P. Diddy’s promo for Ciroc vodka, which premiered on WorldStar.
In an attempt to come to grips with WSHH phenomenology, I spoke to the aforementioned WSHH founder and front man, Q O’Denat. Asked what’s up, the 38-year-old Q, whose single mom “did her best” back in the hip-hop heartland of Hollis (“Salt of Salt-N-Pepa lived down the block”) said things are cool. A ninth-grade dropout from Grover Cleveland High, a “feeder” school for “losers like me,” the formerly homeless Q now lives on a nifty spread in Scottsdale, Arizona, which he describes as “like paradise, with a pool, good weather, and everything totally brand new and shiny like it was made yesterday.”
Building WSHH into a Net juggernaut came in stages, Q recounted. Like others on the scene, he started by selling mixtapes, audio assemblages of commercially unavailable work of rappers distributed by hole-in-the-wall vendors around the city. By the middle aughts, street-merchandised DVDs (the best-known of these appeared under the label Smack DVD) were including “behind-the-scenes” action such as rappers duking it out with other rappers and swatches of near porn. Similar material was inevitably moved to the web, with OnSmash.com the best-known purveyor. WorldStar soon followed, more or less appropriating OnSmash’s setup, engendering some bad feelings. “Yeah,” Q says, “there was some back-and-forth between us and them, some savage street-hacking attacks. It got hairy. Once we went 100 percent video, showing that original hood stuff, we prevailed.”
WorldStar has not made him “Romney rich, not yet,” but with the recent choice by P. Diddy to “premiere” his new promo for Ciroc vodka on WSHH, things are clearly going in the right direction. Ad rates are growing; top banner spots go for $2,500 a day. One of the site’s cash cows remains the seemingly inexhaustible number of unknown rappers desperate to showcase their streetitude in an “unsigned hype” WSHH window. The $600-a-day fee is steep, but as Q contends, “It’s worth it. Everyone in the industry looks at the site every day.” Plans are under way for expansion of “the WorldStar brand,” including a lot of “original programming” such as the recent Q-produced semi-soft-core paean to the Rubenesque starlet Cubana Lust, whose epic azz-jiggling is something to see. WorldStar is on the move, mighty enough to manage a draw in its ongoing beef with megarapper 50 Cent, who (erroneously) claimed to have once personally knocked WSHH offline, a boast Q just snickers at.
When it comes to the oft-heard charges that WSHH is both encouraging and possibly glorifying public bad behavior, Q is unruffled. After all, it isn’t WorldStar shooting the videos. WorldStar isn’t sticking a pistol to those 1.1 million pairs of eyeballs to make them look. “We’re just the messenger,” Q said. Not even counting the vids exposing cop violence like the recent Bronx incident, the site is performing a public service. “You’ve got a lot of people who stay indoors all the time, looking at their computers and whatnot. They don’t know what is going on right outside their house, in their backyards. We’re showing the reality of the situation, giving them a dose.”
While saying he never ceases to be amazed by what people will do for “a couple of minutes of being in the public eye,” Q doesn’t believe WSHH invites “knucklehead behavior.” On the contrary, WSHH is nothing if not a teller of cautionary tales. “How it is now, whatever you do, there’s going to be someone filming. You’re gonna be seen, you’re going to be recorded. The night got a million eyes. It is a surveillance society. Go out and do some dumb crap, there’s a good chance you’re gonna wind up on WorldStar for everyone to see. So maybe you’ll think twice.”
The fact is, Q said, WSHH might actually play a role in decreasing public disorder. “Let me ask you, what would subway crime been like in the seventies and eighties—Bernhard Goetz, and all that—if everyone on the train had a iPhone?”
I asked a friend, an old-school hip-hop guy back to Afrika Bambaataa and Futura 2000 full-subway-car graffiti, how often he checks WorldStar. Pained, my friend said, “You know … every day.” It is “a guilty pleasure … more guilt than the pleasure.” The way the music business works these days, you have to generate your own buzz, and nothing does that like WSHH. Plus, you can’t really beat the site for street theater. Two videos, both seminal to WSHH’s popularity, stand out. One is a smartphone dispatch by notorious groupie Kat Stacks sent from the front lines of rapper Soulja Boy’s hotel suite. “He couldn’t even get hard,” Ms. Stacks stage-whispered, even as Soulja Boy was showering in the background. Another key vid, now removed, was the 2008 “confession” of one Trashman, claiming he’d murdered Dipset Byrdgang rapper Stack Bundles, a.k.a. Rayquon Maurice Elliot, killed several months before in Far Rockaway. “I killed Stack Bundles,” said Trashman, his face partially hidden behind a red cloth mask. “Shot him. Twice. He died instantly.” He was hired, Trashman said. “It wasn’t personal, it was business.”