Iconic video show Video Music Box celebrates 30 years with a lineup of events planned for 2013. Television pioneer and hip hop icon Ralph McDaniels officially started the VMB30 celebrations with a “kickoff event,” held at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.
Video Music Box turns 30 this year. Who would have thought that thirty years later, this iconic television program would still be on air and still entertaining audiences young and old. Well, you can blame Ralph McDaniels or Uncle Ralph, the visionary that produces Video Music Box, the iconic television program that has had a profound effect on the hip hop generation. Launched in 1983 as the first TV show to showcase hip hop artists and their videos, its impact is still felt today as a testament to the evolution of hip hop from its humble NYC beginnings into the international billion dollar behemoth it has now become. One of the most influential people in hip hop today, Ralph McDaniels has nurtured and protected hip hop’s legacy through his documentation of hip hop culture.
A true hip hop ambassador, Ralph is without question one of the most respected and revered people in hip hop, a fact that was pretty evident at the VMB30 kickoff event at the famed Harlem institution, The Schomburg Center. With a slew of events planned throughout 2013, Ralph gave those in attendance a peek at what to expect in the coming months, but the night really served as tribute to the Video Music Box host and founder.
Joined by his daughter and wife, Uncle Ralph seemed at home with many close friends and acquaintances that stopped by to honor Ralph and VMB’s 30th birthday. The City of New York even got in on the action, with Mayor Bloomberg sending over a Proclamation declaring February 5, 2013 as Video Music Box Day. Ralph thanked many of the people who made it possible for him to still be here doing what he loves. Attendees heard some words from Congressman Eric Adams and gracious words from longtime show co-host Ray DeJon. Veteran MCs were in attendance, with fellow icon Melle Mel clad in full military uniform, looking more like a decorated soldier than legendary rapper speaking passionately to the audience in attendance on topics ranging from hip hop to gun violence.
The recurring theme of the night, aside from celebrating the iconic show, echoed the mantra of the VMB30 celebrations, to “bridge the gap” between the new school and old school (or true school as Ralph calls it, deferring to Afrika Bambaataa’s terminology.) With industry veterans such as Bambaataa, Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel and others rubbing elbows with indie new schoolers such as Sam Hill, Vinny Cha$e and Vashtie, there was a lot of talk regarding uniting artists from the different schools. Obviously, as hip hop has grown, people have grown with it and there appears to be a segment of the hip hop population that doesn’t always want to acknowledge the new indie artists. At the same time, new indie artists are often accused of not appreciating hip hop elders, or the more traditionalist aspects of the music and culture. Often, people get offended, verses get dropped… You know the deal.
It was with this in mind that Uncle Ralph brought out friend and frequent collaborator, Brooklyn Bodega’s CEO Wes Jackson who announced that this years Brooklyn Hip-Hop Festival would take a different approach from the last few years. The festival had been adopting a format where the headliner was an artist supported by “friends,” a format that drew large numbers with 2012’s Busta Rhymes and Friends show and 2011’s Q-Tip and Friends show. The announcement, that we first broke during our interview with Ralph McDaniels on The NY Hip Hop Report, stated that this year’s BHHF will honor the legacy of Video Music Box with a Ralph and Friends themed show. Although the lineup has yet to be announced, this year’s show should be an interesting affair, gathering artists from all three decades of Video Music Box’s historic run to come together to promote unity and to dispel the myths that today’s hip hop has not been advancing the hip hop genre, while still acknowledging the forefathers and the foundation they laid out.
The highlight of the kickoff event was a sneak preview of a documentary, currently in progress, in which Ralph digs into his extensive archives to highlight live performance videos and various clips of iconic artists, many at the beginning of their careers. It was a true flashback to watch a confident LL Cool J boast about “making it” because now he had made it Video Music Box. There were plenty of vintage, often never-seen-before performances by Brand Nubian, Biz Markie, X-Clan, Notorious B.I.G., Kool Moe Dee and even an interview of a young Nas at iconic Bronx nightclub The Fever, discussing production on his then-just-released Illmatic. There were gasps ans laughs by most in attendance as viewers were transported to an earlier time, when they first discovered their hip hop heroes. The footage was truly amazing, and left the impression that it barely scratched the surface, and that there is so much more that remains in Uncle Ralph’s basement that we still haven’t seen.
To close out the night’s festivities, Ralph was joined onstage in a panel discussion moderated by hip hop scholar Martha Diaz. The panel also featured video director and music television personality Va$htie and indie rap artist Vinny Cha$e, who subbed for Joey Bada$$, who canceled his appearance. Diaz led the discussion, which began with McDaniels recounting the start of his carrer, and then covered the career paths of each of the panelists, delving into the theme, questioning how younger artists can help unify the schools, and create meaningful music to help grow the art form.
In all, a great night of positive remembrance and a heartening tease as to what is to come. Stay tuned to Birthplace Magazine and The NY Hip Hop Report for information on upcoming events, as well as full recaps.