Fast Company is doing a series of profiles featuring up-and-coming content creators across social media to get an inside look at the highs and lows of the Creator Economy.
No one has quite known what to do with Qaadir Howard.
The Atlanta-based creative first attracted a following on YouTube mainly for his humorous and often heartfelt “story time” videos, where he’d regale viewers with tales such as being rejected from working at McDonald’s, getting harassed by kids at Walmart, or going toe-to-toe with a high school bully.
Howard’s razor-sharp tongue and outspoken presence on YouTube led to other opportunities, including a role in the 2013 horror film Blood Shed and cohosting the online series Pop Trigger. But all of that has been a backdrop to his true passion: recording music.
“My sister [asked me], ‘Qaadir who are you? Are you Prince? Are you Michael Jackson, Lenny Kravitz, or RuPaul?'” Howard says. “Because I do so many things, it’s like, is he trying to host? Is he trying to be in movies? What exactly is this?”
“What we’re doing right now is focusing on the music,” Howard continues. “That has always been my core.”
But even Howard’s music has been ahead of its time.
As far back as 2008, Howard was uploading homespun music videos and tracks to YouTube—with his queerness and Blackness proudly on display. Whether in drag rapping over a house beat or crooning an interpolation of Mariah Carey’s “My All,” it’s hard to imagine Howard not having a bigger following if he debuted in today’s culture with the mass appeal of RuPaul’s Drag Race, Pose, and Legendary, and the music industry finally embracing Black, gay, male artists such as Lil Nas X and Saucy Santana.
“My feeling is people study me,” Howard says. “To feel like you’re being squeezed out of something that you played a major part in, [it’s like] watching a parade you should be a part of but you have to watch it from the side.”
Howard aims to claim his rightful spot in that parade with his latest album The Queens Manifest:Reloaded.
Originally released earlier this year, Howard is reissuing the staggering, 37-track body of work as a more standard 12-track album featuring three new songs.
“It’s what I would consider the movie to the book,” Howard says of the two versions. “So if you want to go back and really get all of the details, you can. [And] we have visuals now to go with it.”
The music videos for The Queens Manifest: Reloaded took Howard through New York, Ohio, Virginia, and the Carolinas. It’s by far his most ambitious and sharply produced project to date. But if it sounds like there was a sizable budget for this, don’t be fooled. “I have to give the credit to my team, because these are people who came through for me for free,” Howard says. “If you go back early into my career, I have different little music videos that I’ve done. I used to put sheets up [as a background]. I always created whether there was a budget or not.”
And, to be frank, there’s never been a budget adequate to match Howard’s ambition.
While most YouTubers are able to subsidize other ventures with revenue earned from AdSense and consistent brand deals, Howard’s channel has never quite grown to that level, though not for lack of trying on Howard’s end. He feels that because his content typically leans left of center, it’s been more of a challenge to gain traction. “[YouTube] needs to bring back the talent spotlight, where people that may otherwise not be introduced to certain markets have an opportunity to be introduced in a real way,” Howard says. “These days they recommend only, like, NBC and Fox or major YouTubers. Why don’t you have a column for people who have 200,000 subscribers on down where they have an opportunity to be seen?”
Howard largely migrated to Patreon in 2016, which has been his main source of income in addition to direct support through Cash App.
“I’m gonna just be real with you, it’s been difficult,” Howard says. “What sustains me is the love of what I do. If I didn’t truly love it, I probably would’ve given up a while ago.”
Recently, someone DM’ed Howard a link to one of those sites that estimates a celebrity’s net worth, and he was listed as making anywhere between $100,000 to $1 million a year. “It’s just funny to me how wrong it is. I’m not even making 5% of that, probably less,” Howard says. “When I see that, it’s like the universe showing me that’s what you should be making. I know in my heart one day the dots are going to meet and my passion and my work ethic and my body of work are going to translate into percentages.”
One need only listen to The Queens Manifest: Reloaded to get the full breadth of Howard’s talent and passion for his craft.
Throughout the album are snippets of conversations Howard had with his family, primarily his mother who passed away of cancer in 2019.
“When I was recording those conversations, I didn’t know how I was going to use them. I told her, ‘this is not going to go to waste. We’re gonna make this into something beautiful,'” Howard says. “Some of those interludes, I was literally crying through them. So when a person says, I put my blood, sweat, and tears into this, that’s literally what this is. This is life, death, the hero’s journey.”
“I think my passion and my belief in this project is really bringing people into it,” he continues. “Because above everything that I’ve ever done on YouTube, even when, say, 10 years down the line I’ve done a number of other things, this project, The Queens Manifest: Reloaded, will be that project for me that I’ll hold so close to me because it saved my life. I feel it gave me something to fight for when I feel like so much was taken away from me.”