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Creative cardio: How drummer Jahleel Hills uses fitness to stay energized

Staying creative and motivated during the pandemic can be stressful and challenging. For Jahleel Hills, a Brooklyn-born and raised filmmaker and drummer, good cardio and fitness is an important step in the artistic process. 

“Working out is really good for your mental health,” says the 22-year-old snare drummer. “When you work out, you feel accomplished for the rest of the day.” 

drummer cardio
Courtesy: @hypeman_hills

Hills is accustomed to performing for large audiences, one of his first major performances being at Citi Field when he was around 12-years-old. He later went on to perform at the 2016 VFiles Fashion Show and drummed behind Demi Lovato on Good Morning America in 2017. 

Some of his favorite performances include working with Spike Lee, having been featured on a Season 2 episode of Netflix’s She’s Gotta Have It, and also performing at the third annual “Prince Born Day Purple People Party” in 2018. 

“I’m a huge fan of Spike Lee,” says Hills, who takes his film inspiration from the BlacKkKlansman director. Hills’ film, Black Fratsman, a comedy-drama about a Black college student joining a frat, was third place in this year’s New York Lift-Off Film Festival.

“I was not only able to showcase my craft during the performance, but I was able to see his [Spike Lee’s] dream come into fruition.”

Jahleel Hills

Staying active and good cardio are important for this drummer

Staying energized during his performances isn’t always an easy feat. The weight of a drum varies, with some weighing up to 22 pounds, while the carriers and equipment only add to the weight. When marching, drum at the waist, during a parade, the cardio-intensive performances can be long and exhausting.

“You have to stay fit and you have to stay active,” says Hills, who attends the gym regularly. “I always try to work out my upper body. You want to entertain the crowd and give 100 percent of yourself.” 

This is the same for working in film. The equipment carried isn’t always light and the hours it takes to shoot can be extensive. Hills’ film, Black Fratsman, was shot over two weekends in February.

As the director and producer, Hills was on set between seven to ten hours a day.

“It was a really different type of grind time,” Hills remembers. “We were still working on it in the midst of the pandemic and being quarantined in the house. I had to push myself.”

Drumming as an outlet

Hills started drumming at the age of 11 — first joining the drumline at The Berean Baptist Church in Brooklyn. He categorizes his drum style as “show-style snare drumming,” where a variety of tricks and dances are incorporated into his sets.

This includes bouncing his drum sticks off the drums, or throwing them into the air, and twisting them behind his back. These are variations that Hills says take time and practice to fully learn and develop. 

“It comes from a lot of drummers before and taking your own spin on it,” Hills says. “A lot of people in the community can learn from each other. We learn how to take a trick that’s already cool and make it even cooler.” 

Inspired by the drumming styles of Ralph Nader and Harvey Thompson, an innovative drumming duo collectively known as BYOS (Bring Your Own Style), Hills considers drumming to be his “canvas.”

He strives to bring his quirky and goofy personality to the stage. It’s this same energy that makes him stand out and provides him with opportunities to perform in front of thousands. 

“The crowd itself is a whole entity. As a performer, you have to go in and catch their attention from the jump,” Hills says. “That energy the crowd gives you helps to push you on.”

Driving an impact

Hills describes himself using three words: creative, ambitious, and visionary.

As a filmmaker, he yearns to tell personal stories based on the “young, black, city kid” experience.

During the pandemic, he faithfully works on creating drum videos, while collaborating with undiscovered artists on his college campus.

“I think it’s really important to work with different artists outside of your area,” Hills notes. “It’s exposure for you, but also gives people a platform to showcase themselves.”

The best piece of advice Hills can give to other artists is to “keep working on your craft.” For Hills, every day is an opportunity to work on your physical and mental health. Staying active, focusing on that cardio, and prioritizing time to expand his drum skills is a daily routine despite the limited circumstances. 

“I believe that this generation will become the next great artists,” Hills concludes. “I see myself and my team impacting the world and making a name for ourselves and those who look like us.”


RIP John Singleton: Five of his greatest movies that shifted culture forever

After being in a coma for over a week, the family of director John Singleton has confirmed that Singleton has died at the age of 51.

On April 20, Singleton’s estate revealed that the Oscar-nominated director was placed on life support. This happened while he was at Cedars-Sinai hospital in LA, following a stroke.

At the time, Sheila Ward, who is a mother to the late director, requested a judge to appoint her temporary conservatorship because Singleton was “unable to properly provide for his personal needs for physical health, food, clothing, or shelter.”

Today, the director’s family confirmed the decision to pull the plug to Deadline.

“It is with heavy hearts we announce that our beloved son, father, and friend, John Daniel Singleton will be taken off of life support today,” a spokesperson for the family said in a statement.

“This was an agonizing decision, one that our family made, over a number of days, with the careful counsel of John’s doctors… We are grateful to his fans, friends and colleagues for the outpour of love and prayers during this incredibly difficult time. We want to thank all the doctors at Cedars Sinai for the impeccable care he received.”

Singleton was suffering from hypertension due to high blood pressure throughout his life. This was one of the leading causes of his stroke. His family made sure that his fans and people in general who are hearing about his death are, too, enlightened and informed.

The statement continued, “More than 40 percent of African-American men and women have high blood pressure, which also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe. His family wants to share the message with all to please recognize the symptoms by going to”

Now, you may have never heard of John Singleton being that he lived behind the camera as a director. Still, his work influenced us all. In fact, some say he singlehandedly brought the black perspective to the big screen.

From Tupac, Ice Cube, and Snoop Dogg, to Taraji P. Henson, Nia Long and Janet Jackson, John Singleton was giving roles to Black people in Hollywood when no one else was. Furthermore, he told stories that otherwise had no representation.

His influence on culture — merging hip-hop and Hollywood — still lasts today. The careers Singleton has started birthed new life and brought on more careers. All having spawned from his vision.

There are too many classics of his to list off the top and quantifying them is an impossible task. Here are five movies Singleton directed that changed the landscape of culture, Hollywood, and Black lives forever.

Boyz N The Hood (1991)

If you remember Ice Cube’s iconic line in the movie Boyz N The Hood, “Either they don’t know, don’t show, or don’t care about what’s going on in the hood,” then you know John Singleton.

Poetic Justice (1993)

Tupac and Janet Jackson on the same screen at the peak of their careers — who else could have don this? Where else can you go for this nostalgic content?

Hustle & Flow (2005)

From Terrance Howard’s classic southern drawl to how Three 6 Mafia became the first hip-hop group to win an Oscar, it’s safe to say John Sington was a trailblazer.

Baby Boy (2001)

This movie birthed the careers of some of your favs. Both Tyrese Gibson and Taraji P. Henson gave a lights out performance. BET still plays this movie three times a day for the youth that missed it.

Shaft (2001)

Has Samuel L. Jackson ever been presented as more bad-ass? Yes, John Singleton gave life to this iconic character as well.

See, you know John Singleton, whether you actually knew him or not — and that’s the mark of a legend.

For a Black director to not only get on, but bring on as many that looked like him in the process, and to dedicate his craft to tell their stories is remarkable.

Clap for him. Rest in power.