By Paulo Camacho
Walk through any major city around the world, and you’ve probably heard them.
The makeshift drum sets pounding away. The acoustic guitars strumming in the distance. The dulcet vocals that make crowds stop in their tracks.
They are the street musicians that populate urban streets from San Francisco to New York, from Seoul to Melbourne. Talented individuals who, until the advent of online media, were relegated to the anonymous corners for random passers-by to admire and move on.
Nowadays, all it takes is one person with a smartphone camera and a YouTube account to find — and appreciate — the best undiscovered musical talent. Here are but a few examples of street musicians that, despite their relative obscurity to the general public, have garnered wide acclaim throughout the internet and beyond:
Also known as Malik “DOPE” (Definition of Percussion Entertainment) Drummer, Stewart is a native of Upper LeDroit Park, in Washington, D.C. He started playing the drums at the age of 5, but learned a new appreciation for the art of percussion when he was 12, learning to play DC “Go-Go” music. His love for percussion, combined with his own unique playing techniques, served him well throughout his performing life — he would go on to play in the marching band for Northwestern High School, and would eventually lead him to the acclaimed Howard University drumline.
But it was in the streets of DC where he truly honed his craft. In a style he has dubbed “WAE-work,” Stewart combines precise, high-speed flourishes on the snare drum with freestyle dancing. Here’s an example of “WAE-work” from the man, himself:
It is a high-octane, entertaining style of drumming that has garnered crowds of people to stop and watch his street shows, and has elevated Stewart to new heights, including launching his “D.O.P.E.” brand as a way of promoting “entertainment, education, inspiration, motivation, innovation, artistic awareness & production through the live nature of percussion and performing arts”.
She was introduced to the internet as a struggling street musician from San Diego, on a grainy cell phone video posted to YouTube back in 2012 entitled “Beautiful Musician on Sidewalk in Downtown San Diego.” It was a Reddit post that quickly became viral on the site — enough for the musician, herself, to come out of the woodwork and conduct a Reddit AMA to her growing fan base. It was the kind of viral fame a street musician could only dream of — and she has parlayed it into a successful music career.
She is a native of Phoenix, and taught herself the guitar from the age of 5. Her sound and her style speaks to her then-newfound notoriety — a mix of soulful vocals and raw musical energy spoke to many people who discovered her online. According to her official website, she has become the answer for many people looking for “genuine music,” saying that her music is not, nor has ever been, created for commercial purposes:
Possibly one of the most viral street singers of recent memory, Mike Yung (born Michael Young) is best known as the Subway Singer of 23rd and Sixth Avenue. If you’ve been on Social Media at all in the past three years, you’ve probably seen his incredible rendition of the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody”, dressed in a polo shirt, baggy jeans and Brooklyn Nets baseball cap:
It’s the kind of rich, soulful, life-filled voice that you would have thought been enough to land him a recording contract. And, once upon a time, it did — he received a deal with RCA Records in 1975, under then-producer Teddy Vann. He then went to T-Electric Records four years later, where he was promised another album by then-executive Jim Tyrell. However, when the label bottomed out after Tyrell went bankrupt, he never got another shot at recording an album.
So, he continued to sing wherever he could — including the subway stations of New York — to make ends meet. Then his viral fame sprang to life, in the form of multiple videos taken by passers-by. Since then, the 58-year-old appeared on a number of national venues, including The Late Late Show with James Corden, and the 2017 season of America’s Got Talent, where he reached the Semifinals.