MNR: Nostalgia Series #3 Uncle Ralph and Video Music Box
The rise of hip hop as a culture and rap as a formidable genre of music are both rooted in accessibility. Hip hop (rap included) has shown itself to be an irresistible force, rising from the ashes of ‘70s burned Bronx tenement buildings and fiscal decay. That very moxie and resilience are what make the music unique and the voice of popular culture. It progressed from park jams (word of mouth) to dub cassette to radio to record to video. Ahh, the video. Video now resides mainly on YouTube and other (smaller) apps, but it still has life on television. BET, MTV, their satellite networks, and other outlets still show videos, though cable stations seem to be an afterthought for the most part. This is inevitably a sign of the [digital] times, as the internet has altered the ways we as humans choose to entertain ourselves. But once upon a time, videos were everything for fans. There was no internet. No social media. The world seemed a lot bigger than it seems now. Quick example: there was no Bloods, no Crips on this side. The movie Colors was most of our formal introduction to west coast gang culture. But coverage of NWA by Fab 5 Freddy and Yo! MTV Raps gave us a candid visual of Compton and what the vibe was out South Central Los Angeles. It was monumental. But years, YEARS before Fab 5 & Yo!, years before Rap City on BET, years before any media outlet gave a flying (or crashing) Boeing 737 fvck about rap music or the culture...there was Uncle Ralph and Video Music Box.
If you’ve never heard of Uncle Ralph or Video Music Box, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not in tune with hip hop history. It probably means that you aren’t from NYC or had cousins from the city who mailed you (or your parents who tell you about these types of things) VHS tapes back when. Video Music Box dates back to 1983, when a young college student and Queens native Ralph McDaniel and co-founder Lionel Martin acted on a vision of where the music and culture were headed and felt compelled to display and document it all. They put the show on Manhattan Public Access (later on an independent NYC station) and presented rap videos AND hip hop culture to hungry audiences for the first time. The videos were huge, no doubt. Uncle Ralph had a five year run where he was the only outlet for rap videos. But in my opinion, the live shots were just as important. He introduced scores of artists to their fan bases from Run-DMC to Jay-Z. One of Eminem’s first appearances on a video show was on VMB. Uncle Ralph has PLENTY live footage of hip hop legends, from interviews to freestyles. He, Lionel, and whomever out the VMB squadron would pop up at diverse settings: concerts, video shoots, clubs, parties, wherever. They put the mic in err day folk face and let them give shout outs and speak their minds on various topics and issues pertaining to the hip hop community. Back to the videos...Uncle Ralph always seemed to get the earliest copy of an artist’s video. When RZA shopped the Wu demo and shot the Protect Ya Neck video he made sure Uncle Ralph had a copy. Early. To this very day, Uncle Ralph still gets the exclusives (yes, VMB is still going strong in year 36). He and the show are a treasure. I still remember the first video I ever saw on VMB: I Got It Made by the legend Special Ed. I’ve been hooked ever since.
I’d like to conclude this blog by petitioning Uncle Ralph himself for a great task. He follows me on twitter so I’m gonna @ him when this blog posts. Anyways...I watched an episode a year or so back when Uncle Ralph went back into his room of VHS archives. He had stuff going back to the ‘80s...still. He joked about it, but I immediately felt the undertone of the moment. Uncle needs someone or a team to convert that VHS footage to a more sustainable form of storage. Digital is ideal, and I’m sure the conversion is possible. But I have no idea how. But I do know an extraordinary young lady with an education and training in archiving who would be ideal to lead the project. Her name is Valerie Saldarriaga. You two should link Uncle Ralph. You and the culture need that footage preserved for future existence. Who else could properly present this hip hop story but Uncle Ralph? Also, I think it’s time for an extensive Ralph McDaniel and VMB documentary. I’m talking Ken Burns. Deadass. To the projects I’m ghost shorty wop, one love. Until next time.