Video Music Box Was The 1st Rap City & Ralph McDaniels Was The Mayor (Video)
Today (July 15), “Uncle” Ralph McDaniels will resume his longstanding post as one of the hosts at the Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival. As he has done in four different decades, Ralph finds Hip-Hop culture in the flesh and transmits his excitement, passion, and belief onto the masses. A DJ, college student, and employee at a fledgling cable company, the Queens, New Yorker combined those things all in one. This week’s TBD examines McDaniels’ critical contributions to Hip-Hop culture as a host, VJ, and broadcaster. He put it on video and shared it via Video Music Box. A move that Uncle Ralph made in the early 1980s sparked a revolution of music video shows that would be replicated by big media companies worldwide
Host Justin “The Company Man” Hunte spoke with Ralph. Like many visionaries, McDaniels’ idea of disseminating Hip-Hop culture was first met with resistance and confusion. “[In the early 1980s], we pitched it as a video show. People didn’t know what that was because. MTV existed, but nobody saw it because there was no cable. Nobody had cable. My sell was edu-tainment. We wanted to educate kids [about] what’s going on in New York City as well as entertain them with the videos. They’re not going to listen unless you give them something they like, and this is something that young people are into. They are into music videos.” Long before Rap City, Yo! MTV Raps, YouTube, or WorldStar, Ralph knew what the people wanted, and how to properly feed them the content.
By December of 1983, Ralph did it himself. Video Music Box launched (with partner Lionel C. Martin). Because Hip-Hop and Rap videos were scarce, the program began by dividing itself across other genres, and educating viewers on the dangers surrounding drugs. Per TBD, “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five and “Problems of the World Today” by The Fearless Four were the first official Rap videos broadcast on VMB.
In the years that followed, if it happened in and around New York City, Uncle Ralph was there. He captured the culture to fill in the gaps of what wasn’t available already. This is why we have archival jewels like Brand Nubian’s first performance, Biggie Smalls and Nas passing the mic, and a 1985 Fresh Fest press conference. He would eventually shoot some incredible music videos for some of the same artists he covered.
Hunte takes Ralph’s pursuit, and uses it as an illustration for today. In Hip-Hop and out, media companies are re-tooling for video. In the last month editorial staffs have been shrinking, and video crews have been churning out more and more clips.
“Video is more important than ever,” asserts Hunte, who considers it “a part of our daily lives.” “Outlets are putting a premium on video, and in a polarized environment where news is right or left or fake, and reading is officially optional and the president retweets GIFs of him wrestling with CNN, it feels as if the media is a dirty word and there’s more trust in individuals rather than institutions.”
Ralph was ahead of the curve. “In a sense it feels like Uncle Ralph had the formula 30 plus years ago. Here’s a guy who fell in love with the culture and covered it earnestly for most of his life. Every time I see a video of concert footage on YouTube or some aspiring journalist asking new artists who they want to give a shout out to (which is something also popularized by Uncle Ralph) or see a new music show trending, I’m immediately reminded of Video Music Box. He’s Hip Hop’s first trusted video source. In a sense, to some degree, we’re all his kids.”
Content may be king, but knowing where to look and how to authentically cover the culture are the only ways to reach the court.