If you’ve scrolled through TikTok, you’ve most likely stumbled upon the fun, energetic dance trio called the Basement Gang.
Dancing their way to more than five million followers and 110 million likes — the group consisting of three best friends from Mississauga, Nathaniel James, Kadeem Hemmings, Nicholas McDonald, is one of the most followed dance groups on the app.
Starting their account during the pandemic — a bleak period where people sought any sort of joy, the Basement Gang’s infectious energy caught on with many who felt alone in isolation. From the way they hyped each other up to interacting with fans online, something about the group caused a spark.
After posting their first dance video in early 2020, the crew woke up to millions of views. As they recorded and shared more posts dancing to songs across all genres, millions more came pouring in.
But their huge rise wasn’t something they had plotted together. In fact, they found overnight viral success almost by accident.
“Because (McDonald) didn’t have a license, this is the house that we’d have to come to by default,” James said. “We used to chill on the main floor mostly and then one day his dad started playing music down here and we came down and started dancing.”
They didn’t think much of fame, but with TikTok, they decided to post their dance videos, and learned soon that the world couldn’t get enough. Shortly after those first few viral videos, McDonald’s basement became an iconic sight on the app. While it was just a makeshift home studio to them, to fans, this basement would be a place to find moments of elation through the art of dance.
While a rise to fame for many creators quickly shifts to monetization to turn their success into a full time career, they have different plans. After all, the videos were just an extension of what they’ve been doing since meeting in elementary and high school: hanging out, playing video games and dancing.
“A lot of the times (when) people blow up, they always switch up or act differently … or make content that isn’t really (authentic to them) for the numbers,” said Hemmings.
They admit that in their earlier days, they did succumb to some of the hype and attempted to create more content — constantly breaking a sweat and pushing to film multiple videos a day. But they soon came to realize it didn’t work for them.
“That’s another thing about staying true to ourselves, we realized we don’t need to be like other creators posting three times a day, five days a week,” said James. “We can post two to three times a week and we’re OK with that.”
Another core part of the Basement Gang’s success is interacting with fans and including international music in their routines, which have seen viral numbers on videos dancing to everything from Arab music to K-pop hits. Growing up in Mississauga, representation and inclusivity is always top of mind, as they were always surrounded by different cultures and communities.
“We heard the music growing up and with the people we associate ourselves with,” he said, adding having a large platform like TikTok only enabled them to interact with even more people around the world.
“It’s definitely really rewarding to see we can connect ourselves to another continent and see people appreciate what we’re doing.”
The trio emphasize a lot of their song choices aren’t just intended to reach a particular community, but because they genuinely enjoy listening to music that is new to them, and finding ways to dance to them while also shining a light on other cultures.
“Sometimes when I watch the music video, we take a move or two and then do the rest of our own stuff, kind of dipping into the culture a little bit,” James said.
While many Canadian creators have moved to the U.S. to continue pursuing their craft in a larger market, the Basement Gang wants to stay true to their roots — hoping to big up Canada and the neighbourhood that raised them.
“What we’ve heard from a lot of people, especially creators that are from here, is they tend to leave and go to New York or L.A. so it’s been cool that we’ve stayed,” said James. “Because that’s the way you amplify voices that are coming out of the area. It’s good to see people in Toronto getting more of a spotlight than as before and it’s cool that we’re kind of part of that.”
Perhaps the biggest reward for the group has been watching the reaction from viewers, especially those who have found light in their videos while experiencing tough times.
“We don’t really expect our videos to have such an impact on them. A lot of people are going through a surgery, or going through a tough time in their life. it’s just the best to hear ‘Hey your videos really helped me through this stuff,’ that’s probably one of the coolest things,” Hemmings said.
McDonald says that people that have seen them online also recognize them IRL (in real life).
“People just recognize us and they thank us for lifting up their day,” said McDonald.
For family and friends of the group, it’s also been a joy, James says.
“Sometimes I’ll be at home and I’ll hear a certain run of songs and think ‘Why does this sound familiar?’ And (my mom’s) just scrolling through our videos from a year or two years ago,” he said. “She just really likes it and you can tell she’s really proud. She tells her friends and every casual Friday, she wears our T-shirts to work.”
What stands out most to the group, thinking back to where they started is how fast life can change.
“Even if you think things are going one way, your life can switch in another way. We never really imagined this happening,” said James. “You never know where your life’s going to go and it can take you so many places that you can never imagine.”
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