Technology

Finding community in a hip-hop producer’s Twitch stream

In May 2020, I was searching for something — anything — to bring me joy. The world had become a dark place, and I just wanted to feel hopeful. And so, rationally, I went looking in the most obvious place: Twitch. And what I found was the Twitch stream of music producer Kenny Beats.

Kenny Beats, born Kenneth Blume III, is best known for his work with artists like Denzel Curry and Vince Staples. On his YouTube series, The Cave, he’ll produce a beat for artists in just 10 minutes. I’d been a fan of his music for some time, but like most producers, I knew very little about Kenny: he was just a name in a list of song credits who happened to have a YouTube show I enjoyed.

Prior to 2020, I was not a regular Twitch user. But as I worked a job I hated to pay my bills and hoped every day for the pandemic to end so I could return to my normal life, I learned that Kenny Beats was now streaming regularly on the platform. On a whim, I decided to check it out.

What I found was intriguing: here was a guy, arguably one of the hottest producers in hip-hop, showing hundreds — at times, thousands — of people how to make music. He was taking time out of his day to share the secrets of the trade, giving back to the next generation of musicians. I found this to be a nice way to pass the time, almost like sitting in on a professor’s class on a subject you are not currently taking.

Over time, the community became a bigger part of the experience, with certain usernames becoming instantly recognizable and offering consistent content for Kenny to feed on. Kenny began to do a series called the pain chat, where viewers could submit questions for him to answer about various trials in their life. There were the Beat Battles, where subscribers were given a sample and provided a set amount of time to make a beat, submit it, and have it be voted upon by other viewers. Winners of the Beat Battles have received gifts of various kinds, and some have even gotten publishing deals and opportunities because of the Kenny Beats stream.

I don’t make music, but watching Kenny make music was like watching athletes play sports or Twitch streamers play video games. It’s always a thrill to see someone operating at the top of their game. His creativity inspires me, and I often find myself pitching my friends on whacky ideas in an attempt to recreate the environment that Kenny has created.

What helps all of this is how overwhelmingly welcoming Kenny and this community are to people, like myself, who are not here to make music. Instead of making the stream just for experienced producers, Kenny answers questions that some may consider dumb about the process of making music. (At one point, I didn’t understand how someone could produce while not touching a mouse or keyboard, and he had to explain the breadth of a producer’s role on stream.) On stream, you can feel how thankful Kenny is for the audience he has and how thankful the audience is to have his art in the world. This extends to his Discord as well, where inclusion is encouraged, and channels such as the community support channel offer a place for people to get help with their more serious life problems.

My experience with this community only grew after attending the Don’t Over Think Shit (D.O.T.S, Kenny Beats’ creative company) show in Central Park in 2021. I went alone, but the people in that crowd didn’t feel like strangers. Instead, these were the people I was talking to on Twitch, the people whose music I was listening to and supporting in Discord. By the end of the show, I had made friends, including one who helped me navigate the subway. A tone of love and positivity was set by Kenny on stream, and that tone extended to real life. I still have little to no idea how to produce music, but I have seen firsthand the proper way to build a relationship with your fans that is meaningful and long-lasting.

On July 21st, Kenny Beats streamed for his 40th day in a row. It was also the last day in that streak. He’s talked recently on stream about taking a long break from streaming, potentially permanently. It would be sad to lose the stream and would take away one of my few reasons for visiting Twitch, but I wouldn’t be losing everything. The people I’ve found in his channel truly care and want to support each other, whether in our creative endeavors or personal struggles. Even if Kenny Beats’ streams go away, the community is still here.

David Arroyo is a graduate of Penn State University and is currently working in television production. He hosts There’s A Lot Going On, a sports-focused podcast.

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