Artist of the Week Band of the Week Interviews Q&A

Band of the Week: Ben Tap Soul

Tap dancing rapper Benjamin Ryan Nathan combines hip-hop and dance for a unique performance.

On any given night in New York you can stumble into a venue that’s hosting a hip-hop dance party, rappers or a live band. But, have you ever seen a tap dancing rapper that combines all three?

Meet Benjamin Ryan Nathan.

He’s a performer that combines all his skills into one performance, and he’ll hit the East Village Thursday night for a performance.

“There’s always that reaction, ‘You tap and you rap? What does that look like?’” Nathan admits. “There’s a lot of intrigue around that because people have had so much exposure to tap as children. And then to see it again as an adult and see it in a different way that’s not in a dance class, in a venue that’s onstage with popular music, it’s interesting.”

Combining rap and tap is a long process for Nathan, which often begins with lyrics.

“I write lyrics whenever it comes to me, a lot of times it’s on the train,” he said. “I create structure of the song first and then once I get together with the rest of the band and they’re writing their musical parts I’ll bring in the beats and see where that fits. It’s an experimentation together starting with the lyrics first.”

As with creating a song, Nathan’s routine is always getting tailored to his surroundings.

“Often I have to bring my own floor with me. It’s about figuring out what the space constraints are, how much I can move around, how it will be audible with musicians. My first question always is, ‘Will they have a wood floor?’”

Nathan didn’t want to audition when the National Dance Institute came to his school in the fourth grade. Today, though, he can’t imagine what his life would be like without dance.

“I definitely wouldn’t have become a dancer or a filmmaker if it wasn’t for this program in particular. It helped me get outside of myself and be able to get onstage in front of a community,” he said.

While Nathan admits there were challenges over the years, one being that it’s never easy being a young boy taking dance classes, he said he has always been an individual.

“I think I’ve learned from a young age that people are going to judge what I do. It’s just a question of really pursuing what matters. To me, I feel like tap is in my blood and I can’t not do it,” he said. “I’m always tapping, whether it’s tapping my fingers, or tapping my feet or tapping in my mind. It’s just how I express myself. I tap because I love it but I also tap because I have to.”

At the end of his first year dancing he performed onstage at Madison Square Garden with 1,000 other kids from New York Public Schools. He loved dancing onstage so much he decided to stick with it and soon discovered tap.

“I would go to jam sessions with older tap dancers at Swing 46. It was encouraging and supportive. Everyone would come and dance,” he said. “The other way I learned tap was by just watching. I would get my hands on any video tape on great tap dancers and just watch it again and again in my room and try to copy the steps.”

As a teen he started rapping and once college came around, Nathan decided to combine his tap and rap skills.

“I started a band in college called Ben Tap Soul and we started to experiment with how we can bring the tap and rap together with musicians. Instead of hip-hop beats behind it, there is actually live music being created with all of these elements.”

Additionally, Nathan has started to loop his tapping into his live band performance, providing an entirely new element into his live show.

“It’s great. I love to push the envelope. It’s important to keep pushing new ideas and surprising people and bringing it to a new audience and level,” he said. “It’s always been important to use the skills I have in a positive way. I call it conscious rap. There’s a Hasidic saying that music is the language of the soul. When you put music out there, it’s speaking people’s language and it’s important to know what you’re putting out.”

Ben Tap Soul performs tonight at Alphabet Lounge at 8 p.m. For additional tour dates in February, visit their Website.