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'Video Music Box' Founder, Hip Hop Influencer Ralph McDaniels Shares His Journey In New Showtime Documentary: 'This Music Is Really Powerful'

(ViacomCBS) - Showtime documentary You're Watching Video Music Box chronicles the evolution of founder Ralph McDaniel's life and career and the atomic impact his show Video Music Box made on American culture.

Emmy and Grammy Award-winning music legend Nasir "Nas" Jones directed the documentary, which debuts Dec. 3 at 8PM ET/PT with never before seen footage from the world's longest-running music video show. The film is part of SHOWTIME's HIP HOP 50 initiative, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the genre.

Leading Hip Hop influencer "Uncle Ralph" sat down with CBS's Katie Johnston ahead of the premiere.

KJ- Today, I have the absolute honor of speaking with the man himself, MC Ralph McDaniels, the visionary brain and face behind Video Music Box. Thank you so much for hanging out with me today.

RM- Thank you for having me. I'm excited, yes.

KJ- I'm excited for everyone to see this documentary. I did get a pre-screening of it myself. It's hard to know exactly where to start when asking you questions because I feel like we have so much to talk about today. I guess to initiate this conversation, where did the idea for the documentary originate for you guys?

RM- You know, Nas is the director and Nas is a guy who I worked with. I directed his first video for his for his first album, Illmatic. So it's a 360 in a way of me and Nas working with each other. It's a spiritual journey, the documentary of me growing up as a kid just into music. One of those kids that was, you know, playing around with my parents' 45 vinyl records and stuff like that.

Now I get the opportunity to work with Nas and put this all together. So it's the journey of a young guy from Brooklyn and Queens who then gets into the music business and picks up a camera, nobody had a camera that back then. Now everybody has a camera phone.

You go to a concert and it's kind of annoying, actually, when you see everybody holding their phones up. But that's the world that we live in. Back then, I was the only guy with a camera and I picked up this camera and I started documenting what was happening around me. It started in 1983 and and we still presently do it.

KJ- I'm so glad that you mentioned Nas right away because for decades you told the stories of so many artists before the world even knew that they were artists. You're an artist yourself. You were a DJ before starting Video Music Box in the 80s. This kind of feels like the first time that we're really hearing your story.

RM- Yeah, yeah. It's definitely an untold story, which is cool, I love documentaries. I watch documentaries on everything, on whales, on whatever. So to find out about something that you probably didn't know about is always interesting to me.

I think that the audience is going to be like, 'Wow, I didn't know this existed, and I didn't know that this show had such an impact on, you know, a guy like NAs or Jay-Z or Diddy or whoever, Queen Latifah. All these people that came to the show when they first started and they they were raw, they were they were not polished how they are today.'

KJ- That's especially true for younger generations, who have no idea what happened before they even arrived on Earth, right? It's going to be really interesting for them to see the history of this genre. I really want to ask you this because it's clear that you've had a fun time kind of reminiscing on some of these memories just from watching the documentary. I'm sure there are endless libraries of content you produced from the years of success on the show. In watching some of that footage in the documentary, which was never before seen footage, some of it, what was it like reliving those moments while working on the documentary?

RM- When I look back at the footage, it's almost like it was yesterday to me. I'm like, 'Wow, I remember that event.' I remember what happened when I was going there. I remember what happened that when I was there and when I left. I remember everything about it.

For me, I know it; but, let's say my daughter, who's you know, she's a producer, she's 35 and she's like, 'What were your guys wearing back then?' The clothes is what she finds interesting and the dance styles and things like that. So it's it's a different experience for people.

I think that it's fun and it's been a tough two years. I think that if you're into just feeling good about something, this is a film that'll make you feel good. If you were into the music or even if you aren't into the music, you know, it was just a fun time.

KJ- Ralph it's clear that TV and music played a tremendous role in your life growing up. Looking back now, how does it feel seeing the impact you had on culture, on communities for so many people through the medium of TV and music?

RM- I feel like this was like a gift that was given to me from watching people like, you know, Don Cornelius and Soul Train and American Bandstand with Dick Clark, all of the different people that came before me presenting music on television. I just took a little bit of what those people did and made it what I was doing. I never really wanted to be a TV star at all. I just wanted to present music. It just kind of came about.

Then to watch the impact that we've had on some of the music artists, directors, producers of music, the general audience in fashion and way, people wore clothes, and just overall, it's been amazing. People have told me that they've come from outside of the United States. They learned how to be Americanized by watching my show. You know, kids can be tough when you first come to this country from somewhere else, people pick on you, maybe because the way you talk or whatever it is.

People would say they would watch Video Music Box and they would learn how to say certain words so that they felt comfortable within their school and they didn't get picked on. That was amazing to me to learn things like that from some of the folks that have watched the show over the years.

KJ- That's really just one microcosm, I feel like of your show because it does have that aspect of inclusivity. That was something that really resonated with people when they first started watching it and obviously has led to so much success for you.

RM- There's a section in the film where we were at this thing called the Fresh Fest, and that's when I realized how diverse Hip hop was. You had folks from the South Bronx and Black and Latino, and then you had white folks and you had Asian folks. You had all these different genres, but we were all there for the same thing: to to listen to the artists and to listen to the music. That brought us all together.

That was really, at that particular moment, the first time I had seen that in person. I was like, this music is really powerful, and that's when I realized it was going to go a long way.

KJ- I loved hearing you talk about that in the documentary, by the way. I want to ask you before I let you go because I have 1000 questions I could ask you. Are there any that I haven't asked you that you would like to include or like to talk about?

RM- The thing for me is that, you know, hip hop history is important just like any other genre of music. In the beginning, it was looked at as a fad. Now it's the number one genre of music that influences  everything, every commercial, every type of movie, everything that you see. You hear some hip hop music playing in the background. So the history is important.

So many people, just like me and others, never really got our shot to get out there and tell people our story and the influences that we had when it was maybe like 500 of us that were just into hip hop. I'm glad that we are getting the opportunity and getting this content out there. Hip hop history is super important.

KJ- It is super important. I want to thank you, Ralph, so much. Thank you for your talents. Thank you for sharing them with us, but also thank you for hanging out with me today.

RM- Thank you. All right. You're Watching Video Music Box, make sure you watch it!

Watch the premiere of You're Watching Video Music Box Dec. 3 8PM ET/PT exclusively on SHOWTIME.


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