When You Wish Upon a WorldStar
We interviewed Q, the mind behind WorldStarHipHop, one of the most ludicrous—and ludicrously popular—sites on the net.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, the cameraphone is the most important innovation of this nascent millenium. Consider the presence of video, drenching the very air around us with with viral potential. All you have to do is slip on the stairs, throw up on the subway, or throw down in the club and you’re more than probably going to be greeted with those two cascading syllables, the first drawn out, the second shriller, a staccato denouement to what’s become the de facto battle cry of our time—“WORLDSTAR.” What now? Are you more likely to punch that busdriver, or less? Is it worth it? Do you have a choice? The eyes of the world surround you, enter your body. You’ve become a gladiator for an emperor you can’t see. You’re meat, now—WorldStar is the world’s most democratic buffet, allowing you the choice to be either patron or meal. Either way, in the kitchen a friendly man with a wide grin and an impressive chain is counting his stacks.
When Lee O’Denat, bka Q, started WorldStarHipHop in 2005, he had no idea that he would be further contributing to the democratization of surveillance culture. He was just another internet-addled entrepreneur trying to make a website. Like so many before him, he realized that people like violence, nudity, and watching people engage in otherwise antisocial and lewd behavior. So, he catered WorldStar to fulfill those very compulsions, and it worked like gangbusters. Today, WorldStarHipHop is an empire, a self-sustaining behemoth that runs off of the folly of others, aired out for the world to see. Unlike YouTube, Worldstar’s become a brand unto itself, capitalizing on its own notoriety with series like “KO of the Week.” Q, argue some, is a monster, a guy who profits off of fuck-ups acting out in public and making our world tangibly worse in the process. Q, meanwhile, might contend that he’s just showing parts of society that exist—if society is fucked, is that his fault? No, and arguing otherwise is naive and reductive at best, and a dangerous perpetuation of the idea of the “nanny state” at worst.
Where Foucault warned us against a reality in which the authorities might be monitoring us at any given moment, WorldStar has created the opposite effect—we are all agents of surveillance culture, and suddenly, we’ve stopped worrying about the consequences of our actions, and instead consider their potential virality. If Q is holding up a mirror to society and showing us a bunch of people beating the shit out of each other on a Ferris Wheel or whatever, it’s not out of an urge to shame us, merely to point out that everybody’s been this fucked forever, and the fact that we’re still fascinated by people acting boorishly says way more about our world than the boorish behavior itself. Q—in person equal parts Steve Jobs, Sigmund Freud, Howard Stern, and Larry Flynt—was kind enough to stop by the VICE offices to chat with us, and despite running on two hours of sleep, offered a remarkably cogent and coherent defense of his site, which if you ask him, just might be the future of all media.
Noisey: You have kids, right?
Q from WorldStar: Yeah.
How old are they?
Kids are 14, seven, and four.
Does the 14-year-old watch WorldStar?
He loves WorldStar. He represents WorldStar. Wears the hoodie, the shirts, and he talks about it. Kids in his school love WorldStar. He also likes Grand Theft Auto. I love that game. We play together. Sometime we go online together. He'll drive and I just go around robbing banks. He's the getaway driver. We have fun.
So what led to creating WorldStar? You wanted it to be like a more like blog-oriented site first, right?
Yeah. It was more of a blog with videos, editorial, and just anything relevant of the day. We noticed that it kept growing and growing. Because we were not just being like other boring hip-hop sites. I wanted to push buttons, you know. Because hip-hop is known for that. Profanity, pushing buttons, crossing lines. 2 Live Crew, Eminem, NWA. So I'm like, this is hip-hop.
How would you define "hip-hop?"
It’s hood-influenced. From the streets. It's more of a culture. I don't think you can put a race to it or a gender. It’s a worldwide phenomenon that just speaks real, you know? And being real means you're going to cross lines. It's not going to just be squeaky-clean interviews and just good music that talks about good things.
In London, there are security cameras everywhere. And in America, we don’t have that. But there's WorldStar. Do you feel like we are living in a panopticon? And do you think WorldStar is an element of that?
It's amazing you said that. The cell phone technology with cameras is great. We're showing people what's been going on forever. And people want to point at us and blame us for what's going on.
You're just showing reality.
I agree. I look at like, Eminem and his protesters. The NWA, 2 Live Crew, same thing. I get it. I accept people put me down, and also blame me for their misery and blame society for their misery. Point at me. But I think it's that we're showing people what's going on. People are fighting. That's what it is. Get over it.
Q and Drake
Do you think the fact that that everyone has a phone that can take video affects the way that people act?
Yeah. We're in a digital environment now. People are now aware. Now you have to be careful drinking or getting high and acting foolish at a nightclub or sporting event. Someone's there waiting for you to slip up just to put you on Facebook, YouTube, WorldStar.
How do you feel about the fact that now when a fight breaks out, people start yelling WorldStar?
(Laughs) It's the battle cry. “WorldStar.” It feels good inside.
It's like in Braveheart when they yell, “Freedom” right before charging into battle.
I think it's going to live on for infinity, man. I think it's a perfect name for it too. Because you're about to be a world star. On WorldStar.
Let's talk about how rappers get put on through your site.
I mean, Riff Raff was one. He's the guy that tattooed WorldStar on his neck. And I was like, “Who is this guy?” And he sent it to us. And just based on that wave, we considered to add his videos. And now he's a star. Lil B, he's another guy that we pretty much catapulted his career up. Chief Keef was someone that we were the first to really push out there. If you make it on WorldStar it's like making it at the Apollo. If you make it on Apollo, you can make it anywhere. We have the toughest crowd, toughest audience I think. If you stink, they'll let you know. Comments can be very brutal. And if you don't have a strong stomach, you can really cry. (Laughs)
Do you have a favorite WorldStar video of all time?
Oh there's a couple, man. The uppercut bus driver. That was crazy. I never saw that before. I took the bus growing up all my life. And to see a bus driver lose his temper like that and gave that uppercut. To hear the sound of a jaw like agghhh. It was like a Mike Tyson uppercut. Like Punch-Out or some shit. I think it had like 20 million views in one day. It was amazing. We're breaking stories, you know? We're not just breaking artists. We're breaking news stories. And it's great. Really great.
How effective is the age gate?
Well, it's up to the parents. The parents got to put that censorship on their computers. Hopefully. And I tell parents that, “It's your job. We can't guarantee they're really 18.” We're providing a medium. So what these parents need to just monitor and put a restriction on the site on the computers. Today’s kids I think are growing up at 13, 14. They know everything. They know sex. They watch Family Guy. They're watching all that.
Do you ever get videos submitted that are too extreme for WorldStar?
Oh yeah. A lot of things come. Beheaded. I've seen a dog having sex with a woman. Literally the dog's dick going in the girl's vagina, man. People are sick. The internet's the reason why. I think they were sick before the internet. Can you imagine if we had WorldStar for Jeffery Dahmer? I've seen a lot of sick stuff come my way.
How often do people recognize you as the WorldStar dude?
People stare. Lately I was in the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. Then some people—a couple from I don't know which country—but they were whispering, “That's Q from WorldStar!” And they took a picture of me. And I was just shocked. People are noticing more and more. We have an animation, Ghetto Ninja, I'm working on, and we’re looking to do merchandise with my face. So people are going to know more the next few years. I want to be able to walk to Wal-Mart, man. I don't want to be there and get harassed, but I know it's going to happen.
What did you want to do when you were a kid?
I did some off off-Broadway acting when I was I'd say about 18. I always wanted to get into film. Not too much the big blockbusters, more like documentaries. So I always wanted to get involved with movies, entertainment, I just didn't know how to do it.
Q and the Authors
What’s the process of a video getting on WorldStar?
We have a team that looks at the videos and they post it up. If it's something that's borderline controversial, then they get me involved.
What about the future of WorldStar?
I want to do more apps. Video games. Definitely films. Animation. Apparel. We love the WorldStar logo and we love the WorldStar name itself. So why not put apparel out?
If WorldStar had infinite money, what would you do?
My family is from Haiti. So I would love to open a community center and help the kids in Haiti. Because those kids got nothing, man. They're one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. But we were one of the first countries to have democracy for blacks. There’s a lot of rich history behind Haiti. I’d help kids know that they don't have to be in America to succeed and make it in the world. If you learn computers there’s so many ways to be the next Steve Jobs. I've been involved with computers since '98. And look where I'm at now. I didn't just pop on the internet like most people in 2004, '05. I fell in love with it in '98. And just years of experience with reading, reading, reading, and self-education. Educating myself got me where I'm at. I'm a high school dropout and I made it. I want kids to know they don't have to go to Harvard and Stanford to succeed in life.
You said you've been using the internet since '98. How has it changed?
I remember back in the day, chat rooms were very popular. I used to love chat rooms. I had a MySpace, Facebook account way before they became big. It's like I watched a baby grow. It’s still teenager right now. So in 20, 30 years, it's going to be full-grown and it's going to be a beautiful thing.
How important is it to you that WorldStar is functional on mobile?
40 percent of our audience is coming from the mobile side. And that's continuously growing.
Demographically, what's the breakdown for WorldStar?
Majority is males. It's very close to 60-40. And age group, 18-to-35. And a lot of white people. Next is black, Hispanic. And we're very big in London and Canada.
Do you think there’s a different demographic of people uploading videos compared to your average person who's watching a video?
I think people watching are those who are looking for shock news; they just want to see something crazy. And those who upload and send them to us, they're not too shocked. They're used to this stuff. People that are just watching, their curiosity plays a role. And the title says, “Hey. This is what's going to happen.” But they still click it. And they get upset with me. (Laughs) You know what I'm saying? That don't even make sense. Don't click on a video, you know? Go to disney.com. Like don't click on a video, watch it, and then get upset with me. It's like, “Do not enter,”and you enter anyway. And you're like, “Why am I here? What am I doing? Fuck you, Q. Fuck you.” (Laughs) You know?
That's a human instinct.
Yeah. They don't want to talk about it. But actually they do want to talk about it. Their curiosity just takes over. So there's a difference between those uploading and those actually viewing.
Ezra Marcus on Twitter - @ezra_marc
Drew Millard on Twitter - @drewmillard