From rags to YouTube's premier rapper: The triumph of DeStorm
Most rappers use YouTube to get in with the major labels. DeStorm Power used the site to get out.
Seven years later, Power is the most popular rapper on the social video network, an entertainer with more than one million subscribers and a trademark franchise that's earned him widespread acclaim and attracted the attention of such mainstream artists as Talib Kweli and Boyce Avenue.
But getting to that point wasn't exactly easy—not by a long shot.
A native of Baltimore, Md., Power moved to New York City in 2004 to try to make it in the rap game. He got himself an apartment and quickly called a friend, the only New Yorker he knew, who happened to have a job at Diddy's Bad Boy Records. With his help, Power was able to work his way into a ghostwriter role within the group.
The mission was simple: write raps for other artists until he gets noticed, then go out and do it for himself.
It wasn't long before that plan went awry.
In a 2010 YouTube tell-all, Power describes the fallout that occurred when his friend lost his job at Bad Boy, forcing Power out in the process. The firing seemed to have a spiraling effect. He lost his day job shortly thereafter, then his apartment. He was down to practically nothing and lying to his family in Baltimore about how little he had.
Power started to busk in subways, saving up change so that he could sleep in motels. He scraped up enough money to get himself a place in Harlem. He got back into performing at clubs, and, at a show in Harlem, came across a girl who'd recorded his act. He asked her for a copy of the video.
Needing a place to store it, Power turned to YouTube, a site that at the time was barely two years old. And with that, DeStorm's channel was born.
Power launched his channel with a bevy of fitness videos—and with good reason; he's cut like Terrell Owens. First it was "Super Leaping Ability!," then "Extreme Pushups" and a second volume. He started racking up fans; "Vol. II" has over 920,000 views. That's when he learned that he could use YouTube to launch his music career.
"As I started to get more in depth with learning to edit things, I started to incorporate some of my music into the fitness videos," Power told the Daily Dot. "From there, I branched off and told people to go check out the music. The biggest challenge was trying to find a niche that worked on YouTube that was different.
"I was doing original things, and the audience started to let me know that they liked what I was doing. 'I liked what you did with that, why don't you do this?' type stuff. I did one video and sort of set it up as a joke, and then someone told me that I should make a song about not making a song. I did that and it went over well—the response was just crazy."
Challenges start flowing in after that: "Sexy ABC's and 123's," "Singing YouTube Comments," and "Rapping Movie Titles!" Before long, Power was using his YouTube channel to rap about various things lying around the house. At one point, he literally wrote a song called "Playing with MY BALLS inside the House" about—you guessed it—playing with a number of balls in the comfort of his own home.
Power started to see a severe increase in his viewership and user comments, but he knew the gimmick wasn't sustainable. You just can't rap about forks and knives forever.
"People get bored if you keep hitting people in the head with challenges," Power said. "I've done so many, so I kind of sporadically do one here or there because they get good viewership and people appreciate them more than when they come out every ten seconds."
So today he'll do his challenges, but he'll also run remixes, funny odes to Oprah Winfrey, and adventurous sketches. He's hilarious and energetic, and he's invested in the community. One of his most impressive traits these days is his willingness to step outside the entertainment world and tackle issues facing YouTube's content creators, like January's Stop Online Piracy Act, sexually enticing thumbnails, and the changes that have come as a result of YouTube's commitment to premium content.
"I lost 60 percent of viewers because of all the changes to YouTube," he said in reference to last winter's redesign, which puts an increased focus on channels and premium content. "I used to get 700,000 to 800,000 hits every time a video came out. Now, if I get two or three [hundred thousand], I'm happy, because they don't have the music section anymore. They killed it and put a lot of Vevo channels in. With all the changes, it was bound to happen."
It's safe to say Power's prepared. The rapper puts out up two videos a week, with some extending far beyond the realm of rap to include everything from jumping over cars to his long-running workout videos.
He also has a second channel, DeStormTV, which has accrued over 230,000 subscribers in a little over two years. The channel started as an extension of his fitness videos but has since extended to facilitate esponding to fan mail and various (sometimes highly edited) feats of strength in a series called Did that Just Happen? Just last week, he posted a video that shows him—or a computerized image of him—jumping out of a moving car.
Those types of extracurricular ventures are necessary if you want to maintain an involved audience in the YouTube community, Power said. You can never be content to rest on your rap laurels.
"A lot of people don't take advantage of what YouTube allows you to do," he said.
"YouTube allows you to be an actor and be a director and try out things that you wouldn't initially try out if you were just making a song for radio. A lot of musicians don't take advantage of those opportunities, which is why a lot of their videos don't do as well. If you have somebody who's acting, singing, and dancing, and another person who's not doing much, what are you going to watch?"
You're going to watch the guy who's out there singing and dancing. You're going to watch DeStorm Power.
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