“I was aware that much of our past, especially in Black music, had been tossed and lost. I, however, declared, “I can’t let it happen.” “the pioneer of hip-hop, who produced Nas’ debut solo album…
In a brand-new, Nas-directed Showtime documentary airing Friday, Ralph McDaniels will give devoted fans an inside look at the creation, significance, and journey of his legendary hip-hop series Video Music Box, which made its premiere in 1983 with its iconic Whodini theme tune (Dec. 3).
The new movie, You’re Watching Video Music Box, was released 27 years after McDaniels directed Nas’ debut solo music video for “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” in 1994 and featured it on the program.
On the 2019 conception of the film, McDaniels said that Nas “simply wanted to help.” Just as we were about to speak, he declared, “I want to direct it because this is essential and I want to get this right. I nearly broke down when he said it.
Being Monitored While McDaniels describes his Trinidadian-American background in racially divided New York in the 1970s and his rise to popularity as hip-hop pioneer and historian “Uncle Ralph,” special guest appearances by Wendy Williams, Diddy, Mike Tyson, and others are included in Video Music Box.
McDaniels states that his motivation for starting Video Music Box was to record local events. “I was aware that much of our heritage, particularly in regards to Black music, had been abandoned and lost. But I argued that I couldn’t let it occur. Many people [compare it to Soul Train and] now say, “You’re the Don Cornelius of hip-hop,” which I didn’t realize it would get as huge as it has.
The music industry has altered significantly since McDaniels and Lionel C. Martin (also known as “The Vid Kid”) began documenting the development of hip-hop through Video Music Box some two decades ago, he claims. Posters were once placed up, and after that, fans would go buy songs at a store. At the press of a button, you may now listen to music, and musicians are being paid.
According to McDaniels, many advertisers in the 1980s and 1990s neglected to promote Black musicians and hip-hop. “They weren’t yet believers. The fact that artists are now receiving the compensation they deserve makes me really delighted.
A seasoned professional in the field continues, “I’m delighted and inspired by some of the younger artists since they don’t have to go through some of the things we used to go through. They are able to refuse now.
Finding money for Video Music Box was a persistent problem that McDaniels and Martin dealt with. As the show was shown on a public television network that was not for profit, the creators had to find alternative sources of funding. We were a family-run, independent company, so I can appreciate the current independent artists, he claims.
“We would do fundraisers when we required new equipment.” Once they had established their production firm, Classic Concepts, McDaniels and Martin started shooting music videos and producing Phat Fashion Shows for Black businesspeople like Daymond John, a Shark Tank star and the investor who developed FUBU in 1992.
As McDaniels explains, “we thought the music videos might be better.” We understood exactly what the fans wanted to see when we founded Classic Concepts and were certain that we could deliver it. The genuine thing was what we sought to be. He recalls, “Urban designers were being excluded from fashion shows and we didn’t know.”
“We established connections with designers who were already well-known in the industry, and soon we were hip-hop and fashion. The industry was covered from all sides. Then, some of the designers were allowed to participate in fashion week and were allowed to be completely themselves.
When former mayor Rudy Giuliani sold WNYCTV’s Channel 31, the public broadcasting channel that had been the successful show’s home since ’83, things changed for McDaniels and Martin despite their phenomenal success with Video Music Box and their production firm Classic Concepts.
While admitting he didn’t think the station would be sold “until the lights went out,” McDaniels claims to always have a backup plan. The pain was there even though I was directing and doing a lot of other things. When you’re in a wealthy situation and then suddenly [things] shift], the industry might be difficult.
On New York’s Channel 25, McDaniels eventually found a new home for Video Music Box, but the trailblazer gained some important insight from the ordeal. “I want to work, and I’m here,” he declares, adding that doing so is OK. Because I might not have the power to make decisions, it might not be exactly what I want to do. Yet, you might have something.
As the hip-hop coordinator at the Queens Public Library in New York City and the founder of the non-profit organization the Video Music Box Collection, McDaniels is now working to preserve the history of music. With the latter, McDaniels is attempting to store, scan, and preserve more than 20,000 hours of Video Music Box content in order to aid in the education of future generations.