Shaquille Davis, better known as No Life Shaq, is a 26-year-old hip-hop head experiencing rock for the first time and recording his reaction on his YouTube channel, which has well over 1.5 million subscribers. He initially started with hip-hop—songs from the likes of Eminem, Meek Mill, 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes—but in October 2018 made the decision to branch out, checking out songs he’d never before heard, starting with Metallica’s “One.”
“I want to be the greatest at this reaction shit,” says the Greenville, SC-based YouTuber at the intro. “I want to change the way people look at reactions….I was like, ‘I can’t be the greatest if I make myself one-dimensional…It ain’t just hip-hop that has the bars…Other genres, they got bars.”
That December, he did his first country reaction, Chris Stapleton’s “Tennessee Whiskey.” “I did not expect that,” he says. “My man got on the hat and all, bro. I thought I was gonna get that deep-in-the-woods country.” And it just gets better from there. “You all know black people love soul,” he enthuses.
The protocol is the same for every “first time hearing” video. He sits in a stark room at his computer, headphones on, and usually pulls up the lyrics and stops and starts the track to comment. His face lights up, jaw drops, eyes widen, head sometimes bangs; he might laugh after figuring out or guessing at the meaning, sometimes so blown away by the words or music he gets up from his chair with a clap or a skip.
Of Rush’s “The Spirit of Radio,” he says, “There is no way this is three dudes” and “the drumming is insane. Who is the drummer? I need a name.” Of Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” he declares “that’s deep” at the start of the lyric. And the words to “Free Bird” have likely never been analysed the way Shaq does—“In other words, I’m single baby”—and yet he says of the instrumental that it’s “speaking words to us.”
Reaction videos are not new; there are tons of people doing the exact same thing, but No Life Shaq’s enthusiasm should be bottled. No doubt it will make anyone familiar with the songs smile and perhaps even look at the number in a whole new way and turn some hip-hop heads onto a new genre.
Complex Canada chatted with Shaq about how he picks the songs and his very strict policy on discovering more music. Maybe some of our song suggestions will be next.
I love your reaction videos. Complex, as you know, is a hip-hop and urban lifestyle publication, but the fact that you are a hip-hop fan that’s opening up to other kinds of music is certainly bridging some gaps. When did you start loving music?
I started loving music since I was a little kid. That’s basically all we had to bring us together other than sports. So I've been loving music all my life. Everybody thinks I’m a rapper; I’m not a rapper. I'm just a normal person that loves music.
Did you only listen to hip-hop?
Yeah, before I did reaction stuff, all I used to listen to was R&B and hip-hop.
When did you start entertaining the idea of doing the reaction videos for rock?
I wanted to build my channel with more than hip-hop. I just gave it a try one day. Somebody threw me a track from Metallica, “One,” and it went viral. I wondered why people gravitated to it, but they liked to see a black man react to metal. Then I did my first country reaction, to Chris Stapleton. When I saw the reception I got from switching my genre, I was curious about what other music do people like to listen to?
In the Chris Stapleton reaction, you say, “This ain’t even a black or white thing; this is beautiful,” And then you were like, “Did Chris Stapleton just make me say ‘beautiful’?’ You were actually nervous about doing it. Why? What was the stereotype? What did you think you were going to hear?
I really didn't know. As you can see at the beginning of that reaction, I called my sister and she was telling me how the song goes. I was like, “I'm about to do my first country reaction on the channel.” And I just did it and I really didn't know what to expect. I knew it was going to have the country language and country vibe, but when I heard the song, it was completely different. It was soulful. So that threw me off guard, how beautiful the song was.
I ended up going down the rabbit hole of your rock reaction videos. Do you do the same with the music? Do you hear one Chris Stapleton song and then go listen to his whole album?
Actually, when you do reaction, you try not to do that.
But after. Privately? You don’t want to check out more?
No. I pretty much let the fans do it. I don't go do it on my own—even if I want to. I just wait to show the fans my reaction to it because nine times out of 10, they'll be in the comments telling me to react to it anyway.
So you will never check out a song privately you’ve never heard. Or crank a whole Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin album in the car. It will only be for a reaction video because you don't want to spoil it? Is that what you're saying?
Correct. Correct. Correct.
That's a shame because there's entire albums to be discovered.
[Laughs.] Yeah, I got a lot more music to react to. After I react to it, I go put it on my Spotify playlist and I listen to it in the car, be singing along to it. It’s great.
I'm in Canada, home of Rush. I'm sure you know that Neil Peart, the drummer, passed away?
Yes m’aam. I actually did a tribute video about his best drum performances, but it got lost on my computer and I couldn't find it. But I had meant to post it two days after it happened.
Their management saw your “Spirit of Radio” reaction and they think the band saw it, too. Do you hear a lot from the artists or management when you post a reaction?
Yes ma'am. A lot of the managers, same with the artists, they’ll reach out to me through Facebook and Twitter. Some of the managers will email me asking me to check out more of their music.
And do you say, “No I can't. That interferes with my reaction videos”?
Yeah. I tell them the same thing. I say I will get to it. The song they want me to react to, I write it down.
They must really appreciate what you do. Rap is about the lyrics, of course. Do you feel that’s a key connection because of your love for hip-hop—you pay attention to the lyrics?
Yeah, that's exactly what it is. Doing so many hip-hop reactions, especially Eminem, you have to really pay attention to what he’s saying. It translates over to the other genres of music. You don’t want to go right through it not knowing what the song is about. No matter what I react to, I try to understand the meaning of the song,
“Free Bird” and “Stairway To Heaven,” I’ve probably heard those songs a thousand times each, but the way you dissect them lyrically made me listen to them differently.
“Free Bird” is my favorite reaction on the channel. I had so much fun doing that video.
Not a lot of females on your channel. No Janis Joplin “Piece of My Heart.” Jefferson Airplane “White Rabbit.”
I've been asking for female musicians, but I don't really get too many.
What about other Canadian acts? Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah” or Neil Young’s “Needle and the Damage Done” or “Hey Hey, My My (Into The Black)”? Do you know those songs?
I heard my fans say those names plenty of times, but nobody has suggested songs.
Can I go through a few and see if you've heard of the songs?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Have you ever heard of Bob Dylan's “Hurricane”?
Nope. Nope. No. No.
What about Supertramp's “School”?
Nope. Never heard of it.
Bruce Springsteen’s “Thunder Road”?
Now that rings a bell. You said “Thunder Road”?
Oh, I’m thinking of “Thunderstruck.” I’ve never heard of “Thunder Road.”
“Thunderstruck” is AC/DC. Or “Jungleland” is a great one, too. Probably would make a better reaction.
What about The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”?
I heard of that song before. I never reacted to it, but I heard of that song.
And The Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil”?
“Sympathy for the Devil,” no m’aam.
What about rock from the grunge era like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”?
You said Nirvana? I remember my fans telling me about Nirvana. I'm trying to remember the songs they were telling me to do.
“Smells Like Teen Spirit”?
No. I’ve got to write these names down.
You have a lot of work to do.
Yeah, I'll tell you, I got a lot more songs to do.
Out of all the rock you've done: Slipknot, Queen, Mötley Crüe, Rush, Black Sabbath, Metallica, Pantera, Judas Priest. Who's your favourite?
That’s a good question. I gotta go with Slipnot.
Some of these bands, like Led Zeppelin, of course, have long broken up, but others like Slipknot or Metallica still play live. Have you gone to a rock or metal concert?
Not yet. My fans are waiting on it patiently. I proposed to wait until I hit 500K but then I hit it and I never got a chance to go to one yet.
Do you go to hip-hop concerts?
Yeah, I go to hip-hop concerts all the time.
Do you have another job?
I've been doing YouTube full-time for three years now.
And it’s your fans that dictate to you who they'd like you to listen to?
Yes, ma'am. I’m going to be doing a lot more classic rock.
Well I’m a fan, so hopefully you’ll do some of mine.