Of the many headline-making threats to come from a Donald Trump presidency, likely the quickest forgotten, was his plan to ban the popular video-sharing app TikTok from US app stores. Though former President Trump would argue that he was advocating for the privacy of American users, those the ban would have affected most severely were legions of social media stars—many of them Black—using the app to build their respective brands as content creators. Atlanta-based talent manager and CEO of Young Guns Entertainment Keith Dorsey remembers this time well and the impact it had on him and his stable of creators.
“A lot of TikTok creators who are not in my circle were literally depressed,” Dorsey says. “They thought their whole life was going to be deleted. The creators that I was working with [however], I’d already had on Instagram, doing Triller, doing YouTube videos—they were good. They did not put all their eggs in one basket.”
When it comes to content creation, Dorsey is well studied. Over the course of half a decade, he watched childhood friend and eventual business partner Robert Dean III (soon to be known as RobiiiWorld) go from struggling rapper to a social media star with an Instagram following one million strong. They’d learn the business together over the course of Robiii's come-up, with Dorsey launching his Young Guns Entertainment firm in 2016, which today boasts a reach of over 50 million followers across platforms.
Their latest endeavor, CollabCrib, broke barriers in 2020 as one of the first all-Black social media content houses in existence. The home’s occupants, hand-selected by Dorsey, work together to create content with an understanding that a rising tide lifts all boats. “I really picked them like I was building out an NBA All-Star Team,” Dorsey says. “I wanted to make sure they handle business correctly because with big brand deals, they want to make sure the content is good quality and done on time. That alone will create the growth they need for other opportunities.”
Dorsey’s Young Guns Entertainment team, like the creator space itself, is growing quickly. They’ve got 2 houses (CollabCrib and ValidCrib) in addition to a continuously growing roster of creators. Though it wasn’t that long ago, gone are the days when Dorsey was able to handle all of the business inquiries himself. “If it's less than $20,000, I don't even entertain it because I have to focus on the bigger deals,” he says. “I have a whole staff now: an executive assistant, a campaign assistant; the space is so new that I'm teaching people how this works.”
Below, Keith Dorsey shares his come-up story and his vision for the future of Black content creation in his own words.
“My best friend is RobiiiWorld and maybe 7 years ago I told him about Vine. Back in the day, Facebook was about family and pictures. Robbiii was always very funny, but when Vine came out, he was like, ‘I can be myself!’ He was doing it and had started a group called The 40 Four, which was a few Viners that came together to make sketch comedy videos. They started to go viral and from there, we started getting into the industry.
“I've been Rob's best friend for 15 years and from the beginning he would tell me, ‘I want you to be my manager.’ Before he was RobiiiWorld, he did music and his name was Big Rob Da Cool. I was like, ‘I don't want to be in no music industry,’ but come to find out, I ended up being his manager.”
“We started really seeing how serious it was and how powerful the content-creating world was [when we started] dropping stuff that people could relate to: situations that you would get into with a girlfriend or boyfriend or a job situation. What really changed the whole trajectory of our situation was when Instagram offered video. He was one of the first set of content creators creating for Instagram. People would hit him in his DM asking, ‘Hey can you promo me? Can you put my music in your video and tag me so I can get some exposure?’ This is way before the music industry started to understand that content creators had an impact on music.”
“One of the key relationships for us came from an app called Dubsmash, where a lot of the Black talent blew up. There’s a talent rep named Barrie Segal and she's been instrumental with helping Black kids get seen in LA and in Hollywood. She would take resources that she had and lobby for us. One of the very first things to happen for us was the was the article in the New York Times by Taylor Lorenz. If you look at all the New York Times articles for content houses, like Hype House, she was the one that kicked them off. But they were all white content houses.”
“They would have these YouTube houses where content creators would move in together and make a bunch of content and from there, their numbers would go crazy. We were always saying, ‘We need to do a house one day.’ Fast-forward to 2 years ago, I start seeing TikTok houses. I saw Hype House and I saw how much money they were making and I'm like, ‘Nah!’ They was stealing—well, adopting—a lot of the dances and culture from Black creators in Atlanta. I can't allow this to happen. I got with Rob and said, ‘We need to start a house, bro.’”
“We didn't have any friends or family to ask, ‘Hey, can I have $100,000 and start this amazing house for our hobby?’ We had to figure it out. It took awhile because when you're dealing with [home]owners and you tell them what you do and who's going to be living there, it's like, ‘Nah. Nope!’ I said, ‘I'll pay 2 months in advance and I'll pay a deposit and last month's rent.’ That was 30-something thousand dollars I had to drop on that house. We didn't even know how we were going to pay the bills. We didn't have no brand deals, none of that. I had to take a calculated risk based on what I knew was going to happen and based on what happened with other houses.
“We moved in and we got an article in the New York Times and it changed everything for us. Now we have a Lifewear deal, we have Monster Energy deal, we did something with Amazon Prime video. We did something with McDonald's. We're doing something with Krystal. We have products coming out. A lot has happened because we took that risk. And that's the job of a manager: to be ahead of your talent. You have to lead them.”
“I meet a lot of creators that want to work with me and they think a manager's a ‘cheat code.’ But in a way, the manager just enhances what they already have going on. I tell them, ‘Be patient. Don't just jump on anybody because having a manager is like being in a marriage. You have to know that person, you have to trust that person with your money. This person really can make or break your career based on how they move, how they handle business, how they represent you.’ I am the gatekeeper to a lot of their success.”
“Content creators are just like artists: they want to focus on being creative. A lot of the TikTok creators that I manage had never done any other platforms. They were just bored one day and they hopped on TikTok and 2 days later they were famous. I have to sit with them and give them a strategy and a plan to maneuver. TikTok has a different fan base from Instagram, which is different from YouTube, which is different from Triller, which is different from Dubsmash. Figure out how to make all that work for yourself so you can have a solid, secure career.”
“I teach creators to do what you love. If you're passionate about sports or acting or political things or humanitarian stuff, you need to do content based on that. That's how you're going to continue to be happy and really have a sustainable career. Nowadays, when it comes to celebrities, athletes, artists—they want a big following because that's where the power is. [Creators] already have the following. All you gotta do is be the talent.”
“Last night I had a staff meeting with 10 new interns. They went to the [CollabCrib] house and they were shooting content and taking pictures. I'm giving them an opportunity to help us build this thing up. If we look good and these people see that we're moving as a corporation, that's how we can go get a $500,000 check, a million dollar check. Everybody eventually gets an opportunity—not only to grow, but to get resources and make money. This is something we're doing for the culture. It’s bigger than us. We’re opening doors for Black creators here in Atlanta so they can have opportunities. Now when all these other Black creators see us, they say, ‘Man, I can do that too.’”