Lee ‘Q’ O’Denat’s infamous creation WorldStarHipHop is known as many things: a platform for upcoming artists, a grassroots hip-hop empire, a promoter of sexism and violence. Despite its polarising reputation, World Star has developed into the most visited hip-hop or ‘urban’ destination on the interwebs. The charismatic Queens native, who considers himself the “digital Russel Simmons”, is now looking to add more depth to WorldStar’s coverage, by putting some focus on the cultural aspects of hip-hop, beginning with club events in Australia and Asia. Here, he speaks openly about the development of WorldStar, future expansion and of course, the haters.
What have the events and your experiences been like over here in Australia so far? Were you impressed with the overall talent you’ve seen?
Melbourne has been interesting, a lot of great talent. It’s such a great city, I love coming here. You’ve got some talent, we’ve just gotta figure out how to get some music videos out. Some artists feel a little hesitant because they don’t feel like they’ll be accepted but people will love you for you who are – that’s what I tell unsigned artists in the States or anywhere in the world. Just come out, don’t be hesitant, just be yourself. You’ll be surprised. I mean look at Gangnam Style, this guy became so popular out of nowhere. So I tell people no matter where you are or how you sound or how you talk there’s opportunity knocking, you gotta just go out there and take it.
Looking at the WorldStar website earlier today, it’s obviously updated all the time with new content. Do you have a small core team that updates the site?
Yeah the site’s run by a very small group of guys. I sort of consider myself like Xavier from X-Men. I have a bunch of guys that are really smart in genius ways. I like to affiliate myself with smart people, because I’m a believer that if you hang out with a bunch of losers that make you a loser. Being surrounded by genius minds I know helped get me to where I am. WorldStar became number one and when we got there it was just two guys, then little-by-little I hired people to come in. I’ve fired people just as much as they’ve come in but that’s the way it is. I like to keep a small circle, then have a thousand unreliable workers.
You see a lot of ventures fail because people are in the wrong spots or it’s not the right mix of people. As you said you were able to achieve this with only two people…
We don’t have an office space, we don’t have an office with a supervisor overlooking what people are doing. Since we all kind of work from home, in all parts of the States, we only hire hard-working people. It’s best to hire people that want to work because a lot of people want to work with WorldStar because we’re number one, just to have that under their belt. But it’s best to find those that really want to be part of the team and help the company grow. What goes up comes down, I know that, so you’ve gotta constantly innovate and take things to a higher level. That’s what we’re working on as far as travelling all over the world and shooting documentaries. I want to show them back in the States that there’s different cultures out there that a lot of people don’t know about, people that have never been to Australia.
As far as the hip-hop scene over here, it’s definitely developing. There’s been issues with cancelled shows and bad promoters and it’s obviously a different population and culture from the States, but it’s always developing…
I think this documentary is going to help, to show back home that it’s a great place for music. I’m showing the club scene, artists in concert, capturing the essence, the beauty of what this culture has to offer. We’re gonna show that hip-hop is a worldwide thing not just in the States. Prior to WorldStar I was travelling the world – I’ve been to the Middle East, Europe, Japan, China. I’ve travelled quite a bit and I noticed the world loves us, loves the culture, especially Japan – they’re on top of hip-hop over there. So that’s what inspired me to come up with the name, WorldStarHipHop.
So before WorldStar were you still involved with music and how did the idea come about?
I had NYCFatMixtapes.com. I was one of the first to create a mixtape website to purchase online. It officially opened September 11, 2001. I got an e-mail at eight in the morning that said ‘Hey the site’s up and running,’ and then a couple of hours later the planes hit. I thought ‘What the hell is this?’, but my first official site opened that day. There were only about two other sites, I think, that were selling mixtapes online at the time. I consider myself the digital Russel Simmons, I’ve been using the internet for a long time since ’96 or ’97, doing web TV, taking it way back. I tried to tell people around me that ‘Hey the internet is the future, get on board’. Some people laughed at me and said it wasn’t going to last. But now they’re getting on it, so that helped me get a step ahead of a lot of people. NYC Fat Mixtapes was the official DJ Whoo Kid mixtape website. He’s a childhood friend of mine for over 25 years and he was doing something with 50 Cent and nobody really knew who he was. I started working with them in about 2000. I was selling those mixtapes in the streets, so I saw 50 Cent’s career grow. I was one of the first guys to help them out on the internet side of things. He was one of the first to open the door for me with the tours. I was travelling with Whoo Kid. It was an experience once he got signed with Eminem, travelling with the biggest artist on the planet, at that time, seeing all these white kids singing word-for-word in Canada. I was there when it was growing in the late ‘70s in New York, I remember watching it as a little baby. Now that I see how it can affect the whole world it’s amazing.
So you’re continuing that now by using WorldStar as a platform for existing artists and up and coming artists. Are you happy with the development of the website and do you want to keep expanding?
I want to keep continuing what I’m doing as far as giving these unknown artists a platform to broadcast their talent. Many businesses, especially in America, believe it starts from the top rather than the bottom up. Since we’re on top of the world as far as urban online media, I figure why not give these people that aren’t getting any light some shine, and for a small fee they can be on WorldStar. Not many sites charge a small fee to get on their site, whether it’s Google, YouTube or Facebook. This is actual online advertisement for unknown artists to broadcast their music on the first page of the website so the whole world can see you – that’s two million people a day seeing your music. MTV or BET won’t play their music videos; on YouTube you could have an amazing video but it could get lost. Whereas with WorldStar you’ve got that spotlight on you and you’ll reach your core audience as opposed to a bunch of random people liking you.
There has been a lot of criticism over the content on WorldStar, with regard to violence and language. Because WorldStar is such a visual website and it’s driven by video content, do you think it’s under more scrutiny than some other websites, because it’s more direct and you’re actually watching it rather than reading or listening?
I understand the criticism because when you become real in the business they tend to criticise you. Look at Eminem, 2 Live Crew, Tupac Shakur. When you show that realness to the public, some don’t like to hear or see it. With WorldStar, I like to keep it real and show people what’s happening outside their homes, what people like to sweep under the rug. This is our people, this is what’s going on and, if we don’t know, then how will we fix it, similar with the Rodney King situation. If it wasn’t for that camera man, showing that police brutality how would you know. I think the camera is a good thing to have and I’m so happy cell phones are there with the cameras. Unfortunately some people will use that for a negative rather than a positive, but I look at it as good information. Even though some things like the fights can come out and people can view them as a negative image, fights have been going for so long and now if you get a camera you can see it. Whether the camera’s off or on there’s still a fight. I tell people, you have the remote control to either watch the fights or watch something else. It’s kind of like watching boxing or UFC: you don’t have to watch these fights. People are fighting every day, people are doing wild crazy things outside their homes, and with alcohol mixed in it can really hurt them later seeing it on video. I used to hear everybody chanting about YouTube and now it’s ‘WorldStar, WorldStar’. If it’s not WorldStar then it’s somebody else, and I figure since we are a real-based website and we keep it 100, we show the good, the bad and the ugly of what goes on outside. It’s just what we do.
Talking to an artist recently they said that maybe if social media and the internet existed back in the civil rights days maybe there could’ve been more progress and they could’ve done even more…
I’m so glad it’s the digital era now. If we had this going on 150 years ago we could’ve saved a lot of headaches and violence. We see these videos, and, disgusting or not it, is being seen and heard. Say with the lynching of blacks back in the States and hangings – there’s images out and people can see those, but video really touches people. When you see the actual video and see what someone’s going through it actually speaks louder than any article in a newspaper or image. Video speaks volumes.