Ralph McDaniels of The Legendary Video Music Box

And Hot 97 radio station Part1

As told to Troy L. Smith

Winter of 2007

 

 

 

 

Yes my friend thank you for your time. I would like to start out by asking where were you born and raised?

 

I was born and raised in Bedford Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn New York. About 10 years later my family moved to a house in Queens on 212th Street, in the Queens Village section. We would still go back and forth to Brooklyn. We were one of the first black families on our block. During that time it was a big thing for people to move from Brooklyn into a house in Queens, although we also had a Brownstone in Brooklyn.

 

What was it like living in Brooklyn for you?

 

Brooklyn was cool, it was really the foundation. My family is half from down south and half from the Caribbean, so we listened to a lot of music. It was either Motown or being as my mother is from Trinidad we listened to a lot of calypso music as well.

 

So since you moved to Queens which was predominately white at that time, how did you deal with that  ,since there was such a small amount of the brothers there?

 

Well it was tricky. The first time I got called a nigger was the first time I moved on my new block in Queens! I heard the word before, but I didn’t know what it meant.

 

So how did you handle it when you heard it and what was the situation that bought it on?

 

Moms bought me a bike and I used to ride it around the corner, but I couldn’t go across the street. So I would just ride up and down and around the corner. As I hit the corner there is some white kids sitting on their stoop and they yelled out n-----! I heard it the first time, and then I heard it a second time. I knew it was something bad by the tone of their voice and the way they said it.

 

Right.

 

So I remember going to my mother and telling her that these kids down the block called me a n-----! She explained to me the whole meaning behind that right there. She then told me not to let that bother me, don’t worry about it. Etc, etc, etc. I don’t remember ever hearing it again, but these same kids later were the ones I began to play with in the parks and back yards etc.

 

That was what I was about to ask you, how did that manifest between those same young boys later on?

 

Yeah, we became friends.

 

Did you ever remind them about that situation later on when ya’ll started growing up?

 

Nah, I don’t think I ever reminded them about that moment. It really didn’t impact me because I guess I was so young when it happened and my mother had already explained it to me, but I really didn’t care anyway!

 

Right, you were a child at the time, so it was small thing. I know you didn’t live in the projects, but was the first 10 years in Brooklyn really rough for you growing up?

 

Brooklyn was really a cool place. My block was one of those blocks were everybody knew each other and it was a real tight community. This was Hancock and Sumner Avenue. But today it is known as Malcolm X Avenue. But everybody more or less knew each other. It was one of those things where if you did something wrong the lady from across the street could come across the street and bust your ass for that.

 

Right, right!

 

It was like that in that time. So that could be the worst thing that could happen to you on that block.

 

So what about the Tomahawks or any other known gangs, were they close by? Or did you know anything about any gangs at that young age?

 

I didn’t get involved with the gangs. I probably was aware of them but I was really too young to be in that type of situation. But you saw them like you saw the pimps and the prostitutes coming home or what ever, as well as the number runners. So yes you were aware of it. But for me I was always a quiet dude, so I would just observe everything and kind of just take it in. I didn’t fully start understanding all that until I moved to Queens and would always come back to Brooklyn to visit my grandmother.

 

 What junior high school did you go to?

 

I got bussed into a white neighborhood. This was when busing was real big, sending black kids to white neighborhoods. My parents were like we should try this out see how this works for you. Here I am in a white school and here goes the racial thing again! They felt like “why are they coming out here”, and this and that and a third! In that particular case being as I was getting older my mother use to say “you know you are going to get your self in trouble one day because you always holding your head up and you want to be proud and that’s what’s going to get you in trouble. She said I am not telling you don’t feel that way but your pride is going to get you in trouble. At the time I couldn’t understand what she was saying. But I heard her. I said I am not going to let nobody play me out. Especially these punk ass boys here!

 

Right.

 

So from junior high I went to Bayside high school which was also an all white school. I went there because I played football. Bayside was like the number one football school.

 

What position did you play?

 

Defensive end.

 

Ah man hit the quarterback, my man, and stop the run!

 

Exactly, then in my junior year I switched over to basketball and played guard. So once you were into sports it was like a different thing.

 

Right they will look at you a different way if you are one of the top men in your sport.

 

Yeah, if you were a sport guy you were just that. There was no color on that.

 

So now I know hip hop is starting to come into your presence. When did you first hear it and what inspired you to be part of this?

 

I was a d.j. in high school and I mostly spun disco and R&B records. In Brooklyn there were guys like Grand Master Flowers. I can remember going to Reese beach with my uncle. Reese beach was where they had basketball tournaments with guys like Walt Frasier and them. After the game they would have jams out there. Flowers was the top man.

 

Yeah I know about Flowers I have two of his shows right now. (Tapes 98 and 99.)

 

Alright cool. Flowers was like huge and he was known for his equipment and that’s what it was all about back then, equipment. Flowers set was crazy, I remember seeing him, Maboya and Plummer. I can remember seeing each one of their set up’s and saying like damn I want to really get down with something like that one day because that just looks interesting.

 

So I understand the equipment attracted you, but did the music and the way they d.j.ed, did that also attract you, or that just wasn’t the biggest thing to you at that time?

 

It was more the equipment, as well as the records. Just to have those certain songs that nobody else knew. I was like that dude that hunted for certain records that nobody else had. And this was during my high school days. By the time I became a senior in high school I started already playing in clubs. 

 

So you can say that Maboya and Flowers were pretty much before Kool Herc?

 

Oh yeah, for sure. Hip hop and break beats had not started in the Bronx yet. I didn’t start hearing that hip hop from the Bronx until I was senior in high school. I graduated from high school in 1977. I am 47 years old. The first time I was aware of break beats was when I went to this store called Down Stairs records. It was on 42nd street down in the subway. There were a row of stores down in the subway before you got to the platform where the train was at. And in that row was Downstairs records. I used to go there to buy disco records. That was when 12inch records were starting to come out, prior to that you were just playing album cuts. 12 inch records came about because of Disco and the extended version and all that. So we used to go down there and buy records. They set up a little section for guys that just bought break beats and usually they were 45’s. So now us break beat guys were all in the same place. But they didn’t want to mix cats that were buying the break records with the cats that were buying the disco records. That was why they gave them the section for the break beat guys.

 

Why do you think they didn’t want to mix them?

 

Because it just took too long. They just wanted to hear certain parts. I think the guys that were selling the Disco records didn’t know what they wanted to hear, they didn’t understand and they got somebody that knew the break beats.

 

Did you know any of the guys that were selling the records?

 

Not really, in fact the only one I knew of that sold records there was Junior Vasquez, Benji and a girl named Yvonne Turner. Junior became a big Disco D.J.

 

What were some of the other popular stores at that time?

 

There was the Wiz around at that.

 

o.k., so Colony was open as well as the different shops in the Village!

 

Right, but I didn’t go to Colony back then. Later on I did, but back then it was Down Stairs because they had everything.

 

Would you say Colony was the most expensive Record store back then?

 

(Ralph starts laughing.) Yeah even when I did go there I use to say “damn you have to spend a lot of money up in here”.

 

This is amazing, because still to this day they charge a large amount of money. (49th street and Broadway.) They are still in existence I guess they get a lot of the tourist money or something like that.

            O.k. while in high school you said you were doing your thing. Where did you get your first break to show your skills?

 

The first club I did was called the Blue Ice. It was like a little lounge with a bar. This place was in Queens Village and my father put me on to it. My father and his friends used to hang out there from time to time. One day my father heard me down stairs in the basement and said you know they have a d.j .set up in this club the Blue Ice just like you have right here. So I said maybe I could play there. He introduced me to the owner a guy named Price and I started playing there. Price probably gave me 50 dollars a night if he gave me that much. I really didn’t care about the price in fact I really wasn’t supposed to be there! I was only 17 years old.

 

Yeah I was thinking that.

 

Right so prior to that I was doing weddings, little functions at centers and things like that. I had the equipment.

 

So when you went to Reese beach that summer you got open on that sound so your father bought you the whole set?

 

Nah I got a job! (We both laughed at the way he said it.) My partner, who I will later talk about in this story, who is Lionel “the Vid Kid” Martin got down with me.

 

That’s good; ya’ll go way back with each other.

 

Right exactly.  So he had an interest in it as well so we used to go to the record shops looking for records. We got cool with each other through hanging out in the park playing ball and talking. We realized through talking that we had similar taste. Plus we used to go to a lot of the jams and just watch and say we need to set up something like this as well. So we started doing back yard parties, Birthdays and weddings. Prior to the whole D.J. set up a lot of people used bands to play the popular records at these functions. In the early days of the house parties there was no cue on the mixer. It was just a mixer were you could get two different kinds of turntables together and try to blend the music based on the type of music the groups was playing. You couldn’t hear it or cue it ahead of time. When the first mixer came out it and it had a cue that was like “wow I can’t believe they did this”. They put it so now you can hear the other record. So I was like now this makes it easier. We knew we were mixing and knocking down parties based on just knowing the records.

 

I feel you.

 

Here it is fast forward, I am doing the club thing working at the Blue Ice, all my crew was like Ralph is working at a bar?! Like that was a big thing, because we couldn’t even go to a bar. So I was like hooked up because the spot became legendary. I really don’t know how good I was, but I am just playing doing what I do. But people started coming. He had like 25 to 30 people a night coming to now over a hundred on the weekends.

 

Right and they are buying plenty drinks.

 

They buying plenty drinks and it’s packed in there.

 

So homeboy had a lot of love for you!

 

Exactly, nothing but love! It was a good look for him and me. As far as I am concerned, I am getting popular, chicks are checking for me. That was the progression of that whole Blue Ice thing. Later on the guys that owned Blue Ice opened up the spot called Encore. We opened that up based on the fact that we couldn’t fit any more people in the Blue Ice, so we needed a bigger spot. So the owner was like I found you a new spot, right next to the library, I need you to check it out. I checked it out it was perfect. I literally cleaned the spot out my self, as well as painted the walls and ceiling and told them what equipment to put in there and he whole nine!

 

Did you put the mirrors on the wall as well?

 

Yes I put the mirrors on the wall also. (We both start laughing.) And this was a library? No, I am sorry it was next to a library, it was a Y.M.C.A. and it was empty. So we hooked it up an I can remember all these people coming out there to hang out there and also party. I also remember Flash came there one time. Prior to this I only heard Flash’s tape!

 

How did you feel about him when you first heard him?

 

Crazy, I couldn’t believe him! I said is he doing this live? Are you sure he is not using a pause button? Is he doing this live, I don’t believe that! Now break beats are becoming a big thing!

 

Did it really happen in Queens like that, because I did a story with D.J. Divine and it was said that more R@B and Disco was spun there opposed to the break beats! 

 

Right, and that’s because that was what was going on in Queens. It was more like we spun the breaks of those records, so you might have groups like the Whispers or Chic, because the whole Good Times thing we got was because that was a group we were familiar with! What the Bronx did was take it to a whole other level! And they never even played the whole record they just played the breaks.

 

Right exactly, but when you were going to the Down Stairs record shop in the early days were you going for the breaks like the Bronx or were you going for the Disco breaks like the rest of the Queens brothers?

 

I was going for Disco records! I had my own breaks.

 

How did you get your own breaks then?

 

I had them but my whole thing was to play records that people didn’t know, but they were really good records.

 

o.k. I got you.

 

But the break beat thing was to buy breaks that people didn’t know, and find just the break part that nobody knew!

 

Right, like your man Larry Levan (Of The Garage days fame in the Village.) might catch those European jams for an example and break them for the first time and people would really enjoy it. so ya’ll were trying to do like the same thing, be the first to have, and have the crowd go wild.

 

Right, the first time I went to The Garage was with this Gay brother from around the way that grew up with us. We didn’t look at him like he was Gay but we knew that he was and he was. He was like ya’ll got go to The Garage! We were like what is The Garage? He was like “ya’ll got to see this they be jamming up in there, and they be playing the same records that ya’ll be playing up in here.” So one night about 4 in the morning I got off from doing my thing and we checked them out. When we got there, there was a crazy line. Now mind you we don’t really journey to the city on that type of tip. We were going to the city but not to party like that.

 

I understand you were coming for the records as well as business related.

 

Yeah and we was like “ah man.” We went inside and the sound system was booming and Larry was doing his thing. I was like “this is it”, and he was playing the same jams I was playing. But he was doing his thing on a whole other level. Its big, the club was real big. I was blown away.

 

So homeboy introduced you to this, I thought it was Russell Simmons that introduced you to the Garage! How did you meet Russell Simmons?

 

At that time I had met him in the park while playing Basketball. I was playing Basketball and Russell was well respected by the gangs of that time.

 

Right, I know about him getting his hustle on!

 

Right he was doing his thing out there and we would see each other and keep it moving. In fact we lived about 10 blocks from each other. So I would see him and we would acknowledge each other. But I was more into the basketball and not the other thing. So the gangs would have their meetings out there but there was no conflict. We did our thing they did theirs and we stayed out of each others way. Then when I was playing in the clubs he said “man you got to come with me up to the Fever one night.” (Disco Fever.) By this time he was promoting and had his RUSH thing going on. You would see his RUSH stickers on trains and other places. He realized that I had it popping at the spot! So he was this record promoter guy and he would bring the records to the d.j.s to play. He would come around and say “yo Ralph I got this record of such and such can you play it?” I can’t remember but he had this cut with Love is the Message on it and these guys rapping over the top of it. I was like why would they sell this in the store because this is the same thing that we do in the park. Who is going to buy this when all you have to do is go to the park to hear this for free. By this time everybody is starting to play in the park.

 

Rappers Delight hadn’t come out just yet and he had this cut you are referring to?

 

Exactly! 

 

See this is the thing when I was a kid I heard the same thing even though I don’t think it was Love is the Message, but it was two or three years before Rappers Delight but nobody talks about that being the first hip hop record.

 

I know what you are talking about but I can’t tell you what that record was nor the label, but I remember him bringing it to me. But I have no idea what the name is. Russell was like “yo man everybody ain’t going to come to the park” So he had an understanding of the marketing and this sound, which I had no clue of. So I was like alright, and after awhile I can remember him bringing me Kurtis Blow and all these other records he was working with. He was also telling about his brother Run, who was D.J. Run at the time. I said o.k. but by this time I was the hottest cat out, as far as Queens was concerned.

 

You would say you were more popular then D.J. Divine, Disco Twins, Rat and Monkey etc.?     

 

They weren’t even in the mix the way I was doing it.

 

I didn’t know that!

 

This is in the clubs.

 

So you were in the clubs, and they were in the park. But when the winter came around didn’t they go into clubs like say Fantasia etc?

 

Well those were a lot of Russell’s parties. He was the one that kicked off Fantasia. But I was in the clubs, and I was one of the youngest dudes in there along with me and Elai Tubo. A lot of people don’t mention Elai Tubo, he was the dude that produced and mixed all of those early Eric B and Rakim records. Elai was the D.J. at the Renaissance.

 

What the Renaissance up in Harlem?

 

Now this one was in Queens and it was called the Renaissance Disco. The Renaissance was where Chic and them use to hangout. You would go in there and you would see Nile Rogers and them girls. You had to be dressed up; it was like going to Leviticus and these other clubs. Then there is this record called “Funkin for Jamaica” by Tom Browne.

 

I remember that very well.

 

On that record he says we are going over to check out Jet. Jet was the owner of the Renaissance. Jet knew all of these people, and he was a fly dressing dude. He knew everybody.

 

Some good stuff Ralph please keep it coming!

 

(Ralph starts laughing.) Jet knew everybody, and Elai was his D.J. up in there. The Renaissance was bigger then the Blue Ice. It was on Hillside Avenue down the block from Hillcrest high school. you really had to be dressed up to go in there and when I was in high school I wasn’t really dressing up to go to the club I was wearing what ever I wore. But when I got the Renaissance I would were shoes, slacks and a shirt looking decent. After awhile they knew me and that I was a d.j. they would say o.k. that’s Ralph let him in. The Renaissance was the premiere spot in Queens. They would have all types of shows including Fashion shows, they were really doing it. It was a Queen’s version of these New York sophisticated black clubs. I feel the reason why  hip hop became popular, and the whole Herc movement became popular was because street dudes that were just into dancing and later on becoming b-boys is because they couldn’t get into the clubs like the Renaissance.

 

Right Red Alert said the same thing in his story, they didn’t want to get all dressed to go down town to hear some music.

 

Exactly they didn’t want to go down town. So you had the same thing happening in Queens where street dudes couldn’t get into the Renaissance so they started doing their own thing. Which was in places like Fantasia etc. that’s why that whole Fantasia movement became so big. That’s how hip hop started to emerge. The same way in the Bronx but it took probably a year or two longer.

 

So how did you feel about those groups in the Bronx and Harlem once you started knowing about Flash and the Furious Five, Fantastic 5, Cold Crush, Treacherous 3 and others? How did you feel about that type of hip hop?

 

In the beginning when we were first getting those records I wasn’t really feeling the Sugar Hill or Enjoy records at first.

 

Well the Sugar Hill Gang was a poor way to describe the Hip hop coming from the Bronx and Harlem. It would have been better for you to judge the hip hop from the Bronx though the live tapes back then.

 

Well I didn’t go to the Bronx to hear them until later on, and that wouldn’t be until about 1978. 

 

So it’s still early for you.

 

Yes it was still early. It was going on because cats were on the mic. Cats were rocking the party. We were hearing the emcees, but in the beginning the d.j. never let anybody rock the mic, unless it was him (The D.J.)! The D.J. would only like shout out somebody’s birthday.

 

Or say “come up front your mother wants to talk to you or your car is double parked!”

 

Right, now to get on the mic and start rhyming over a record or even hyping up a crowd was very rare. So when it happened unless you were really good at it, it would be like……why is he talking on the mic so much? Now people can’t hear our music!

 

Right, I got you.

 

Around our way we had a brother name Sweetie Gee, I don’t know if you ever heard of him!

 

Oh yes I have heard of him, in fact I am supposed to do a story with him as well. (Sorry Sweetie Gee I am just backed up with a lot to do in this life I will get at you in time.) Mike and Dave produced him.

 

Sweetie Gee was one of the first to come out and get on the mic the way he did. Sweetie Gee used to come to the Blue Ice or any where else I was playing and get on the mic and do his thing, and after awhile I would say o.k. enough of that. (We both start laughing.)

 

Being as I don’t know the history of the emcee in Queens like I do in the Bronx I am amazed you said Sweetie Gee was the first cat like that!

 

Well he was there, early. He understood the whole entertainment factor of it, he got it. 

 

He has blown up today doing other things!

 

Yeah he is into Sports marketing and managing and other things.

 

Now what about the other guy, Sweet Gee? Wasn’t he from Queens but traveling back and forth from the Disco Fever in the Bronx?

 

Ah I am not sure. I met Sweet Gee later on, but I didn’t know if he is from Queens or not.

 

I say that because I have a show on video of him at the Encore along with Mele Mel, Busy Bee and Cowboy. It was a Birthday party for one of Fat Cats boys. But Sweet Gee came on first doing his records Games people play and the other one I can’t remember right now.

 

I am not really sure if he was actually from Queens!

 

o.k. I just wanted to give props to who ever was repping Queens on the mic during that time!

 

See on the emcee tip…..

 

The emcee didn’t really start until the early to mid eighties, when a Queens’s rapper was really strong with his lyrics.

 

Well there was dudes on the mic don’t get me wrong.

 

I got those dudes you are referring to. But those emcees were still more of a Queens’s rapper by not getting deeper into the meaning of an emcee, writing a rhyme such as a Bronx or Harlem emcee would!

 

That is correct and this was because the D.J. was in control, and it didn’t take over just yet. One of the first cats I ever heard that I really liked was Eddie Cheba!

 

Right but Eddie wasn’t from over there by you!

 

Right!!

 

O.k., so you’re saying you were more favorable of a Disco emcee! So how did you feel about Hollywood?

 

Hollywood was good, when I went to Manhattan I heard him at one of those Ballrooms. But it was Eddie Cheba that I heard of because I went to LaGuardia Community College.

 

Right, Cheba Cheba Cheba!

 

Right, Boom I was like “oh man this dude is doing his thing I am digging this right here.” I let him rock on my set! I seen what he was doing and he understood the Disco thing ….he understood the records.

 

Right, he had perfect timing, he knew when to come in and break back out.

 

Right.

 

So you felt those guys like Cold Crush etc but you were really caught into the times and styles of your own type of music in Queens?

 

Right, we were doing our own thing.

 

The Bronx style was cool but you were loving what you were doing!

 

Yes, but to be to the extent that it is today, who knew. It was really really early. I come from a time where certain groups like B.T. Express, Brass Construction, ah Ohio Players; you wanted to hear those records! So to rhyme over them didn’t make sense to me!

 

I got that and I loved that you bought that up!

 

(Ralph starts laughing.)

 

I totally understand what you are saying. At the same token a lot of those Soul and Rhythm and Blues groups came from there Queens, referring to the bands?

 

Yes, so we were familiar with that whole instrumentation and sounds and all that and we were just like “ah man listen to that and listen to this, and listen to the horns come up. (Right there as Ralph is speaking about it he is getting caught into the feeling of describing it.)

 

I feel you.

 

Where as B- Boyism and Hip Hop was not about that at all! It was just about taking the break part.

  

Right

 

You know, so it was just a different way of listening to music.

 

How long did you rock the Encore and what was the next step after the Encore?

 

I rocked at the Encore from say 1981to 1982 because it started getting a little crazy because this is when South side is starting to come up and there is a lot of drug involvement and getting a little crazy with shoot outs in the club and things like that. Plus there was so much money being made in the club that they didn’t care about the music part of it, and they really didn’t care about me. They cared about the money.

 

I feel you; you were loving the heart of the music.

 

Right so I was like nah man I am not feeling this, so one night I just said that’s it I am out. I am not doing it any more. Fat Cat and a whole lot of other cats were coming through before I left. I used to have a Ladies night that was on Tuesdays and this was  pre Fat Cat time. There were guys like FBI and all these other cats that later on got killed. This was in fact before the whole Fat Cat movement got big. This might have been about 2 or 3 years after I left, that Fat Cat’s name started to ring bells.

 

What was this you said about FBI?

 

These were dudes that were apart of that movement of strong arming dudes.

 

So there was a gang named FBI that just strong armed people and took theirs?

 

No, no this was one person and that was his name!

 

(Troy busts out laughing.) One dude name FBI was just strong arming and taking cats stuff, and they were letting him walk around!

 

He used to come into Encore and say “yo Ralph play Love is the Message!” And I would be like “yo I just played it!” He would be like “well play it again, we want to hear that!” All the South side is over in the corner running with him.

 

Right!

 

Piper bottles are up, and you know back then they wasn’t popping Moet they was popping Pipers!

 

Yes I remember very well.

 

So my man used to give them a hard time so I was like look leave that alone I am going to play the s--- for them. And FBI used to want to get on the mic and shout everybody out for South Side.

 

(Troy is laughing.) Word up?

 

I be like let that n----- do what the f--- he want to do.

 

(Troy is laughing harder because of the way Ralph is explaining it.)

 

Let him do what the hell he wants to do. So I was cool with all of them, I would walk through 40 projects and wherever and they would be like that’s Ralph from the club he’s cool.

 

Right.

 

“Right that’s our man, but who is he going to see!?” “It don’t matter, let Ralph do what ever he want to do!”

 

Right, right I hear you.

 

Because I knew I was going up in them buildings and I had to be alright. I didn’t want any problems with them cats! So I was like these are my n----- and they would be like let that n------ through. And these dudes were murdering cats out there.

 

So is FBI around here today.

 

Nah, see by this time John Gotti and them were coming up and they were doing their thing and they were in and out of the hood. The Italians were running the Juke Boxes! If you had a Juke Box, that was their thing.

 

I know what you are talking about; those Juke Boxes were around long before that time. They were in the bars up in Harlem as well.

 

So they were into loan sharking as well as the drug world! So we figured in the end it might have been them that killed him. See FBI wasn’t really f------ with them, he was like a dude on his own.

 

That was what I was about to say he had to be taking a piece from everybody.

 

He was his own man once the game started coming up. If you weren’t playing by what they wanted to do or who ever they had down wanted you to do, you were a liability!

 

So what did FBI stand for?

 

(Ralph takes a pause and then…) ….I don’t even know!

 

O.k. so he is like a bunch of other cats I know like that, they were so notorious that they was untouchable until their time came.

 

Yeah until his time came! So him and other dudes started getting knocked off and the game started getting crazy. So you can tell the climate of things was starting to change because n------ had more money and it was just changing. But me on the other hand I was just there for the music I wasn’t there for that. By this time I am now going into the city and I met this guy who tells me he can hook me up with clubs in the city so I was like cool. It was little clubs nothing big. As far as I was concern I was blowing up because I was going into Manhattan now.

 

Right exactly. So what was the next big spot before Video Music Box?

 

Well I started also playing in Brooklyn. There used to be this spot called Town Hill Two!  Town Hill Two was like the main spot in Brooklyn. But it kind of fell off as far as the crowd coming through like it used to. So one of the dudes that owned Encore bought the place, because he felt me on my vibe as well. He also didn’t like the crowd at the Encore. So we changed the name from Town Hill to Panorama! It turned out to be a cool spot.

 

So was this place also in a notorious area of Brooklyn?

 

That was in Flatbush on Beverly Road.

 

Damn that’s way over there by East Flatbush on the 2 and 5 train, like the second to last train stop!

 

Right, exactly. It later became the Ark.

 

O.k., in fact a lot Jamaican families are from over there, am I right?

 

Yes that is right. So you got the Dreads jumping up even though they were already out there in Queens and different areas but you are starting to see the whole Jamaican movement coming in and all the weed and all that, and Panorama is cool we can play whatever kind of music, and we would be open until ten in the morning.

 

Ten in the morning, damn!

 

Yeah, the party would start around 11pm and end about 10 am!

 

So ya’ll  would never get any beef from 5-0, were they taken care of?

 

Yeah I guess so!

 

The reason I say that is because clubs are supposed to close really at 4am and so that would be considered and after hour spot.

 

Nah we would take it to the early early mornings. There were no problems; long as you didn’t have any problems on the out side you don’t have any problems from the police.

 

Now the question is before you started Video Music Box did you go to college to learn this new field you are about to come into?

 

Yes this whole time I am in college from 1978 to 1981. I went to LaGuardia Community College for two years, and then I went to New York Tech, which is in Westbury. That’s where I got my bachelors degree for Television and communications.  So that was my introduction into the whole film and T.V. thing. Also during this time my partner later the Vid Kid went to City College as well as Russell Simmons.

 

Why did your man call him self Vid Kid?

 

I don’t know he just made it up. (Ralph starts laughing.) “I am going to be the Vid Kid.”

 

So what was his name before Vid Kid?

 

D.J. Tripp!

 

Now did you ever have a different D.J. name other then D.J. Ralph McDaniel’s?

 

I was always Ralph McDaniel’s! because to me I thought people having names was corny. I was like just call you’re self what your name is. Nah actually for a few months I was DJ Calypso. But that didn’t work.

 

I got you. So what took you to doing this video thing?

 

When I was in college I took this intern ship working at WNYC which was channel 31.

 

Right.

 

So the dude that ran the place said “I like the way you work and your coming on time, as well as you are into it etc. etc.” “If you graduate I will give you a job.” I was like alright fine and that was how I got my first job. I was an engineer. It had nothing to do with producing T.V. shows or anything like that. But I used to see the shows and I used to tell people that I worked on the show and they would be like what’s on there? The station was similar to PBS channel 13, but there wasn’t really too much to talk about on that station to me.

 

The channel has shows about Art and cooking, etc.

 

Right there might be a show about firemen and the department or what ever. It was similar to maybe the history channel or something!

 

Right.

 

It was called the public broadcasting station, but I was like if it is for the public how come they don’t have anything for black people on here.

 

Would that station be similar to the public access channels that we have today?

 

Public access was different and it came later on.

 

Was it similar that you could put your own show on there?

 

Nah, nah you couldn’t just put a show on. The studio was the one that put the money up for the material they play. Public access came when cable came. Cable created that word Public Access.

 

Oh right I see. (I Forgot channel 31 WNYC and Video Music Box came before cable T.V.)

 

There wasn’t any Cable then! In fact the only Cable that existed during that time in Manhattan was Manhattan Cable. In the whole New York City Manhattan was the only place that had Cable.

 

Right now I remember there was this station called Wometco Home Theater, some thing like that. Which was in short called WHT.

 

Right!

 

I remember begging my mother to get it but she didn’t get cable until cable fully came out.

 

Right that was the closest thing to Cable.

 

Right, so how did your channel 31 stay afloat being as there were no commercials?

 

They got grants.

 

O.k. right, the city took care of them!

 

Yeah, or rich people took care of them, like the Rockefeller Foundation and others. It was a tax write off for them. It is still funded that way to this day.

 

So what made you decide one day to start your own show? Also can you remember the date when your first show came on and the public saw it?

 

Well the first concept of Video Music Box came about when I was engineering something and we got these tapes of artist performing. They weren’t really music videos but they were artist perform to their songs. It was the Whispers and all these other groups that were on Solar Records. It was the Whispers, Lakeside and some other groups. It was a 30 minute tape. I was like this is hot, because these records were hot at the time.

 

I used to love looking at those types of videos with just the band sitting there performing.

 

Yeah, a couple of different camera angles maybe and they were doing their thing. MTV was out but I had never seen it. So MTV did exist at that particular time, so I guess that was why they were making these particular tapes. But later I found out they weren’t playing them.

 

They weren’t playing anything black on there anyway until Michael Jackson got down.

 

So I was like since I got these videos we should put a show together and put these on because people in my hood want to see this.

 

That’s right.

 

They were like well we don’t know about that, we will see what happens. I went to the program director about this, which is something I never did. I never stepped into where they were making the show, I was an Engineer. So they was like “this dude is an engineer what does he know about what people want to see?”

 

So what exactly were you doing as an engineer?

 

The Engineer guy is behind the scenes like the camera man, the guy who puts the tape on the reel so they can be recorded. The guy who makes sure the signal is going out over the t.v. Our antenna was on top of the World Trade Center. I would talk to the guy at the World Trade Center asking him if it looks good and he would say “yeah everything looks good.” “Alright cool, so let me know if something goes wrong.” “Alright!” So that was my job, and there were times I would spend hours looking at the T.V. at things that I had no interest in. So I was like they need to put something better on here. So one day they were having this fund raiser like they have on channel 13. The dude that turned me down earlier about my idea came up to me and asked me “where are those tapes that you had with the different groups on them?” He said he wanted to use that in the fund raiser. So I was like “word, alright” and I told him I had them right here on the job in my locker. So he puts it on and it’s cool. So the guy that runs the station said “a lot of people called in when those things were on.”

 

Damn isn’t that something.

 

So once again I said “yeah so we should do a show etc”. So six months later this dude comes up and says “I am going to do a show with all the videos.” See when I first gave them the videos they never gave them back. I was like those were my tapes, and I felt that was my idea! So the guy was like “well they want me to do it, they don’t want you to do it” blah blah blah. So I was like “I am down with the show, I don’t give a f--- what you tell me!”

 

Right!

 

So I was the voice of the show and it was called at that time Studio 31 dance party!

 

O.k.

 

Me and the dude used to argue all the time, because this dude used to want to play the wack videos. See now we are starting to get videos coming in. But he used to play what I felt was corny.

 

Was the concept black in the beginning?

 

Yes it was Black!

 

Was the guy you were working with Black?

 

Yes he was.

 

So what type of stuff was he playing?

 

I don’t know he was getting stuff from his friends, and stuff from uptown.

 

Oh New Jack type dudes that maybe he wanted to break?

 

Yeah but not even New Jack type dudes, it was more like Theatrical performances.

 

O.k. I got you.

 

I was like “nah nah don’t play that just come with the heat!” So we used to go at it all the time. He got tired of doing it, in fact he really didn’t want to do it anyway, they just picked him to do it. So there was no longer a show any more at Studio 31 Dance party. So I went to the program director and told him that show we have been doing all along is really my idea, and I would like to do that!

 

Right.

 

He said “alright Ralph fine, so what do you want to call it?” I said “I want to call it Video Music Box!”

 

Where did you get that name from?

 

I just made it up!

 

Alright, can you give me a date when the first show was aired through them and the first show you did by your self.

 

The first show was probably, somewhere in May of 1983. Video Music Box came in December of 1983.

 

What was the very first video played for your Video Music Box?

 

Well of course now Michael Jackson is out by this time, and I still have the tapes to this day. Also the Pointer Sisters with Im So Excited etc. Also of course the Whispers because that is what first got my attention and Shalamar.

 

So you originally started out with R&B music and then later slipped into the Hip Hop!

 

Right, because there were no Hip Hop videos at that time.

 

Now what was the name of that show that used to come on Friday nights, on channel 7 called? …….Hot Tracks!

 

Right Hot Tracks!

 

How did that show influence you?

 

It confirmed to me that I was doing the right thing. Because I already wanted the show on, and when I saw Hot Tracks come on. I was like “Yo see what I am saying!” This was our idea we have to do this!

 

Right! Plus you could have done it before Hot Tracks.

 

And I did but they hesitated! So once Hot Tracks came on it was a confirmation that this whole music video thing was getting ready to be a big thing.

 

Right, now that you got the whole R&B thing going, what about your introduction. We talked about it the other day but how did you put that together starting with Five Minutes of Funk from Whodini.

 

Five Minutes of Funk was just one of my favorite cuts, I loved the song. It just sounded like a theme song to me you know. Then I picked certain groups from that time that reflected what was going on at the moment. In the opening we had James Brown; we had Madonna as well as Prince. Jimi Hendrix and a White Boy group called Ah Ha and their visual from their video was crazy.

 

You spliced all that together your self?

 

Yes I spliced it all together.

 

Did you have a crew back then working for you?

 

I had a crew but they were the station crew! Video Music Box in the beginning was just all videos. So there wasn’t anything to shoot in the beginning. So they would help out in the beginning with the editing and eventually we started shooting, and they were the camera people. They stayed with me until about 1987.

 

This thing started growing and growing for you?

 

Right.

 

In fact at this time you were even before Donnie Simpson and BET?

 

Right, there was no BET nowhere, which amazes me that they have a 25th anniversary! The only thing that I was aware of was MTV. But I had not seen it yet because cable wasn’t out like that yet. It was out but only in Manhattan and they were only wired from 23rd street to 57th street. I was reaching the whole city.

 

I got you; in fact you were rocking before these guys hit New York!

 

Right.

 

What amazed me about your show was it was similar to Mr. Magic in we only turned to that channel for you at that time and soon as the show was over we would turn right from that channel, which was the same thing with Mr. Magic and WHBI. At 2am in the morning we would listen to his show and then we out!

 

At least people in the hood, you would watch that channel for that show and that was it, that was all the interest they had in that channel. In fact that channel never had any Neilson ratings. So I then started hearing people talk about Neilson ratings….

 

Damn kid you became the man over there!

 

Right, and I then started going to the book and it might have started out saying .3 people watch this channel. So I would be like well what does that mean? But they didn’t even know how to read the book, because they never had a rating before. So I had to go and find some people that could break it down. They said that might be 45, 000 people watching or 50,000 people. My whole thing was to keep getting that number bigger. I wanted to get to a 1! I remember when I got over the number 1. I had 1.1, something. They were like that is a lot of people watching the show.

 

So how was management treating you once you raised the bar? First they didn’t even want to listen to your thought. So how are they treating you now?

 

All they did is use me for the numbers. At the end of the year we have such and such amount of people watching the station. Not the show mind, you but the station! They used my numbers to make the station look good. They didn’t acknowledge me because they had no interest in the show what so ever! They were not interested in looking at those black people perform. They them selves were older white people.

 

Yeah but the crazy thing is because  of your show people would turn before your show would start to see what came on before your show started and after your show would finish. So these producers,’ directors and owners had to acknowledge that your show is making the channel more popular.

 

Exactly, but they didn’t want to acknowledge this type of program. They didn’t have it in them to say this show is the show that can be the catalyst to build other programs around. They didn’t look at it that they could use it to their advantage. They never mention Video Music Box in any promos or anything like that. At the same token they didn’t deny me when I went to go get my little budget to do my show.

 

Did they ever give you a raise for the work you put in?

 

They gave me a salary but no raise, they said this was it. But to be honest what  ever the amount it was fine, because it was a lot more than what I was making as an engineer!

 

Plus it was good advertisement for you.

 

Right and once again I was into it for the music. That was my whole thing. Also now that Hot Tracks is out you know that there are other videos out. Up until that point there was nothing else for me to look at to see if there was something else out there that maybe I didn’t have.

 

So that was my next question, because you started blowing up making noise did people start sending videos to you, asking you to play their video? I am referring to known solo and groups such as Temptations, or who ever are hot at that moment.

 

Well the groups are who I started meeting, the local groups from New York. They were like I got a video. The record companies weren’t really quick yet reaching out to me. But I would reach out to them and send a letter etc asking for a video. I would have to keep calling and eventually you would get it. But the groups were like “yo I got to get my video on your show”.

 

Give me an idea of some groups that came at you?

 

Full Force, and then you started running into hip hop artists as well. Now you talking about Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, and Whodini these were like the first hip hop videos. Also few of the groups from Jive records like Kool Moe Dee who really hit me up a little bit later on.

 

What made you start going to these clubs live, like for instance Zanzibar?

 

Well Zanzibar was like an extension of The Garage, so they were like into the same thing, the club scene. But say if there was a record that was hot like say Eric B and Rakim’s My Melody and Eric B for President! There is no video for those cuts. So I would have to go there and tape them, because this was the first time you ever saw these people!

 

Right.

 

So I would go to these functions and tape them so people can see who these people are, because I was interested in knowing who these people are so I know every body else was curious as well. 

 

Right.

 

So I taped them so people can see who is behind these records! So that was when I started going out to the clubs. We would also go to the Roxy. The first group we caught out of there was the Force M.D.s….

 

I know Run and them used to be there a lot as well as L. L.

 

Yeah this was even before that I am talking about Force M.D.s, Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, Bambaataa.

 

And you have these guys live on your show?

 

Right.

 

Now once you started blowing up were other shows starting to shout you out saying “yo bust it, I want you to come and do my show?” Such as a BET?

 

No, BET never came to me; I can remember seeing MTV more. MTV is starting to grow. I remember going to MTV because there was another channel around maybe a couple of years after we started called U68! U68 was a music channel that was on the same UHF channel like us. People that didn’t have cable could also watch U68 too. But they played more Rock and Roll.

 

I am not too familiar with that.

 

U68 was run by this guy name Steve Leeds. Steve Leeds later got a job working on MTV. So I went to Steve Leeds and said “yo man, can we get Video Music Box over here at MTV?” He was like “nah they don’t really want to see that over here.”

 

They weren’t ready yet for total black music?

 

Right, U68 became the home shopping network, so there was no music after awhile! Steve Leeds went to MTV from there. See I knew him very well, so I was like “yo we were about to do something at U68 with you, can we instead do it over here at MTV with you?” That’s when he said nah. So this was like 1984 or 85 and Fresh fest was about to happen. There are tours going out, RUN-DMC is going out. I was like “RUN-DMC is big even white kids are buying RUN-DMC what are you talking about?” “Why would they not want to see this?” So he was like “nah its cool going to the concert but not on their t.v.!” I was like “I can’t believe that!” So I kept telling him “this thing is big and ya’ll need to do a hip hop show here.” But he wasn’t hearing me. So two years later is when Yo MTV Raps came about.

© 2007 Troy L. Smith No Part May Be Copied Without Authors Consent.

 

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