fronted by Scott Hoying, Mitch Grassi, and Kirstie Maldonado on lead and backing vocals, with stunning bassist Avi Kaplan accompanying them as well, the formidable four just wouldn’t be complete without the support of beatboxer Kevin “K.O.” Olusola. Initially renowned for his “celloboxing” (read: cello-slash-beatboxing) on YouTube, Olusola rose to fame alongside the band after their Sing-Off win. However, the cello has taken a backseat to the rise of Pentatonix itself and the reigniting of attention given to the a cappella scene – until now.
Returning to his roots as a classical instrumentalist, Olusola has released The Renegade EP for download worldwide as of March 6, 2015. Fusing his signature tight beatboxing with an ardent cello, he makes for a short, but sweet release in the five-track EP. Fronting the collective is the titular “Renegade”, an original composition of Olusola’s own design, which depicts his own space within the industry all too well with its name alone, let alone actual structure. Aside from “Renegade”, four cover songs ranging from Mark Summer to Demi Lovato grace the EP.
Olusola’s Summer rendition is actually the entire Renegade EP’s opening number, inviting listeners of classically-leaning compositions in with an arrangement that is equal times respective of the Turtle Island Quartet member’s initial performance as it is recognizing Olusola’s own vocal-percussive spin on the genre. Unlike other modern beatboxers made famous through the power of the internet, Olusola’s technique is deep-rooted in the “human RY30” stylings of beat royalty like Doug E. Fresh. His ability to wrap a beat around classical instrumentation is a top notch act, with enough tone perfect imitations of snares, tom-toms, and bass crafting an innovative soundscape worthy of anyone worth their weight as a music enthusiast to get lost in alone.
The rest of Olusola’s cover offerings range from great to phantasmagorical. His rendition of the aforementioned Lovato’s hit single “Heart Attack” remains a highlight on the EP, Olusola embracing effects of light dubstep amongst his prototypical head-on traditional percussive beats with accompaniment from a full orchestra really accentuating the piece, elevating it to a supreme level of musicianship. For similar reasons, his cover of Sam Smith’s megahit “Stay With Me” is also a stunner, featuring rigid, arduous cello playing worthy of the hype. There’s also a light nod to Olusola’s a cappella background on the past as, at one point during the performance, a choral bridge is inducted for added effect.
Titular “Renegade” also opens with an angelic vocal set to a hauntingly nostalgic melody. Eventually accompanied by hushed cello picking, the composition is brought into a jaunted syncopation that never lets go from the minute and thirty seconds mark onward, accentuating a modernized change with Olusola’s most conviction-heavy beatboxing performance to date. The song ramps up until it’s driving nearly off the rails, with Olusola imitating more of a futuristic ray gun by the arrangement’s completion that, somehow, is utterly captivating.
On the opposite end of everything, Olusola forgoes any beatboxing on his no-frills rendition of John Legend’s “All of Me”, and it fits. In the stead of any contemporary thrills, we get to hear a rendition of a beautiful melody done up in masterful fashion by a true virtuoso. If any track on the album was meant to exemplify Olusola’s true competency at the cello, “All of Me” would be it. It juxtaposes itself nicely against the four contrasting tracks which involve beatboxing and other vocal flairs, setting Olusola’s other instrument in the spotlight for what ends up being an infinitely listenable performance.
The Renegade EP provides Pentatonix fans with a peer into Olusola’s career prior to his joining the a cappella powerhouse, celebrating classical instrumentation successfully melding with the very modern, urban/electronic vocal stylings of beatboxing. Olusola bends genres and dares to meld two worlds that the average music lover would generally keep in separate drawers of their mental cabinet, and with every step he takes, he becomes more of a master of each instrument in his possession. The Renegade EP is the perfect compilation of songs for the young instrumentalist to jump into the solo league with. We wouldn’t be surprised if, in the end, he becomes just as big as the band that he’s a part of. All in all, it’s a K.O.