Justin Curtis White, III, known professionally as JWhite, is a drummer with verve. His first YouTube video has over 5.5 million views, but it’s not the views that matter as much as why people are watching—because JWhite is bringing something new with his beats.
This 22-year-old black drummer with gospel roots and heavy metal experience, who works by day on Wall Street for a financial technology company and at night pounds the skins and indulges his training in audio engineering, incorporates heavy metal drumming into hip hop songs in a way that makes people stop, watch, and listen. And his impressive stick tricks only add to the unusual flavor of his work.
JWhite started playing drums at age 13, after growing up on gospel music in church and some time playing piano. It happened organically after sitting down at a kit in his friend’s basement and feeling immediately comfortable. “It just kind of came naturally; drums really found me, in a way,” he said. “I have more of a feel for music than a concept of notes.”
He started with a “beater” drum set, as most people do, and just spent hours every day drumming. He learned by watching YouTube videos on rudiments, technique, and anything else related to drumming — and by playing. “When you learn the basics and build your own technique you create a unique style of playing because it’s fully from your brain,” he said.
JWhite grew up in a white suburban neighborhood where his friends loved skateboarding, video games, and heavy metal music. His early drum influences were musicians like Matt Greiner from the band August Burns Red and Adam Gray from the band Texas in July. “August Burns Red was the first band I was really into. I learned all their songs and played them all back-to-back with the album just to see if I could keep up,” White said.
He played in heavy metal bands during high school, culminating in the band Sabretooth during and then after his senior year. He played with that band for three years, toured the Northeast coast, made an EP with Manifest Records and a music video. “That was my first serious band, and it made me realize that music was something I could really pursue as a career and ultimately make an impact on the music scene,” he said.
JWhite went to college for music technology, where the band cooled down and he played mostly as an individual, jamming with other musicians. He was too poor to go on the road, but wanted to get serious about his music again toward the end of college, so he started recording his own drumming and made plans to start his own YouTube channel as a way to get exposure. He worked at a supermarket for years before he was able to transition to a job on Wall Street — playing the game all musicians face of needing to make money and pay the bills while working on his craft and trying to break out.
During this time, JWhite caught a new musical influence from his friends — rap and hip hop. He started getting into artists such as Travis Scott, Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, and The Underachievers. This generated an idea, an answer to his own question of how he could attract an audience and a digital fan base; what could he do that was true to his own musical self and creativity, that was also unique and unexpected?
The answer: dive deep into hip hop and rap music and cover hit songs with his own heavy metal-influenced drumming on the tracks.
“I find songs I like and then I learn them inside and out,” he said of his process. “Then I start jamming. It’s a mix of improv and writing. I just keep playing, and I’ll feel when what I’m doing has clicked.” Through this process, White has also learned the value of recording yourself playing and reviewing it, finding not just places for improvement, but also places for “intricate nuances,” ghost notes, and splashes.
JWhite’s first YouTube video, a cover of “Sicko Mode” by Travis Scott, was posted a little over a year ago. Since then, the video has had over 5.5 million views and 9,000 comments. The comments include things like:
- “This is the product of technical mastery. Your rolls are insane. Your pacing is dead on. The fills are unique.”
- “10x better with drums”
- “I’m glad I clicked on this. A lot of tasty licks in this.”
- “How does this not have more views?! Those double bass skills tho.”
- “I usually don’t listen to rap but this is fire. His single strokes are so powerful.”
“When I posted it I thought I’d be happy if I got like 10,000 views,” JWhite said. “When it hit 5 million, it was ridiculous. I thought, ‘I gotta keep doing this.’”
Coming soon, White plans to post more covers on YouTube. Up next are “Sidewalk Show” by Currency and “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa. He also plans to do more original drumming instrumentals, maybe eventually add a rapper, try to make money off his craft, and “attack the industry from a bunch of different standpoints.” He also produces, records, and just might be able to be enticed into another band, he said. “I have a lot of combining of different ideas, and I could go in any direction,” he said. “As long as I do it with drums, it’d be pretty sweet.”
Check out JWhite on Instagram @jwhitee21 or on the MakeShiftReality YouTube channel. Be sure to check out his “Sicko Mode” cover linked above.
SHOW US THE GEAR
JWhite plays a custom 5-piece kit from SJC (for whom he is an endorsing artist). The kit is all maple with a blue stain, black nickel hardware; a 14×6.5 snare, all maple with brass hardware with die-cast hoops; a Gibraltar rack, a Pearl Demonator double pedal, and Evans drumheads.
JWhite also uses and is an endorsing artist for Collision drumsticks.
Make sure to see JWhite’s tip for a drumstick trick!