Video Fame

Norfolk Native Jesus Campbell, a.k.a. Top Rope Zeus, Is One Of The Fastest Rising Stars On YouTube

Youtube Star

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One spring Sunday afternoon, while many in his age group were no doubt still sleeping off Saturday night, 25-year-old Jesus Campbell was hard at work. He wasn’t working at his day job, mind you, but at his second gig—finishing a comedy video for his YouTube channel as his alter ego, actor/comedian Top Rope Zeus.

He’s tired—he’s only had two hours of sleep, and car trouble meant he had to finagle a ride to the Plume Street office where he edits footage. No matter. No setback is too great to cause Campbell, a Norfolk native, to consider even for one minute not having this video ready for a self-imposed release date. Fans are waiting, after all.
He’ll soon disperse the sketch “The Natural Hair Song” to his nearly 40,000 Twitter followers and more than 16,000 YouTube subscribers, which is a staggering number considering he’s only been posting rants, off-color relationship advice and sketches as Top Rope Zeus for a year. In that time, he’s already been flown out to L.A. to meet with T.V. executives, landed a role on Spike TV’s American Diggers, and befriended Nick Cannon, the T.V. host/budding mogul/husband of Mariah Carey, who flew Top Rope Zeus to New York for a taping of his show Wilding Out.

None of that, though, goes through his mind as he meticulously reviews some four hours of footage with an exacting eye. There’s a lot at stake; not only are viewers watching, but YouTube execs, too. And if he can make this one as big a hit as his last, money and publishing deals loom on the horizon. Today he is one of the fastest rising stars on YouTube, and given the site’s increasing impact on the media industry—it recently announced plans to charge subscribers for certain content, potentially influencing networks and Hollywood—taking Sunday to rest is not even a possibility.

“I was taught not to make excuses,” says Zeus, who grew up in Norview, where he regularly saw guns, gangs and drugs. He nonetheless graduated from Norfolk State University with a degree in communications and, as expected by his family, landed a good 9-to-5 gig. He keeps the name of his full-time employer under wraps but says it was the all-too-common existential emptiness of having a very nice, very comfortable job that prompted him to start making YouTube videos in the first place.

“I started with asking myself, ‘What is my purpose?’ I refused to settle. I always say, ‘Live your dream, not your reality.’ You have to work a little harder. I get about four hours of sleep a day. I’m editing, shooting and promoting until about 2 a.m. I get a little sleep, then do it again.” He has the kind of deep, commanding voice heard in admirals, academics or good actors. “I believe if you have a dream, sometimes you have to work two or three jobs to fund it.” In the early days, he’d come to work in the same clothes he’d worn the night before.

Top Rope Zeus’ entertainment career began in college, where he worked at Norfolk State’s radio station Hot 91. A scholarship landed him on the drum line in the Spartan Legion, and he joined the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity—an organization, like other frats at historically black colleges, known for over-the-top step shows and performances. When he graduated in 2010, he landed a job as a counselor and, on the side, hosted a cable show about local entertainers called The Groove.