By Nate Jackson
Lee “Q” O’Denat, founder of WorldStarHipHop.com, is an unlikely figure in the canon of modern hip-hop success stories. The reserved, 40 year-old Hollis, Queens native of Haitian descent is probably one of the first and most controversial examples of hip-hop’s ability to create moguls out of tech wizards. Funny thing is, his site–known mostly for it’s glossy music videos, clips of violent street fights and ass-clapping strip tease entertainment–isn’t really much to look at from a design perspective. It’s all just kind of mushed together, an aggregate of videos that is supposed to shine a mirror on what’s going on in hip-hop culture as a whole at any given time. It’s rarely pretty. But the ability to create visceral reaction, stimulation and a large, cult-like following are what continue to keep World Star successful at a rate of 4-6 million users per day, O’Denat says.
Over the years, the site’s founder has become well versed in the arguments defending World Star, including his assertion that even a site that thrives on objectionable material has standards for what they will and won’t show to the public. “I get a lot of crazy videos, man, I turn stuff down all the time.” In an effort to find out just what he means by that and get a bit more insight into how the site is operated day to day, we talked to O’Denat about just what direction World Star is headed, where it’s been and where it refuses to go.
There are plenty of interviews out there that highlight your defense of the World Star Hip-Hop brand and website. Given how successful your site has been despite the media backlash over the last seven years or so, do you really think there’s still a need to defend it?
I just really want to get the word out to people who are misinformed, who don’t understand are just have questions. Anything controversial of course brings the attention seekers out, people who want to bash us. And I just want people to understand that just like being at home with your remote control, you can choose what you want to watch on our site. We’re not really forcing anyone to click and watch any one particular thing on our site. You can click on what you wanna watch.
How many people work on the site on a daily basis?
We have roughly five to seven people, just a bunch of Internet minds, and innovators, self-starters, ya know? Because we all work from home, there’s no office or anything. So to be with World Star, you have to be a self-motivator because bosses aren’t necessarily looking over your shoulder, making sure you’re working. But I’ve got guys who’ve been with me for over seven years and we just love what we do and we’re passionate about what we do and the success shows that.
What were some main keys to turning the site into a profitable machine?
The site is just different, it’s unique. In the beginning, a lot of hip-hop sites were just going in one direction, catering to the advertisers and my first website was in 1999/2000, so I’m an OG in this game and I know that the Internet is like Sirius versus FM/Am radio. We can do so much more. And the advertisers should be the ones wanting to work with us, not the other way around. So I stuck to that motto and I never think thought about advertisers in the beginning and it showed for the first few years. The site was making a little money but not much considering the amount of traffic it was pulling in. Advertisers were afraid to advertise with us because they weren’t sure how to put an ad next to our content. But that’s the motto. This hip-hop culture, we like to be uncensored. I look at the likes of Eminem, 2LiveCrew, 2Pac, N.W.A., these guys are an inspiration to me because they didn’t care about what people said or thought about them. They expressed themselves with art and music and that’s what I’m doing here.
As hip-hop continues to adapt and utilize the growth of technology, do you look at yourself as being someone the hip-hop history books will look favorably on when it comes to how the genre is perceived world wide?
I believe so. I believe we’ve changed the game of entertainment online and a lot of websites that do entertainment have never done it like we have. So I believe we will leave a mark in history, 20, 30, 40 years from now. We were the first ones to do it, I believe. People figure that all of the violence and street activities are happening because of World Star when in reality it’s been going on much longer, only know we have cell phone cameras that can capture it. Now we can see it and people are like “Wow, I can’t believe this is happening.” Like the Rodney King beating. If it wasn’t for that guy with a video camera out his window, you wouldn’t have seen police brutality at its finest.
I think people walk with a blind eye too often, and people think this stuff they see on the site is ratchet and bad, but this is your community, these are your people and this is what we do. And its bringing awareness to young people who don’t want to be on YouTube or World Star in that fashion. So it’s kind of helping, in my opinion. Again, we don’t create the content, we’re just the medium.
Even now, do you have particular criteria for stuff that definitely won’t make it on the site?
I’ve seen a lot of crazy videos, man. I turn down a lot of stuff. The other day someone sent me a video of a dog having sex with a woman. So a lot of things don’t get put on the site that come across my inbox. Anything with animal cruelty, definitely not. I’m an animal lover. As far as fighting, I don’t really care about that as much, you see that on truTV and MMA all day long. Plus fighting usually gets broken up within a few minutes.
Do you allow your kids access to your site?
My oldest is 13, he gets on there sometimes. I’m a pretty good parent, I’m not the best…ya know, my son plays video games and stuff like “Grand Theft Auto,” “Call of Duty,” “Halo”–these kids all over the world are watching and participating in a lot more adult things since they were little. So in a way, my website is no different. I think my website is mild compared to what you can watch on cable and video games. So if my son does go on the site, I do monitor it and we can see where he’s going on the site and all that. But there are sites out there that are way worse than World Star. But I try to stay really involved in my son’s life, it’s not just a matter of sticking a Nintendo DS in their hand and walking away. It’s about being a parent first, but being a friend next, that’s my motto.
In terms of growth, what avenues show the most promise for the site in the future?
We’re definitely not at the top yet, even though we’re attracting 4-6 million people a day, we feel like we’re just now climbing up. There’s so much room to grow–I’d like to get involved in films, and books. We need to have more entrepreneurs like the Jay-Z’s, the Sean Combs’s and the Russel Simmons’s of the world. We just need to be more in control as hip-hop culture, sign our own artists and do our own thing. I come from the bottom of the sewage, and I just want to go out and talk to young people and encourage them to follow their dreams. It’s gonna be hard but they can do it, I did it. I want to talk to kids all over the country about this stuff, I want to build community centers in Haiti, where I’m from, and talk to the kids there.
At this point are there rappers or models out there that owe their careers to World Star?
[Laughs] There’s so many out there. I’m not gonna say “they owe us” but they definitely have to mention us when it comes to taking their careers to another level, even if they were already signed, World Star put that rocket behind them–Rick Ross, Ace Hood, Meek Mill, French Montana, Lil B. A lot of models as well come through our site. What I tell everyone who comes through our site, look at it as a platform to do something else. Don’t just ride that 15 minutes of fame. You have to really work hard and use it as leverage. I tell everyone they have to take advantage and work harder, don’t get caught up in the fame, because the fame wears out. You gotta get your money and use that exposure to do bigger and better things.