Finding community in a hip-hop producer’s Twitch stream
In May 2020 I was looking for something — something – to bring me joy. The world had become a dark place and I just wanted to be hopeful. And so I rationally searched in the most obvious place: Twitch. And what I found was music producer’s Twitch stream Kenny Beats.
Kenny Beats, born as Kenneth Blume III, is best known for his work with artists such as Denzel Curry and Vince Staples. In his YouTube series, The cave, he will produce a beat for artists in just 10 minutes. I had been a fan of his music for a while, but like most producers, I knew very little about Kenny: he was just a name in a list of song credits that happened to have a YouTube show that I enjoyed.
Before 2020, I was not a regular Twitch user. But while I had a job that I hated to pay my bills and every day hoped the pandemic would end so I could resume my normal life, I found out 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 man, arguably one of the hottest producers in hip-hop, who showed hundreds – sometimes thousands – of people how to make music. He took the time to share the secrets of the trade and give back to the next generation of musicians. I found this to be a fun way to pass the time, almost like being in a professor’s class on a topic you’re not currently studying.
Over time, the community became a bigger part of the experience, with certain usernames becoming instantly recognizable and providing consistent content for Kenny to feed on. Kenny started making a series called the Pain Chat, where viewers could submit questions for him to answer about various trials in their lives. There was the Beat Battles, where subscribers were previewed and given a certain amount of time to create a beat, submit it, and get it voted by other viewers. Beat Battles winners have received various kinds of gifts 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 playing sports or Twitch streamers playing video games. It’s always a thrill to see someone operate at the top of their game. His creativity inspires me, and I often find myself pitching my friends on crazy ideas in an effort to recreate the environment Kenny has created.
What helps all this is how overwhelming Kenny and this community is for people, like me, who aren’t here to make music. Rather than making the stream just for experienced producers, Kenny answers questions that some might find silly about the process of making music. (At one point I didn’t understand how someone could produce without touching a mouse or keyboard, and had to explain the scope of a producer’s role on stream.) During the stream you can feel how grateful Kenny is to the audience he and how grateful the public is to have their art in the world. This includes his Discord, where inclusion is encouraged, and channels like the Community Support Channel offer people a place to get help with their more serious life problems.
My experience with this community only grew after attending the Don’t Over Think Shit (DOTS, 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 spoke to on Twitch, the people whose music I listened to and supported in Discord. By the end of the show, I had made friends, including one who helped me navigate the subway. Kenny set a tone of love and positivity on stream, and that tone extended into real life. I still have little to no idea how to produce music, but I have seen first hand the right way to build a relationship with your fans that is meaningful and long lasting.
On July 21, Kenny Beats streamed for its 40th day in a row. It was also the last day in that series. He recently spoke on stream about taking a long break from streaming, possibly permanently. It would be sad to lose the stream and would take away one of my few reasons to visit Twitch, but I wouldn’t lose everything. The people I’ve found on his channel really care about each other and want to support each other, whether it’s our creative endeavors or personal struggles. Even if Kenny Beats’ streams disappear, the community is still there.
David Arroyo is a graduate of Penn State University and currently works in television production. He hosts There’s a lot going ona sports-focused podcast.