It’s funny how BET’s “106 & Park” isn’t in Harlem as it’s name suggests. Rather it’s located in Hell’s Kitchen, at the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th & 11th. Ironically, instead right on 106th in Harlem’s White Park Handball Courts you will find the graffiti piece seen above celebrating Ralph McDaniels’ Video Music Box Silver Anniversary. To some, Ralph McDaniels is the voice you hear on Sunday’s while listening to Hot 97 during your drive on the FDR coming from shorty’s crib in the Bronx that you met the night before at Club Imperial, and ended up beatin after breakfast at the Chelsea Diner. But to folk like me, Ralph McDaniels is family, an Uncle to be exact. One who would go on to raise me and millions with the single most important, yet often forgotten Hip Hop video show ever.
VMB was my baby sitter, straight up. Every day after school I would run home and turn the broken knob on my TV to WNYC-TV’s Ch. 31 with my father’s pliers, complete with an aluminum foil wrapped hanger antenna to get better reception, and catch the latest videos from the who’s who of Hip Hop. From Grand Puba’s pre-Brand Nubian Days with Masters Of Ceremony to Super Lover Cee & Casonova Rudd tellin me how to lock girls down to Doug E Fresh showin me how to dance to the Lifer’s Group scarin me half to death, I would always catch the latest & greatest from VMB. Unlike BET or MTV, the 1 hour Video Music Box started in 1983 was not only the first video show to feature Hip Hop videos, it was the only video show to feature Hip Hop videos. MTV which launched in 1981 never aired a video by a black artist until 1983, when their racist asses finally played Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean”. And though Bob Johnson started BET in 1980, initially it was just a 1 hour show called Video Soul hosted by Donnie Simpson & Sherri Carter. BET didn’t become a full fledged network until 1983 and only played R&B videos & minstrel. No Hip Hop for this Black station. Before the aforementioned, NY Hot Tracks, Night Tracks, VH1, The Box, Fuse and countless others, VMB was the best & only thang schmokin. And before Fab 5 Freddy (VJ wise), Ed Lover & Dr. Dre, Kurt Loder, Downtown Julie Brown, Tigger, Sway, Free & AJ, Terence & Rocsi, there was VJ Ralph McDaniels aka Uncle Ralph, the original Hip Hop VJ (Video Jockey).
Uncle Ralph McDaniels, a Queens DJ by way of Brooklyn (where else?) got his “Uncle Ralph” moniker from DJ Red Alert. After creating Video Music Box, he would go on to show love to underground artists on his show like his mentor Red Alert once did on Kiss FM. For example, although F.E.D.S. Magazine & Dame Dash’s Paid In Full introduced this generation to Alpo, Rich Porter & Azie, VMB aired Azie’s real life NWA-but-no-CB4-here rap group Mobstyle’s video for “Whats Going On Black” way back in the day, said video telling the now infamous story of the three trendsetting teens who were brought together and ultimately separated by the allure of cocaine & profits.
Always a step ahead, Uncle Ralph used his platform to become a music video director and a successful one at that with a resume longer than train smoke. From Marley Marl & The Juice Crew’s “The Symphony”, Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads” , Black Moon’s “Who Got The Props“, Wu-Tang’s “C.R.E.A.M”, Rae & Ghost’s “Heaven or Hell”, Nas‘ “It Ain’t Hard To Tell”, plus several hundred more, the DJ turned VJ was behind the lens. Prior to Nas dropping ‘Illmatic‘, Uncle Ralph also filmed & narrated the Nas’ Illmatic EPK which has become a classic Youtube video clip among Hip Hop purists. Jay-Z himself often reminisces in interviews about how he began his rap career just to impress friends that would see his videos on VMB; thus resulting in videos “I Can’t Get With That”, “In My Life Time” and its remix. To further show you the magnitude of VMB, the Dalai Lama of Hip Hop music videos Hype Williams started under the tutelage of Uncle Ralph & former VMB co-host Lionel C. Martin’s aka “The Vid Kid” Classic Concepts Video Productions. Hype’s ascension into music video directing became legendary and Martin himself also became very successful in the art winning many awards including an MTV Moon Man for TLC’s “Waterfall” video and even went on to direct movies such as How To Be A Player starring Bill Bellamy. Another VMB co-host, Tuffy had a guest appearance in Spike Lee’s “Jungle Fever” & Ralph himself was the associate producer of the the movie “Juice” and starred in Ed Lover & Dr. Dre’s “Who’s The Man”. But the resume isn’t restricted to just videos. Just as Lil Wayne coined the term “Bling”, Uncle Ralph introduced the term “shout out” when he would allow NY night club patrons a chance “shout out” their peoples on-air. And it is in these same clubs such as Brooklyn’s Elite Ark (back when it was in Flatbush, behind Sear’s) that Uncle Ralph not only got Biggie & his successor Jay-Z to perform on the same stage for his birthday, but captured former friends turned foes Lil Kim & Foxy Brown to do a rare impromptu performance together for the only time in their careers. And just last year he even got Nas to return to Queensbridge for his first QB performance in God Son knows how long . Now that’s star power!
Being the entrepreneur that he is Uncle Ralph, opened the illest clothing store in BK at one point called what else, “Uncle Ralph’s”. Appropriately located on Bedford Ave. & Carol St. in the Crown Heights section, where he would host “Uncle Ralph’s Annual Block Party”, the store was nestled smack dab in the middle of other Brooklyn landmarks like Ebbets Field, Medgar Evers College, Bedford Bowl(ing alley), Empire Skating Rink (RIP) & yours truly. Yep I was just 5 blocks away from some beef & broccoli Timbs and a Maurice Malone hoody. I had the pleasure of meeting Ralph McDaniels himself at a Karl Kani fashion show in Macy’s Downtown Fulton through my man Jamel “Jim Kelly” back in 1995 and even though I saluted him with just a “peace” and a nod, I knew I was acknowledging a legend.
Still to this day when I hear the VMB theme song (Whodini’s “5 Minutes Of Funk”) I think of the “The Box That Rocks” which still comes on (though not six days a week like before) Ch.25/22 Saturdays @ 12AM and on Fridays. Uncle Ralph continues to host an old school video show titled “The Bridge” @ 11PM on Ch.25/22. You can also catch Ralph’s radio show on Hot 97 Sundays 4 – 7PM. So to Uncle Ralph, Vid Kid, Tuffy, Crazy Sam & Ray Dejon, I wanna say thank you. Oh just one more thing, VH1 Hip Hop Honors, recognize a true legend and step ya game the fuck up. Peace. – ICE
Since writing this piece for my ICEDOTCOM site a year or so ago Ralph McDaniels personally contacted me and had this to say:
“It’s not very often that people get the whole VMB & Uncle Ralph McDaniels thing right, but you nailed it. I’m humbled when people tell me how much we mean to them and I felt the same way when I read your blog. Thank you ICE.” – Ralph McDaniels
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