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The Rapid Rise of Kai Cenat

The streamer extraordinaire is blowing up — figuratively and literally. Boardroom explores how Cenat got here and where he’s going next.

When an artist has an album dropping or an agent announces a book, they don’t freestyle for Funkmaster Flex, sit down with Oprah, or walk around their hometown with Anderson Cooper.

They pull up on Kai Cenat.

Skyrocketing from his Bronx bedroom to an Atlanta mansion, the 22-year-old content creator is the son of two Caribbean parents but perhaps the pop culture spawn of ’80s David Letterman and mixtape-era Lil Wayne.

Able to jest with A-list entertainers while flooding the web with stream-of-consciousness creativity, Cenat is the profane prince of engaging entertainment. Across audiences and platforms, Kai isn’t just owning the conversation, he is the conversation.

In 2024, Cenat’s spotlight continues to grow and intensify thanks to infamous viral stunts and endless high-profile co-signs.

Coming off his July 4th firework prank with MrBeast and ahead of his upcoming 24-hour London livestream with Travis Scott, Boardroom explains the eyeballs and economics behind Kai Cenat’s meteoric rise.

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Origin Story

Kai Cenat’s story starts in Brooklyn just months after 9/11 shook the city and The Blueprint dropped.

Growing up, Kai came up as one of four in a single-parent household, led and loved by his mother. As Cenat told Complex’s Speedy Morman, his childhood saw shelters in Georgia and chaos in the classroom. Once situated in The Bronx, Cenat would find refuge in YouTube, watching viral videos by Roman Atwood and archival classics from Michael Jackson.

By age 16 it was time for Kai to make the leap from consumer to creator, uploading his first YouTube video in 2018. Screaming from the depths of his gut and adorned in A Bathing Ape, Kai’s brand of well-edited yet uncensored entertainment subtly set the standard for the authentically flawed and aspirationally entertaining acts that dominate pop culture and pop music today.

Confident, shameless, and deeply engaged, Cenat’s ability to build an audience through non-stop uploads made him more reliable and accessible to kids who grew up with smartphones and social distancing. Vlogs, pranks, reactions, skits, and gaming content made Kai an algorithm’s dream, as seen by his YouTube channel which now claims over 6 million subscribers.

A superstar and vet in less than a decade, much of the depth of the over 300 videos seen on Kai’s page comes from experiential content like going to school in Taiwan or lying in a bio ahead of a Tinder date.

Because of that, Kai’s curiosity and creativity have opened up a world of wonder to those glued to their screens just like the young boy born in BK just years before YouTube’s existence. Such an ability to entertain and engage has paved the way for collab videos with Kyrie Irving, Lil Uzi Vert, and North West.

It’s also a level of access and influence that made him a power player when courted by a $45 billion streaming platform looking to expand beyond gaming.

The Twitch Crossover

In 2021, a then-19-year-old Kai Cenat took his talents to Twitch.

Essentially turning his skit success into real-time improv, Kai became the poster boy for Twitch’s take on livestream content centered beyond its core of video games. What eventually came from it was an unchoreographed Cenat showcase that sits somewhere between The Truman Show and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.

For hours on end, Kai can be found livestreaming on Twitch from the comforts of his Georgia mansion, eventually offloaded to YouTube. The content can range from real-time reactions from his comment feed to unboxing every tier of topical and elaborate fashion.

By 2022, the mainstream media cache hit fever pitch when celebrities such as Lil Baby, 21 Savage, and Bobby Shmurda began popping up in Kai’s room and in his streams.

While the quirky candiness and randomness of Kai remained the same, the scope suddenly shifted.

To a Day 1 fan, Kai was blowing up in front of their eyes, competing with other streamers such as Adin Ross or iShowSpeed that operate in a similar lane. To network television or online journalists, Kai became the platform for artists to promote their albums or a comedians to tout their various projects.

The blurred line between interview and sleepover proved enough to make media OGs erupt and publicists pressed to access Kai.

Like it or not, he was breaking news and rules, making memes and history.

Taking the Talk Show Home

Where modern metrics are concerned, it didn’t take Kai long to conquer Twitch.

After only two years on the platform, Kai became the most-subscribed streamer the service had ever seen. The infinite eyeballs and invaluable cultural clout only upped the ante for artists, athletes, and entertainers looking to tap in with an engaged audience.

Over the course of 2023 and 2024, everyone from Kevin Hart to Ice Spice has stopped by Kai’s house. On livestream, the charismatic kid from BK has been curved by Tyla and FaceTime’d by Drake. He’s addressed viral reactions from Ye and danced with Nicki Minaj.

For those mourning the death of long-form journalism or appointment-viewing talk show television, Kai was effectively pouring a bottle of Mountain Dew Code Red on what the rules of access and promotion were meant to be. Rather than investigating intent or asking canned questions, Kai was putting on a party for his millions of subscribers with A-list talent as the co-host.

This inverting of online interview content has shaken up the space Kai continues to disrupt. Still, it’s always been stunts that have tied together the long lineage of viral content creators.

Building Beyond the Screen

To the thousands of kids tuned into Kai’s every move, the 22-year-old talent can do no wrong. To the old guard critiquing the depth of his content or the attention span of his audience, he can do no right.

For both sides of the Kai Cenat conversation, the generational gap is very real. What is not up for debate is Cenat’s ability to impact IRL and URL outings.

In recent years, Cenat has become infamous for his ability to make noise that national networks can’t ignore.

On August 4, 2023, Kai caused a riot in Union Square when he hosted an in-person giveaway for PlayStation 5 consoles and gift cards. Thousands of fans showed up for a scene few artists or brands could pay to orchestrate. Dozens of attendees, including Cenat, were arrested.

In May 2024, the charges against Kai were dropped by the NYPD. Regardless, the press payoff was worth more than any amount of bail.

Almost a year after the infamous riot, Kai doubled down on that same sense of chaos online. Teaming up with MrBeast, the titans of content creation broadcasted a 4th of July prank that literally burned the house down.

Ahead of the holiday, a massive amount of fireworks were set ablaze on Kai’s set, exploding in front of a live Twitch audience experiencing an array of emotions at the stream spectacle.

Shortly after, Kai and MrBeast revealed the stunt was performed in a fake house. The explosive livestream already has over 2.4 million views on YouTube while the explanation video is at 3.7 million views and counting.

It’s this ability to make moments, capture attention, and elicit reactions that has kids enamored by Kai and corporations calling.

Still Striving

One would think that a 22-year-old who talks to a camera and blows up a fake bedroom would be a big brand’s big nightmare.

One would be wrong.

In 2024, Kai announced a deal with Nike, becoming the first streamer signed to the Swoosh. To Kai’s credit, all the endorsements and celebrity co-signs have not seemed to nix his authenticity. This unruly zag in an increasingly sanitized spokesperson space is precisely why brands want to do deals with him, artists want to stream with him, and kids want to consume it all.

As currently constituted, Kai’s influence eclipses rappers when it comes to product placement while his streams see live sporting event numbers.

For teens tuned to their phones, he’s more interesting and relatable than any artist or athlete could ever dream of being. He’s producing lifestyle content that’s aspirational yet relatable, conversational while consumable. 

Far from the following him began to build at age 16 but still spiritually connected to the kid consuming clips, Kai Cenat stands as the reigning Streamer of the Year while giving all outlets and entertainers a run for their money. This month, the stakes rise again.

On July 11, Cenat’s 24-hour livestream in London with Travis Scott will unite two lightning rods of youth culture, equally honing a pulse on chaos and capitalism. The across-the-pond production will likely serve as an explosive introduction for Kai in the larger public zeitgeist. Even better, it could convert any audience member not yet sold on Twitch.

In many ways, the young man on Twitch is perhaps the glitch in the matrix that is modern entertainment. For those looking to fix cable’s cord-cutting dilemma or other archaic content platforms, look no further than the Bronx-bred streamer taking his talents overseas.

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Ian Stonebrook

Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.

About The Author
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook
Ian Stonebrook is a Staff Writer covering culture, sports, and fashion for Boardroom. Prior to signing on, Ian spent a decade at Nice Kicks as a writer and editor. Over the course of his career, he's been published by the likes of Complex, Jordan Brand, GOAT, Cali BBQ Media, SoleSavy, and 19Nine. Ian spends all his free time hooping and he's heard on multiple occasions that Drake and Nas have read his work, so that's pretty tight.