A white T-shirt and khakis, crispy clean Jordan 1s and controlled yet chaotic limbs that flail around the kit. Justin Wilson II was shredding to “Skip Step” by Nate Smith and playing it like an absolute pro. His fills oscillated between flowing triplets and crispy 16th notes, slipping and sliding around the 9/8 time signature with ease. Wilson’s professional grooving was a marvel, no matter the circumstances. But, just to make things interesting, he’s 7 years young with talent that is unmatched by most adults.
I first discovered him on Instagram, where he posts drum content almost daily. Of course, his account is run by his family, given Wilson’s not-yet-fully-developed prefrontal cortex. But that doesn’t stop him from drumming his butt off! In this performance, Wilson eats the groove like candy and plays the heck out of Smith’s song. For some context, Nate Smith is a 46-year-old drummer famous for his funky grooves, wacky time signatures, crazy technique and being an absolute menace on the kit. However, Wilson’s limbs move fluidly as he plays with the power and heart of an accomplished and grown drummer. Watching him navigate 9/8 time signatures with such ease is incredible, especially when he’s almost smaller than the snare drum.
As expected, a talent like Wilson’s doesn’t go unnoticed. He’s had a few appearances on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” where he spouts his bursting personality and love for music. With a beaming smile and bright red Jordans, Wilson cracks jokes and talks about one of his favorite music artists, Lenny Kravitz. Wilson has covered classics by Kravitz both times he’s been on the show, including “Fly Away” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” He locks into the groove, looking onto his parents and the marveling audience. The first time he appeared on the show, Wilson was 4 years old. When he came back a year later, Kravitz himself made an appearance and blew Wilson’s mind even more than the drum cover blew the audiences’.
The public attention doesn’t stop for this young beast. In the spring of 2019, 4-year-old Wilson performed at a Golden State Warriors game. Stunted out with a Steph Curry jersey and blazing energy, Wilson plopped himself on his courtside kit. His dad vlogged the entire journey, capturing Wilson’s motivation and sheer excitement for the performance. He jammed along to “Fly Away” once again, showing his crazy fills and impeccable timing; Wilson has nerves of steel when he’s sitting on the throne. If I didn’t know any better, seeing his passion and love for drums would make me think he’s a well-grown teenager.
Watching Wilson dominate the kit like the McDonald’s play place never fails to excite me for the future of drumming. But, just as Wilson began shredding the drums at 18 months, there are tons of drummers who picked up sticks right out of the womb — absurd youth talent is getting more and more popular, thanks to social media. Before I found Wilson, I was shocked by MightyMouseDex, another young drumming lord. Dexter, who is now 13 years old, began his YouTube channel in 2015 at age five. He’s now consistently uploaded drum covers, as well as clips of him playing soccer and basketball, for six years. His channel has amassed 1.3 million subscribers.
Like Wilson, Dexter took on challenging songs, such as “50 Way To Leave Your Lover.” Steve Smith, who’s held at the tip-top of the drumming totem pole (totem stick?), crafted the tasty but difficult groove in 1975, and it’s been regarded as a notorious beat ever since. However, Dexter took on the tune with ease, smiling and grooving his way through the entire thing. When I attempted to learn this song, I had to watch a YouTube video. Learning the sticking and technical aspects of the groove wasn’t too bad, but making it feel good was the true endeavor. This is a classic situation where skills only go so far, but even so, Dexter sauced his way through the whole drum cover.
One of my favorite performances by Wilson comes from his appearance on Drumeo, the online drumming platform with millions of subscribers, followers and famous employees. Wilson played an all-time classic: “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. His timing and feel throughout the whole song is amazing. For five years old, this kid can groove better than most drummers that I meet who are my age. Sometimes, it can be slightly discouraging (just kidding, the drumming community is better than jealousy) to see someone who doesn’t even know what the SAT is play better than yourself, but it’s all part of the musical journey; in the end, some people are just better than you.
Speaking of better than me, Tony Royster Jr., arguably the best drummer of our generation (at this point, the next one might start playing drums in the womb), is another classic case of a child prodigy. At 12 years old, a small and bold Royster Jr. took the stage in a white tee and jeans and blew away the entire drumming world. His solo is one of the most incredible I have ever seen. Words cannot describe the skills this man has — the announcer even referred to the fifth-grader as “Mr. Tony Royster Jr.” (talk about brownnose). Just like Wilson, Royster Jr. showed everybody that age truly is just a number.
Wilson’s achievements extend beyond just drumming. In 2018, he released an album titled “LJ’s World,” which has songs like the “ABC Song” that groove professionally. It’s eight tracks of personality, childhood and raw talent. The album starts with “Boss Bite,” a jam with a bumping trap beat and rap lines from Wilson himself — his rhythmic capabilities go beyond just the drums. His Instagram also features a live peek into the recording of “I Want Milk,” where Wilson shreds a drummer solo. My stank face was prominent while I listened, and I suddenly found myself lusting for dairy.
It is undisputed that certain youngsters have a knack for bangin’ the skins, but other than age, what separates them from adults? In my opinion, it’s their bursting creativity and limitless passions. Yes, it is rare to watch someone so tiny play like an adult, but young drummers are so much more than that. Wilson expresses his childish love for the art form through happy dances, big smiles and jumping around. This passion is so refreshing in a world where people take themselves too seriously — some guy made a cover on YouTube criticizing that “September” is always played wrong. Really, dude? Wilson and other devoted drummers remind us that music isn’t always about perfection; rather, it’s about emotion and passion, and no amount of godlike skills can make up for the pure enjoyment and freedom that the youth bring to the table.