The Box That Rocks: Ralph McDaniels On The Legacy of Video Music Box


Before Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City, the Tri- State area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut had the gift Video Music Box, hosted by VJ Ralph McDaniels and the Vid Kid aka Lionel C. Martin. It was like Santa came into our homes every day at 3:30pm, but instead of a chimney, he came through channel 31. When the introduction of the show kicked off, a large boom box in front of the NYC skyline and Whodini’s “5 Minutes of Funk” playing in the background, viewers were hypnotized for an hour with videos from local, now globally recognized artists, and any party anywhere in the area.

In 1983, a music show called Studio 31 was released, which eventually morphed into  Video Music Box—airing Monday – Friday (and early Saturday afternoons), unless a soccer game came on and we would be almost brought to tears (#iykyk). Since it was WNYC-TV, public television, there just wasn’t a guarantee that VMB would get played. In a conversation with Ralph Mc Daniels about the program disruption he said, “I didn’t know until the day of either.”

But, when the show did come on, Uncle Ralph (as the VMB audience lovingly calls him) would be at every party, concert, talent show or dancerie in NYC and New Jersey, and we all felt like we were personally invited. It was reaching neighborhood celebrity status if you happened to be at an event that Ralph was and got the opportunity to make a “shout out” on air—VMB is the first place where “shout outs” were made famous (more on that to come).

Minister Louis Farrakhan once told Ralph, “You have a big responsibility because people don’t read, they watch TV.” For the show and Ralph to have played such a momentous role in Hip-Hop, not enough people are aware of the cultural impact that Video Music Box has had and continues to impart. In addition to the show, McDaniels and Martin have individually directed and produced hundreds of music videos, and films, such as Wu-Tang Clan’s “C.R.E.A.M,” the Stop the Violence Movement’s “Self Destruction,” Tupac’s “Toss It Up,” and Netflix’s Roxanne, Roxanne biopic, among others as well as collaborative efforts via their Classic Concepts production company.

Ralph has surely collected the largest amount of visual Hip-Hop content, spanning from the early 80’s to present day. Some of that content has new life in the digital era and has gone viral: think, the clip of Jay-Z at Summer Jam, everyone hyped behind him, while he’s looking absolutely unbothered, or Wendy Williams being asked about her engagement ring at Kiss FM NYC studios, with A Tribe Called Quest as guests. Both clips are VMB archives and both have been seen by millions, some who don’t have a clue about what Video Music Box exactly is.

In speaking with Ralph about the origin of VMB, he said, “I’ve been through the eras of Run-DMC, Rakim, A Tribe Called Quest, Biggie, Nas, Jay Z. It was my job to pay attention to it all. Looking forward to the next sound…that’s happiness. I want people to know what I know.”

Getting in the know and securing knowledge resonated through the show. Now Uncle Ralph is also part of that historyand he got his well-deserved flowers and acknowledgments in late 2021 on Showtime when the network airing a documentary You’re Watching Video Music Box, directed by rapper and mogul Nas. In the doc, not only did you learn the importance of the show and the talent who started on VMB, but it made you feel like you were sitting on the couch with any one of us from NY/NJ/CT.

On behalf of anyone who has ever seen an episode, given a shout out, ran from the bus stop to make it in time to hear the intro music, had your video played on the show, or has aspired to do so, we thank you, Uncle Ralph. We thank you for playing the entire videos of “Protect Ya Neck,” “The Symphony” and “Self Destruction.” We thank you for “Doin’ it up at The Arc,” one of the many clubs that were frequented on the show. Thank you for giving us a video show on local television because most of us didn’t have cable in the 80’s. Lastly, thank you for capturing and sharing almost 40 of the 50 years of Hip-Hop.

Check out part 1 of Hip-Hop Wired’s exclusive interview with Ralph McDaniels above, and check out part 2 right here.