- What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever received in snail mail?
- DeStorm: The most surprising thing I’ve ever received in snail mail were some granny panties. She said she was my biggest fan. She was 74 years old, and she said she watches all of my videos so she decided to send me some granny panties. At first I thought it was a scarf, so I was like, “Hey guys, check this out!” So I pull it out of the box, and then I’m like, “Ooh, this is a nice scar–ahhhhh!” and it was a pair of her draws, her bloomers. Pretty bad.
- The best music album of 2012 so far, beside your own.
- Oh, I was about to say “Be Careful,” coming out May 1st. Besides that, I actually like “Watch the Throne.” I thought that was a really good album, Jay and Kanye. I thought it was good. I liked it. If I listen to an album and I like four or five cuts, it’s a good album. It’s very rare. These days people buy albums for one cut or two cuts, but I actually can listen to that not all the way through, but I can listen to a lot of cuts on that album and be very satisfied, so I thought it was the best album.
- If you were an animal, you’d be a?
- Cheetah, because they’re fast. You can get away and get to. Everyone wants to get away and get to their destination.
- A book you can read again and again.
- “The Alchemist.” I’ve read it twice. Every time I read it, it has a different translation. I read it when I was 18, and I read it again when I was 23, and I’ll probably read it again.
- The last thing you splurged way more than you should have on.
- I splurge too much on women. [laughs]
To be a personal trainer you have to be a good motivator. And I think you’ve said before that you want to be inspirational in your videos. Where do you think this comes from, wanting to have a positive impact on people?
I think it comes from my mother, just watching the way she raised us. It was always even if we had nothing she’d always find the positive out of it, and it kind of rubs off on you after years of seeing that. It was always like we didn’t have anything to eat but the positive side was that we’ll have something tomorrow. We don’t have this but the positive side was just count your blessings. It was always the “count your blessings” attitude, and I guess I just take that into consideration and I realized if she can take that everywhere with her then I can give that back to people because it’s that that got me here today, where I am. I found success by just counting my blessings. This is what you have, work with what you have. A lot of people complain too much. There’s always going to be someone less fortunate in every situation. Even if you haven’t eaten in a month, there’s someone who hasn’t eaten in thirty-two days. You always have to look into that situation. Everyone’s situation is different, and people handle pressure differently, but I just think that’s what brings it out of me to want to inspire. Every song I have is not super-inspirational, but I wanted to have a story at least told in every song even if it’s a little raunchy, a little freaky, a little wild, a little crazy, a little fun. There’s going to be a story told.
Early on, you posted two vlog videos that showed a lot of your personality. One was on the n-word, and the second video was on your attitude toward homosexuality. Why do we not see these types of videos anymore? Are you too mainstream now?
No, no! I post them on my second channel now. Every once in a while I still do advice on my second channel. It’s just that on my main channel, when you have YouTube videos people expect a certain thing when they come to this channel. So now that this channel is so big–back then I didn’t have the size of the audience that I have now–now that my audience is so big, I post videos that deal with music because that’s what the bulk of my audience expects or what they come for. On my second channel, people that are true fans they go and subscribe to that channel and they’ll see that I still do advice videos, and I still do something like “Getting Ready for 2012,” “Getting Ready for 2011,” “The Best Relationship Advice in the World.” All these videos are still new. You can only touch on racial or relationships or certain things so much. I still do them, I just don’t do them that often. That’s on DeStormTV. I got a lot of videos like that still.
You originally started your career as a ghost writer for major record labels. What was your experience like when you were trying to go through that traditional route as a struggling musician?
When you go on the traditional route, the thing is it’s difficult because your career is in their hands so it’s what they want. As opposed to now, I do what I want. Now that the album is dropping I get to do it on my terms. I was able to make my album come out when I wanted it to come out as opposed to when somebody else wanted it to come out. I think that’s the difference. Not having to follow their rules.
Comparing that traditional route to the route that you took–you built yourself on YouTube–what are the big differences?
The big difference is that numbers talk, bullsh*t walks. When you have numbers you can do whatever you want. It’s all about numbers because at the end of the day I proved it. You can say you hot, someone on the street can say they’re hot, and they might be the best artist ever, but if you can’t prove it in this society, that’s just how it is. Right now I don’t have to prove it anymore because the numbers show. Can you get a million views on a video? I can do that. Can you get a million people to watch you, subscribe to you, want to listen to you? Yes, because you can see the numbers there. When you have that, people will join and come along because they’ll be like, “OK, he proved that he can do this. He’s doing something right.”
If you could have, would you have preferred succeeding through the traditional route and becoming a musician through major record label releases? Do you feel like your career is any less because you just did it through YouTube?
No. I think back then, like most traditional artists, I thought that was the route you had to go. There are still people who subscribe and say, “Someone give this guy a record deal.” I’m like, “Really?” Do you not see that I’m very successful, and I’m doing much better than I would be if I had that? They don’t see that because that’s the only thing they know, and that’s all I knew back then. There really is no such thing as a record deal anymore. I mean, there still is but back then they would front the money. I don’t have to go on tour to make that money back. I just sit in my house and make a video for my fans who love me and enjoy what I do. I love going on tour– don’t get me wrong–but I don’t have to. I make my own decisions now and a lot of main artists don’t because they owe someone. Now that I’ve been through what I’ve been through, I would tell everybody to go this route because when you have control over your own career it’s amazing.
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That makes a lot of sense. You started on YouTube very resourcefully. You had a game plan for success. How much of your success do you think could be owed to smart strategy versus you just being immensely talent?
I think you have to give some to talent because people aren’t going to watch if you don’t have some talent. A lot of it has to do with strategy. You have to know what’s going on. There were times when I would stick to current events. I would watch what’s trending on Twitter and make sure I had one of the first videos up about it because I didn’t have an audience, and I knew that would bring the audience to see my channel like, “OK, this guy is funny” or “This guy is vibe. Let’s see what else he has.” There were times when I had to jump on those bandwagons. I don’t have to anymore. I have a built-in audience. Back then you had to have strategy. People are not going to love my music. They don’t know who I am. So if I put my music in my fitness videos then they got to love the fitness because all of it is facts. You see that I’m in shape, and you see that I know what the hell I’m talking about – why wouldn’t they watch it? If they have that, and they say, “OK, who’s the artist in this song?” then it’s like go over here and hear this. It’s one of those things where you have to have some type of strategy, but talent does play a certain role because you can’t sound like crap and expect people to just want to go and watch you. You got to be nice and polished.
You started off knowing that you wanted to be successful on YouTube and that you wanted to make money from YouTube. Can you remember that very moment when you became a partner? What was that like for you?
I went out and celebrated. Back in the day was not like today – to become a partner was so important. There were actually stats that you had to meet. You had to have this many amount of views, this many subscribers, this many amount of videos uploaded of original content within this many allotted time a week. When I got partnered I remember I had a thousand subscribers or something like that. I went out with my boys and we were celebrating. “I’m a YouTube partner! Oh my god! I can start making money!” My first check; it was like nothing, but whatever – I had my partnership. You can get your banner on the top of your page now, and people take a lot of that for granted. They don’t realize what a lot of the old school YouTubers did to get to that point. It was hell. You were posting everyday. That was our life. We weren’t eating, we were out grinding. These days you get one video, you get a partnership. People are like, “I want to work with you DeStorm” and I’m like, “You ain’t paid your dues. Pay your dues before you come to me with that bull. I don’t want to hear it.”
Do you think that these new people who are getting YouTube partnerships takes any of the polish off of you and other standard bearers?
No, I don’t think it takes off anything. I mean, I think old school partners just continue to put out good material. If they don’t, then they don’t. The game changes. YouTube has to change the game, and people change the game. The game will always change. That’s just how it is. These 5 years since I’ve had my partnership they’ve changed the game, and I’ve got to adapt.
Did you always know you were going to be an entertainer or performer?
I knew. I knew when I was young I was going to be an entertainer. I just knew. You just know, and you just got to believe. A lot of people just lose belief. I have so many people that just came on YouTube alone and was like, “Yo, let’s do this” and now all of those channels are dead. Just like in music videos, all of the boys that I came up with, all of them are gone. They aren’t doing it anymore. A lot of people lose their focus because it doesn’t happen overnight. I’m still grinding now. I’m not where I want to be still. So how long does it take? These people want sh*t to happen and things to happen in like a day or a week or a month, and if it doesn’t they give up. Let them give up. It’s less people I have to worry about.
Was there ever a moment where you felt so discouraged that you thought about giving up?
Never. Not once. Not once was I going to give up. There were times where I felt like it wasn’t going to happen, but I never gave up. There were times where I felt, “Oh man, this is not going to happen.” But that’s different than saying that I want to give up. I just got to keep doing music. I’m not going to stop, even if I’m going to the corner. I’m never going to stop. It’s a lifestyle. It’s like fitness; it has to be a lifestyle. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m going to do a crash diet.” You can’t do that. It has to be your lifestyle. It has to be something that you do. I do the same thing everyday: I get up, do some music, go to the gym; it’s just part of my life, you know? That’s it.
When you submitted demos to talent scouts or executives or whoever from the record labels, what was the general response?
It’s not their fault. I’m not saying they’re sinister. They’re just cowardly. They want to keep their jobs. It’s like I remember Talib Kweli tweeted and said, “They’re not sinister. They’re just cowardly. They got to keep their job.” They have to play what people want on the radio. If DJ’s got to play what they wanted to play, the entire music business would probably be different. That’s just how it is.
How would you describe your music to someone who hadn’t heard your music before?
I would describe my music style as “a message in a bottle.” There’s always a message in every song. It doesn’t matter what the message is but there will be a message there. I’m not just singing about nothing. There are some songs out there where people just want you to party and stuff; it’s not really a message. It’s something to get moving toward somewhere. Even if it’s a party song, my party song is going to be about getting you to want to go do something. There’s always a light at the end of the tunnel. That’s how I would describe my music.
Of the top 100 most subscribed on YouTube, I think you’re only one of two individual black performers or entertainers. Do you think that’s indicative of anything problematic? Does that mean anything?
No. I think a lot of black people are just doing it wrong. It’s because of the way the world had our people. It shows when it comes to entertainment. Most of my music is bought by white people, Asian people, Latino people. Some do but a lot of my people don’t support my music. We don’t support each other. That’s just how we are. There’s a lot of hate amongst each other. Instead of hating each other we the people need to come together and support. There are times when I see white people and they’re playing the guitar, and they’re like, “Oh my god! You have a CD? That’s really cool!” I’m like, “What the?” My people don’t support. We don’t support each other. It shows on YouTube. Some do, there are some that do. It’s not everyone. There are some people that come and say, “Hey DeStorm, how did you do it?” They’re starting to be more supportive. When I went on tour, I told my entire university and my friends on Facebook, and how many of them came out? None. They don’t support. We hate on each other until you’re at this level. There’s nothing in between for black people. It’s like you’re either down here with me or you’re way up here, and once you’re way up here, I’m your dog. If you’re on the level of Drake or 50 Cent or Kanye West or Jay Z, that’s when the black people decide to jump on the bandwagon and say, “That’s my dog! That’s my artist! I grew up with him!” But if you’re anywhere between, they won’t support you.
Where do you think that attitude comes from?
It just comes from society. That’s just how it is. They feel that they’ve been kicked down. They have been kicked down. We have been kicked down, but they feel like that’s the mass majority. Like, “Oh, I don’t want to see anyone else that’s doing as well as me.” It’s just a self-hate attitude that we as the people have to get rid of. Once we do that then people start to advance better. Can’t keep pointing the finger. They’re lazy. That’s just how it is. I’ve been around the world, and I’ve noticed that black women in America behave differently than black women in Europe or black women in Paris. Black women in Paris are very nice, and they act a different way. Black women in America always have to be defensive. They always have this attitude like someone is always against you instead of just dropping it and just wanting to come up. It took me years to do it. I had the same attitude and doing bad things and stuff. I had to drop it and say, “I just need to get up and do sh*t myself.” Then I got up and started doing some stuff – now I’m successful.
What are the mistakes black YouTubers are making when they have good content but aren’t getting the views that they want?
The biggest mistake for black YouTubers is that they don’t keep the content universal. You got to have content that can reach. If you know the masses of YouTubers are not in this niche, then you need to start making your stuff more universal. I had something called “The Hook Up” that was just a niche. I mean, granted, I had fans of it and stuff, but it was a certain niche that only brought in a certain type of crowd which was mostly black people, and that’s not even 10% of YouTube. They need to start making more universal content, even if it’s music that everyone can get.
So this is also probably why you do so many collaborations and you do songs from video games and Disney movies.
Correct; because I know that the audience is bigger than just certain people. I want to appeal to everyone. Everyone can appeal to a Disney movie because everybody saw it. That’s why they’re not getting any views because they need to start being more universal YouTubers. When you see a video from a really big YouTuber, if you really think about the content they’re putting out, an old person can laugh at it, a young person can laugh at it; white, black, or Asian. It doesn’t matter what the demo; most people can get it. There are niches that people can fill, but in the main spectrum of things that’s just the way that it has to be. There has to be an appeal to a bigger audience or you’re not going to get that bigger audience.
I think it’s really interesting how you’re not like a lot of black performers who might feel that they’re under pressure to be rigid and to be hard and to not branch out into anything different.
Proving that you’re rigid and hard on the screen does not prove that you’re rigid and hard on the streets. Just because I talk a certain way or I do a certain video doesn’t mean that I’m going to let somebody on the street come up and punk me. It’s just a fact. People are acting so hard, like, “Blah, blah, blah.” We’re from the same hood but I know what works, and I know what makes success, and that’s where a lot of them make mistakes. It’s that simple.
How do you handle criticism when you hear it?
I laugh at them. Let them hate. They can go hate in their little corner all they want. I got a hundred people that like me. I’m going to hang out with some hot lady over at Porto’s.
I like that! So, your online/public persona versus private you – how much of a difference is there?
There’s not that much of a big difference. I act crazy online, and I act crazy in person. I’m a little more lady crazy when I’m offline, but it’s pretty much the same. I’m not walking on the street acting all hard and stuff. I’m in my own world just doing my thing. Usually I’m working. Most of my online life is my life because I’m doing it so much that it starts to clash. It becomes one. Whenever I deal with a relationship or anything they have to know that’s what I do, because that’s what’s going to take up so much of my time.
I’ve seen BBC “Planet Earth” advertisements on your channel recently. How did that come about, them choosing your channel to push the Planet Earth series? A lot of people might not see an apparent connection between a rapper/singer and a BBC nature series.
The thing is that I’ve done series for GE in the past. I’ve done things for Ecomagination, and I’ve done lots of inspirational stuff. I’m not a negative person. I’m always about the positive and the upliftment of the people and the world and all things. So when BBC asked me to do it, I was like, “Hell yeah, I’ll do it!” Why wouldn’t I do something like that? It’s for the Earth. It’s for the planet. I’m not out littering stuff. I recycle what I can. With my audience I want them to start to learn stuff like that. Pick up a damn book. Go watch the BBC. Go watch animals. They need to learn that stuff, you know? I was actually excited about doing that particular spot, honestly.
Did you come up with the concept for the video?
Yeah, I came up with the concept. I read it past a director, John Salmen, and he’s like, “Yeah, I can do this.” So we did it.
Was it that simple? They told you that they wanted to push the show on your channel, and you just sat down and came up with a concept and presented it?
That’s usually how it goes unless the director comes up with it, but usually that’s how it goes. I tell them, “This is what I want: I want to be in outer space looking down at the Earth, and the me on the Earth is going through this different weather and changes, and I’m above and everything I do affects the Earth.” Then we make it come alive in a video.
You have ultimate creative control. What’s it like working at Big Frame?
Big Frame is great! Like you said, we have ultimate creative control. A lot of the times, I’m so used to doing my own stuff, and Sara would call me and say, “So do you need any help?” and I’ll be like, “No Sara, I got it!” She’ll be like, “I want to help,” but I’ll be like, “Nah!” I’m so used to doing it all myself, but Big Frame is awesome, and they’re always there to help whenever.
You were talking about how you did songs for GE, and you’ve done songs for Heinz and the movie “Chronicle.” When writing these original songs and performing them for these companies as pitches, is it a creative challenge or just pure business? How do you look at it?
I look at it like this: I’m not going to take on a company that I don’t feel represents me on my channel. If I’m doing a fitness, I’m not going to take on a crazy fast food place that’s against fitness. When I do something for “Chronicle,” the movie, it was actually a movie that I wanted to see. Like, “Wow, telekinesis! I’d do this!” We get a lot of pitches, tons of pitches. We turn down most of the pitches, but when something comes around that’s right up my alley–first, I want to know if I can execute it and do it well. Second, I want to know if it’s something that I can represent well, because I don’t want the brand to be represented incorrectly, and I don’t want my brand to be represented incorrectly. It’s almost like a double-sided sword in that way.
In “Another World,” “Love Signs,” “Scary Rap,” and you just talked about the telekinesis video for “Chronicle,” there’s this running theme where you have powers. Is this a theme that you’re fond of, or is it just coincidence?
I don’t know. I didn’t even notice that. Of course everyone wants powers. If I have control, I’d give myself powers. It’s simple; my last name is Power, why shouldn’t I have power? If you had control of your own you wouldn’t give yourself power? No? You’d give yourself power. You got to give yourself power. Plus, I was a big comic book reader coming up.
Favorite comic book?
“X-Men” was one of my favorite comic books. I used to love it. I collected comic books for years. I had thousands of comic books. I just read them, so it was just one of those things where it’s embedded in me to just want to do something with superpowers. People love that. It’s a universal thing. Everybody wants to be above their own ability. Putting above your own ability in a video always get good views, people always love it, and it feels good.
You’re so confident. When was the last time you felt really ill-confident, where you thought your knees might buckle. Does that ever happen to you?
No. I don’t think it does because I feel like there’s always another day to get it right. Even when it comes to girls I come to one, and if she turns me down, “OK, your loss.” I don’t say that to her. I think in my head, “You don’t even know. You could have made things so good, girl.” I’m thinking that in my head, and I walk away and it makes me feel good because even if I did get turned down, I’m like, “Dang, she don’t even know. She don’t know!” As men, we are the approachers, and it’s one of those things where a lot of people ask me all the time in relationships like, “Man, I don’t know how to approach a woman.” It’s hard for guys because you get turned down. You got to do it again. You got to do it everyday until you find someone special. Women don’t have that pressure. It’s hard to approach somebody. You have to get it in your head. One thing that attracts all women is confidence. You don’t have to be the most attractive person in the world but if you have a certain amount of confidence, she’s like, “Oh, he got me.”
Being a big YouTube celebrity helps though, right?
I try to approach people who don’t know, because it’s not a challenge if you approach people who knows what you do. When I do approach somebody, or when I do try to deal with certain people, they don’t know who I am and I like that.
But what if they ask you, “What do you do?”
I’ll be like, “Yeah, you know. I wash windows.” No, I tell them I do entertainment. They usually find out because if a women knows you they’re going to start Googling and snooping around.
All you have to do is put in your first name.
I know. It’s the only one. Or they hit you on Twitter, and they’re like, “Oh, why are 200,000 people following this guy? He must do something.” You can’t really avoid it, but at the same time in the initial meeting I don’t come out bragging, “This is what I do! Blah, blah, blah, blah.” I just talk to them like people. Then you get that text the next day that’s just like smiley face, and I’m like, “Oh! She knows. I’m out! It’s on.”
If people can walk away with just one thing after watching your videos, what would you have that be?
I would have them be inspired. If they can walk away with one thing, I would have them be inspired. I think that happens when they watch my videos. They say, “This guy inspires me to go out and do something. I don’t know what it is that I want to do, but I’m going to do something.” That’s what I want them to walk away from my videos.
Can you tell us about your new mix tape, “Be Careful”?
“Be Careful” is my new mixtape coming out May 1st [today]. It’s my first physical CD project, so I’m very excited about it. It’s my debut project. Wikipedia got me all messed up. I don’t know who’s putting that information down. It’s my first project, and I’m pretty proud of it. It has 14 songs and bonus track with an actual YouTube artist, so it’s pretty cool.
What can we expect to hear on it?
They can expect to hear different than they usually hear on my YouTube channel. My YouTube channel is filled with lots of challenges and lots of shorts. It’s going to be full thought-out songs and some party tracks and some inspirational stuff. There’s going to be some things about relationships and some things about life. They’re going to get some messages from some songs, and they’re going to feel good from some songs. It’s something that they can bump all the way through. It’s a pretty solid CD with some great production.
How long did it take to make it?
It didn’t take that long. It takes people longer to make their CD because they take time off to do tours and stuff, but because I’m always making music everyday, it didn’t take too long to make it. It took a few months to put it together, and I think that’s pretty fast to make 15 tracks.
What else do you have coming out?
Other than the mix tape, that’s it. That’s all I’m focused on. I’m just focused on “Be Careful,” the mix tape. I want people to go pick it up and to love it and to listen to it over and over again. We pushed it to radio, and the main goal is to get a hit single on the radio. That’s why we have a lot of DJ’s coming out to the party on the 1st so they can do a listening at the release party and so they can feel the tape.
Of all the BAMMO shows, “DeStorm Upgraded” would be my favorite. Last week you said you were going on hiatus. Was this going to happen no matter what? Are you really coming back?
I don’t know if I’m going to come back or not. I’m on hiatus right now because it’s all about “Be Careful.” Wherever “Be Careful” goes then that determines what happens on BAMMO. If it blows up and goes super crazy then I can’t come back because I’ll be on tour or doing something crazy in the studio. If it doesn’t do the numbers or if my time opens up then I’ll be able to do more BAMMO episodes.
You’re such a natural as a talk show host. If somebody came to you and offered you a TV deal and said, “We can make you into a day time talk show host,” would you quit your YouTube channel for it?
I wouldn’t quit my channel. I’d do both.
What if they said either or?
Well, 73% of people are watching YouTube, so I’d do YouTube before I’d do television. Television advertises on YouTube, not YouTube advertises on television. That’s a fact. That’s why BBC came to me. You didn’t see YouTube come to BBC. The numbers don’t lie. More people are watching the Internet now. The reason why the Internet has just taken over television and they didn’t do it a long time ago is because they didn’t have the technology to keep up. Now that you can stream stuff so fast and in HD on your phone, it’s no-brainer. Why would I go sit in front of a television when I can just go and see the latest thing of Obama and what he did last night right here? I’m not going to turn on the TV and wait for it to come on when I can watch it live at that moment. Now that computers and technology has caught up, now you got Xbox throwing YouTube on Xbox. Now you got TV store on YouTube and television. Why do you think they’re doing that? Because they know.
That’s the culture too at Big Frame. They kind of said the same thing when I asked them about that – YouTube is bigger than TV, TV has to come to us.
I think in the next 5 years you’re going to see a significant difference. A lot of YouTube stars are going to be so big that television is going to have to work with them. The traditional television, the budget is so big. Back in the day, the budget was fine because you had the views that can take up for the money. There’s a lot of good shows on television but they don’t get the views to match their money now. Now they are over their budget. You see all these shows that you love that are falling off, and you’re like, “Damn that was my show! Why isn’t there another season?” It’s because they didn’t get the viewership that can balance out the budget. That’s the problem.
A lot of YouTubers that we’ve interviewed have said that the ultimate goal was to use YouTube as a launchpad to get into TV or get into movies, because I think TV and movies have a prestige to them that YouTube doesn’t have. You never crave that prestige as long as you’re being watched by tons of people?
I don’t care about prestige. I know it’s going to happen. Whatever. If it doesn’t, I’m happy. I don’t care.
As far as you’re concerned, you’ve made it. You’re making dope videos.
I’m good. Whatever happens from here is a bonus. I’m good. I’ve never looked at it as, “Oh, I got to make it into television,” or, “Oh, I got o make it into radio.” I just always wanted to do good music, and that’s what I’m doing. I’m comfortable, my son’s comfortable, my family’s comfortable, I can do music, that’s all. I don’t care, and that’s why I think blessings just keep coming. Like, “Oh, this person wants to work with you. Want to go to TV?” OK, let’s do it! “Are you that excited?” Not really. “Oh, there’s a celebrity over there!” I don’t care.
That’s the best though. How many people can say that they do what they love?
1%. And I’m in that 1%, baby!
How do we stalk you?
Photography by: Melly Lee