Two numbers make Daenan Gyimah, a freshman on the UCLA men’s volleyball team, stand out: He hits the ball when it’s over 12 feet in the air and his music has been streamed over 15,000 times on SoundCloud.
Before the middle blocker even began playing volleyball, music was his passion. Now, he uses his notoriety in volleyball to help publicize his music.
Gyimah often posts highlight videos on his Instagram page, which has amassed over 17,000 followers. He said he frequently uses Instagram Direct as a method of contacting potential musical collaborators.
“That’s the only reason I post videos of me hitting or whatever,” Gyimah said. “I try to post cool videos and cool pictures to try to get that following up so when I hit people up, it’s not like, ‘Who is this guy?’ It’s like ‘Oh, okay, he’s someone.’”
But the connection between music and volleyball doesn’t end with recognition. Gyimah met his friend and unofficial manager, Elie Shermer when Shermer was Gyimah’s older sister’s volleyball coach.
Shermer works in the nightlife industry in Toronto and has countless connections that he has used to publicize Gyimah’s music. The response to his music has been overwhelmingly positive, Shermer said, even from leaders in the industry.
“I actually expect people to be like ‘Elie, you’re nuts, this kid is not that good, I don’t know what you see, but he ain’t that good,’” Shermer said. “(Last week) I was in Miami and I was with my buddy who is one of the three people of the group Major Lazer. I played (Gyimah’s song) “Zombie” for him, and he was like, ‘This is unbelievable.’”
Shermer said that he also shows people videos of Gyimah playing volleyball, and they are often shocked to learn it’s the same person.
These highlight videos have helped to build Gyimah – a native of Ontario, Canada – a huge following in Canada’s volleyball community.
“He’s a Lebron James-level volleyball player and if he was in basketball he would just be another super good athlete,” Shermer said. “So that’s a huge platform for him, and then he has a fan base. Without the music, he was already arguably the most popular volleyball athlete under 18 in the country.”
One reason why Gyimah’s volleyball videos are so popular is because he boasts a vertical over 40 inches.
Gyimah’s club volleyball coach Brian Singh, known as Coach B, is a vertical jump specialist. He devoted the first hour of every practice to vertical jump training, with a focus on technique – how to use the body to maximize gains, how to breathe properly to get up higher and how to accelerate more efficiently.
“When Daenan jumps, he doesn’t have to think about all the technical stuff, he does it automatically,” Singh said. “Then he can focus on contacting the ball high and looking at the block. That’s what takes his game to the next level.”
Singh said that Gyimah wasn’t always a clear Division I prospect, and he even posted a video displaying the progress that Gyimah has made since his freshman year of high school.
Around the same time he began with Singh, Gyimah was introduced to GarageBand and later to the music production program Logic, both of which sparked the beginning of his career.
Gyimah began by making rudimentary rhythms and then graduated to producing more complex beats and full songs. He said that a lot of his friends growing up wanted to be rappers, so he would make beats for them.
“One of my friends is in a rap group in Toronto called 365,” Gyimah said. “I made a song with them, and this was the first time that I noticed that I could do something with pitch correction that most people won’t take the time to do.”
Gyimah is able to adjust the pitch for each individual note and word as opposed to autotune, in which the producer picks a scale and whatever the artist sings automatically tunes to that note.
“Some of the guys I work with are pretty bad,” Gyimah said. “So it takes a a lot of time and people usually won’t take that time.”
According to Gyimah, there are three major components in producing a song: the beat, the vocals and putting them together, also known as mixing and mastering. Gyimah primarily creates the beat, mixes and masters or does both, but recently produced two tracks that he sings on as well.
Both songs were created with Gyimah’s long-time friend Troy Murrell, who goes by his stage name Tré Wes on the tracks.
Murrell began collaborating with Gyimah last summer after Gyimah showed him an extra bedroom that he had converted into a recording studio, complete with soundproofing and producing equipment.
“I didn’t really even have to hear what he had to show me because I could tell he was for real,” Murrell said. “When I was his age, I wouldn’t be able to do what he was doing. He shouldn’t have been able to create all the things he was creating in the time frame that he did.”
Murrell said that Gyimah’s creativity and originality as a producer are evident in “Zombie.”
While making the song at Gyimah’s house in Scarborough, Toronto over winter break, Gyimah began playing bongo drums into the microphone to use in the background of the track rather than using a pre-made sound that you can buy online.
Murrell said that their goal in creating the song was to produce something radio- and people-friendly.
“I wanted someone who was 45 as well as someone who was 15 to be able to enjoy the song at the same time,” Murrell said. “We were kind of aiming for that fully enjoyable style.”
While volleyball and academics are taking center stage for the time being, Gyimah said he is currently working on producing the beats for a full album that will likely feature various rappers from Toronto, but doesn’t yet have an anticipated release date.
Although he’s left his hometown of Toronto, Gyimah’s new home may be the perfect location for him to embrace becoming a star athlete, musician – or both.