Ever heard of Larnell Lewis? Nate Smith? How about Travis Barker? To non-drummers, these names are most likely completely unfamiliar (except for Travis Barker — he’s pretty popular nowadays). However, these three names are the object of admiration to drummers and musicians everywhere. Not only are they wickedly talented, but all three are also drummer of the year nominees. That’s right, even drummers get yearly recognition.
Drumeo, a massive drumming education platform, creates a list of nominees every December and opens voting up to the public. The drummers were nominated for an abundance of categories, ranging from performance to online creator awards. Needless to say, the Drumeo Awards are striving to capture the diverse and ever-adapting world of drumming, which is still developing and growing within the confines set by COVID-19. Here are a few nominees that I found really stood out from the others.
The first nominee I was stoked to see on the Drumeo Awards website was Zack Graybeal, better known as ZackGrooves. The drummer was nominated for online creator of the year alongside eight other online drummers.
Graybeal first rose to fame on YouTube for his wicked drumming skills and funny videos after he started his account with clips of live music and drumming tips and tricks. He now uploads weekly content and amassed more than 293,000 subscribers almost entirely in 2021 alone. His videos are hysterical — it’s always a pleasure to watch him show his skills to random people on Omegle, the streets outside his house and in gigs and performances. He also has a few lesson videos, which, given Graybeal’s experience as a top-notch jazz drummer, are in high demand.
I began watching Graybeal’s content at the beginning of 2021, snickering at his memeified videos and ongoing jokes about drum chops. I fell in love with binge-watching the talented drummer’s limited amount of content and was begging for more. There was a point that his subscriber count went up thousands by the day, which built more and more anticipation for his next video in my head.
Seeing Graybeal on a list with eight other incredible online drumming creators is spectacular, and his well-deserved recognition fills me with pride for being a ZackGrooves fan. Of course, the young drumming sensation received his nomination with maturity and humbleness. Although the other nominees present a challenge (I love all of their content!), ZackGrooves’ nomination is surely historical for the modern drum community. If he wins, I don’t doubt it will surpass legendary.
As introduced earlier, Larnell Lewis is another big name who was nominated in several different categories. The Canadian musician is a potential contemporary drummer of the year, as well as a general drummer of the year nominee. Only a few other names were repeated on these lists, adding to Lewis’ supreme musical resume. At 37 years old, Lewis has played with some of the best musicians in the world, not just during 2021. Drumeo recognized him for his viral “Enter Sandman” video in his nomination description, as well as the Grammy awards won by his band Snarky Puppy.
While being in a band is most drummers’ dream, Snarky Puppy is no ordinary set of musicians. A musical force of nature, the jazz and contemporary band flexes an army of insane artists, each being masters of their craft. In 2014, the band launched a few videos on YouTube and broadcasted performances of their latest album, “We Like It Here.” Lewis played on the tracks, showing off an unfeasibly massive array of drumming skills that are mesmerizing to watch. Snarky Puppy’s complex music sets quite a challenge already, but to make things even harder, Lewis was an emergency replacement for the band’s original drummer (who is also on Drumeo’s list). Lewis has pointed out that he was only able to learn the music on the six-hour flight to the studio, an unspeakably short amount of time to deliver such a masterful performance.
Given his history of amazingness, Lewis’ placement on the Drumeo Awards nomination list is no surprise. He immediately secured my votes for contemporary drummer and overall drummer of the year. It breaks my heart having to choose between drumming masters like Todd Sucherman and Chris Coleman, but unfortunately, there can only be one winner. In the meantime, I’ll hope that Lewis comes out on top in at least one of the categories.
Straying slightly away from jazz, Drumeo also created an R&B/hip-hop category, which features one of my all-time favorite drummers, Questlove. He is a founding member of The Roots, a famous hip-hop group from the late ‘80s that has grown into an entourage of talent. Questlove gets to broadcast his skills — literally — every week at 11:30 p.m. on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”
However, “The Tonight Show” is just the tip of the iceberg for Questlove’s incredible skills and talents. In fact, this year, he was even recognized for directing an award-winning documentary called “Summer of Soul.” The film delves into the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival, which was a historical and societal pivot in music. The documentary features unreleased footage from the event and tells a unique story of a musical revolution. After its release, “Summer of Soul,” which is now available to stream on Hulu, won an audience and grand jury award at the 2021 Sundance Movie Festival.
Besides his documentary work, Questlove has been making beats for years now, providing a divine entrée of groove, chops and overall mastery of the kit. The Roots’ Tiny Desk is my favorite demonstration of his skills. The Philadelphia native takes charge of his band with ease, effortlessly directing them through a 13-minute musical medley. Although this was four years ago, the performance will go down in the books as a benchmark for Questlove’s talent. Questlove secured my vote for hip-hop drummer of the year, but in a battle against legends like Chris “Daddy” Dave, winning the award would be an extraordinary honor for Questlove.
As a drummer myself, the drum community’s positivity has always been its strongest aspect. The general sense of love and appreciation for the instrument and its players is so prominent that it rises above almost everything. At the end of the day, no matter how popular drummers are, it all comes down to the music. The Drumeo Awards are yet another example of unity in the diverse and developing world of music, as well as the excitement of partaking in it. Wrapping up a gritty 2021 was difficult, but it was nice knowing I could escape into the controlled chaos of the drumming world whenever I needed it. The winners of the Drumeo Awards will be announced in a livestream on Feb. 4, so stay tuned!