Desmond Dennis is Living his Best Life on YouTube and TikTok
By Felicia L. Niven

If there’s something that Desmond Dennis can’t do, he hasn’t found it yet. This Grammy-nominated songwriter, producer, actor, singer and musician has performed for the likes of Justin Bieber and Cardi B. His YouTube/TikTok channels are off the charts, with millions of followers who binge his entertaining comic sketches, signature R&B covers, heartfelt and hilarious anti-bullying messages, as well as fresh takes on viral children’s songs. (Baby Shark lullaby, anyone?)

As he tells it, he was born to perform. “I was playing drums when I was 2 years old,” says Dennis, 28, who grew up in Lawnside and now lives in Marlton. “Before my parents bought me my first set, I was flipping over pots and pans. That’s when they realized music was just in me.”

He eventually started drum lessons, then piano, trying to learn as many instruments as he could. He was driven. In fact, Dennis had goals far beyond that of his classmates, as he discovered in second grade. “

I remember this day like it was yesterday,” he says. “Our teacher asked us, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ And you heard all of the typical answers, which are fine answers. ‘I want to be a fireman.’ ‘I want to be a police officer.’ When it got to my turn, I said ‘I want to be a musician.’ That’s when everybody started laughing. They told me I was never going to make it.” It was a defining moment in more ways than one. “This was my dream,” he adds. “No matter what anyone said, I was determined to stick with it.”

He started singing at 8, inspired by a group long before his time, The Temptations. “I thought it was so cool to just share a love of something with your best friends,” he says. “So that’s when I had the idea of starting a singing group.” He and his friends formed SJ3 – SJ for South Jersey and 3 for the 3 of them.

After 6 years of doing shows and building a fan base, SJ3 was put on the map by none other than Justin Bieber. “Justin was sitting next to one of the guys who found Drake,” says Dennis. “They were in a studio together when they came across one of our videos, and Justin says, ‘You need to sign them because they can be the next Boyz II Men.’ He signed us to his label and flew us out to California.” Dennis was just 17 at the time.

Then the work began. The group recorded every day, attended label meetings and met a lot of aspiring stars. For 2 years, they did everything they were supposed to do on the journey toward fortune and fame that never arrived. Ultimately, he and his friends parted ways and he headed back home to New Jersey, wondering what would come next.

That’s when Dennis revisited the YouTube channel he had started back in 2007, when he was posting covers of his favorite songs. Using a green screen, he created his own singing group, Clone 5 – made up of only him. He filmed himself individually and merged the videos so they interacted with each other.

It was only one of the many endeavors Dennis tried in search of his niche. He circulated vocal packs, sets of riffs and harmonies, one of which was picked up by Cardi B’s producer as her team was orchestrating the beat behind “Ring.”

The momentum was starting to build. The next stop, however, was unexpected. “My son was a huge Baby Shark fan, and he was driving me insane with the song,” says Dennis. “I thought maybe I could remix it with some R&B flavor so he can hear his favorite song on repeat without driving me crazy. I created it, uploaded it and promptly forgot about it. Three days later, I checked my YouTube channel and it had over 1 million views.”

The YouTube channel became his new focus with expanded content to engage his audience.

His first comedic sketch was “The Barbershop,” created during the pandemic. “I was cutting my son’s hair because we’re in a pandemic and all of the barber shops are closed,” he explains. “After I was done, I was sweeping, and thought wow, the last time I did this, I was working at a barbershop. I started laughing because of the stuff customers used to do, such as trying to leave before paying me. That’s how the idea came to me.”

Then Dennis got personal. In delving into his childhood, he remembered being picked on for being different. Bullying had affected him deeply, and he knew he wasn’t alone. He decided to address it on his channel, but not in a sad way.

“I felt like the audience would connect with it a lot better if it had a comical aspect,” he says. The message resonated so much that Dennis started using his platform to spread anti-bullying messages.

“The School Trouble Maker,” one of his biggest hits, has been viewed more than 31 million times – right up there with his Baby Shark video.

Dennis credits his family for much of his success. “So many different ideas and inspiration come from my family,” he says. “They’re my official team. Sometimes I need stunt doubles, so my wife will be in a costume. She’ll do a voice over for one of the characters. She does a lot of post-production work.”

His son, now school-age, plays a key backstage role. “I play every video for him and I look for his reaction,” says Dennis. “If he gives me the phone back, I know it wasn’t that good. If he’s laughing and says, ‘Play it again, Daddy,’ I know it’s ready.”

July 2022
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