Black Gen Z creators, content houses, and the influencer pay gap

Since being largely homebound, my son’s YouTube consumption has gone way up. His favorite influencers, like FaZe Rug and Mr. Beast, have a formula for getting the most views and highest audience retention. 

They run pranks and challenges and act out fake ghost stories. They stretch relationship dramas over the minimum eight minutes required to earn money from midroll advertisements. Altruism for show — awarding random fans thousands of dollars or surprising Target cashiers and Starbucks baristas with $100 tips — is a go-to way to pull heartstrings and maximize monetization. 

Some of the more successful influencers live in content houses — opulent but generic mansions with swimming pools (for throwing things in), ball pits, in-ground trampolines, and editing rooms. For the most part, these collectives are white, like Hype House and Sway House; some have sprinkles of diversity. Most are based in Los Angeles, with a few European groups. 

Last November, two new content houses arrived on the scene. The Valid Crib and Collab Crib are all-Black collectives who chose to plant roots in Atlanta instead of Los Angeles. The members of these groups post short videos to Dubsmash, gain reach on Instagram, and go viral on TikTok. 

Collab Crib’s Khamyra Sykes (pictured above) led a tour of the group’s new mansion, still under construction. “I’ve been doing social media for like, a very long time and like, mainly like every platform — Dubsmash, TikTok, YouTube, Instagram,” she told ET.com.

The creators and their homes are backed by managers who work out brand deals for them, which provides the money to lease or purchase the content houses. Marketing and talent executive Keith Dorsey is associated with both Atlanta houses, but manages Collab Crib more closely. He secured financial backing from Dubsmash, Instagram, CashApp, and Casper (for beds, obviously). The difference is evident: Collab Crib lives in an actual mansion. Valid Crib lives in a McMansion.

Having greater financial backing means that creators can make better content — better backdrops, higher quality cameras and lighting, more sophisticated editing tools. This widens the gap between the internet haves and have nots. FaZe Clan boasts about their $30 million mansion on YouTube. The esports collective has several high-profile Black investors: musicians like Swae Lee, Ray J, and Yo Gotti, basketball players Josh Hart and Ben Simmons. It is partly owned by Offset from Migos and DJ Paul from 3-6 Mafia. The group received a $22 million loan from a Canadian financial company in January of 2020. 

The influencer pay gap is real, and being documented on Instagram by Adesuwa Ajayi, a talent manager for influencers. By bringing transparency to how brands and content creators negotiate, Ajayi has revealed that companies have asked influencers to create and post videos in exchange for products instead of cash. According to The Verge, in one case a company refused to pay a Black creator while offering a white influencer payment for the same deal terms.

“We’re starting a wave that isn’t there for people that look like us,” Dorsey told The New York Times. “We could have easily moved to L.A., but we wanted to trailblaze something new. Everyone in L.A. is trying to fight to get a seat at the table, while we’re in Atlanta building our own table.”

Atlanta’s Gen Z creators are already aware they will have to work harder than their non-Black counterparts. “We don’t want handouts, you know, not that any other houses do,” Collab Crib’s Kaelyn Kastle told ET.com. “It’s hard to separate the fact that we’re Black but, you know, Black people, we have to work a little harder for everything, so we already knew that we’re not being set to the same benchmarks and standards as most of these, all the houses, are.”

As an older person, I have mixed feelings about the type of content these creators are putting out just to get views, likes, and money. But I am rooting for everybody Black, including these creators. Content creation is a way for talented and passionate young singers, actors, and entertainers to start their careers. It’s dismaying to see Black children and young adults learning early that there will always be hurdles to securing their financial future and achieving economic justice.