Words by Jesse Serwer—
Today we’re sending a big birthday shout-out to the man who pioneered the shout-out and one of my personal heroes: “Uncle” Ralph McDaniels.
Now, Ralph gets a lot of props for creating the first rap music showcase on TV, Video Music Box, but he and VMB were also pivotal when it comes to popularizing dancehall music in New York—and by extension the whole US. Raised in BK and Queens by parents from Trinidad, Ralph was one of the first and certainly one of the only VJs to regularly play music videos from Jamaica before dancehall’s US popularity surge in 1992. I can still recall coming home from school one day around ’91 and coming across the original clip (not the more polished remake with Dancehall queen Carlene that came years later) of Chaka Demus and Pliers’ “Murder She Wrote.” It’s the first real dancehall video I ever saw. I can’t say I knew what to make of it then but I was transfixed by the rawness of the song and video.
Throughout the ’90s Ralph and VMB would introduce me to artists like Mad Cobra, Shaggy, Bounty Killer and of course Shabba, debuting videos that would later make it to MTV after blowing in New York, perhaps in part because of Ralph’s support. And his regular segments at Caribbean nightspots like Brooklyn’s The Ark gave a young’un like myself further exposure to what bashment was all about.
For more on Ralph and Video Music Box, check my interview with Ralph from the Nov/Dec. 2007 issue of Wax Poetics, and this supremely entertaining Frank 151 interview by Ricky Powell.