KondZilla, the entrepreneur of Brazilian favela funk
They say everything he touches turns to gold: KondZilla, the man behind the most popular YouTube channel in Latin America, has revolutionized Brazilian funk music, taking favela beats to a massive online audience.
The 34-year-old entrepreneur, who grew up in the slums himself, launched his "KondZilla Channel" in 2012. At the time, the music industry had barely taken notice of Brazilian funk, a Rio de Janeiro-born hip-hop style known as the fuel for all-night-and-into-the-next-day parties in the favelas.
Today, KondZilla -- whose real name is Konrad Dantas -- has more than 66.5 million subscribers on YouTube, and favela funk is mainstream music in Brazil.
"The big multinational record labels were ignoring that segment of the market," Dantas told AFP in an interview.
"The only way to get this content out there was YouTube," he said after giving a talk this week at the Rio edition of Web Summit, the world's biggest annual technology conference.
Dantas grew up in a favela in Guaruja, a seaside city in the southeastern state of Sao Paulo.
He got his start directing music videos for "ostentation funk" artists, a sex-and-bling-heavy subgenre that emerged in Sao Paulo in the 2000s.
"I like telling stories and connecting with young people from the hood," he says.
His audience soon exploded.
His 2015 video "Baile de Favela," for funk artist MC Joao, racked up more than 100 million views.
It hit the height of mainstream success when Olympic medallist Rebeca Andrade, Brazil's most famous gymnast, used it in the soundtrack for her floor routine at the Tokyo Games in 2021.
Forbes Brasil named KondZilla to its list of the country's most influential people under 30 in 2017.
Today, he runs a business empire that includes a record label, TV and film production company, music news site, and an institute to train talented young artists.
His TV series "Sintonia" is the most widely watched Brazilian show on Netflix, and his most-watched music videos each have more than a billion views.
- Favela connection -
Despite his stage name -- a reference to movie monster Godzilla -- Dantas is a small, laid-back man with a gleaming smile.
At the Web Summit conference, he patiently signed autographs, posed for pictures and took time to speak with fans seeking his advice.
He says one of the keys to his success has been the democratization of technology, which has allowed people in Brazil's impoverished favelas to consume and produce whatever content they want on their cell phones.
"When we have the chance to choose what we consume, we don't pick the story of the firefighter in New York. We pick stories that look like ours, that we can identify with," he said.
Dantas is known for his savvy at reading the market, and adapting as it changes.
"One minute, you're on top. The next, you fall. Everything changes fast, and you have to adapt," he said.
One of his key transitions was launching "light" versions of songs, replacing the "indecent" language that permeates the genre with safe-for-work lyrics, he said.
He credits that with expanding his subscriber numbers from six million in 2016 to 22 million in 2017.
- Old school -
Dantas says he was always interested in music and visual media.
He got his professional start at 18, after his mother died.
He received some money from her pension and life-insurance policy, which he thought about using to buy an apartment and get out of the favela, he said.
Instead, he took a risk: he used the money to pay for production equipment and professional training.
He turned out to have a flair for directing irresistible, visually seductive music videos -- and discovering new talent.
To help promote the next generation of "KondZillas," Dantas launched a "Creators School" last year to train video and music artists from his hometown favelas.
But in business terms, he sees people over 50 as his next growth market, he said -- an unusual statement at a tech conference, especially from someone in an industry obsessed with youth, TikTok and trends.
"They say the first generation that will live past 100 has already been born," Dantas said in his talk.
"I'm aiming at them."