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WorldstarHipHop How pop culture website changed the Internet

By combining black culture with every person's ability to entertain, Q and his website changed the way we create and enjoy viral content.

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There is something about the young black male's desire for physical entertainment. Everyone loves to be entertained, but while others would be satisfied with ballet, or dinner parties, we want to see drunk girls fight and rappers get the joy beaten out of their lives.

'Q', the founder of WorldstarHipHop understood that need for the highly visual, played around and converted it into 1.1 million daily views and a 100 million dollar company.

Before that, he had started four other sites; including a porn site in 1999 that quickly failed.

play Lee 'Q' Denat was the face of Worldstar (New York Times)


Around 2001, Lee 'Q' Denat was fresh out of homelessness when he hit up 50 Cent's DJ, Whookid offering to help him sell his tapes. He was familiar with the sales and mixtape game from his childhood; Whookid was an old friend and they had both grown up around the birthplace of hip-hop culture in New York.

The difference was that he was going to sell those tapes online; he started his first mixtape site later and kept going at it.

Then in November 2002, 50 Cent got signed. "That was it", Q told ParleMag in 2010, "50 got signed and everything skyrocketed".

In 2005, the game was different. There were a million and one mixtape sites around.

Q knew he had to evolve or get buried; so he looked around and discovered what Onsmash was doing with videos. It was interesting enough so, as he would later say,  "I flipped it, all types of videos, girls, interviews, controversial stuff, just a whole mixture to keep people in tune. Cause I know controversy sells. So I wanted to do something different"

play The now-infamous 'Worldstar' logo (WorldstarHipHop)

That something different was called WorldstarHipHop.com.

In circles where terms like content, audience, demographic are more than just big words, the idea of letting users create the videos, music, and other forms of content that they enjoy is seen as the next big frontier.

But before Facebook-ers started to go 'live' and Instagram invited users to put their thirst for views on display, young black men were shouting 'Woooorldstaaarrr' while they filmed their white girls hit each other over the head with shovels.

play There is a case to be made for how Worldstar's fight videos pioneered user-generated content (Vibe)


By encouraging users to send in videos of notable occurrences or just about anything interesting, Worldstar let the fan become the creator and transformed the audience into entertainers, producers, directors and journalists.

"Everyone has a cell phone camera, videotaping what's going on. Everyone's a news reporter going out and saying what's happening in the world", Q told ABC News in February 2012.

Many knew there was something big in the future of UGC, but Worldstar made it the basis of their success and showed the internet how to make it happen.

play Worldstar founder 'Q' was loved by the hip-hop community (NY Magazine)


Around the height of its popularity in 2012, Worldstar became a punching bag for news media. The reason - there was too much nasty stuff going on. Its most popular videos have always been very graphic, so much that one news site basically classed everything into three categories; rap, sex and violence.

The thing is, as far as Worldstar is concerned, there's only one category: Hip-Hop.

Q, until his death in San Diego last night, was a student of the game and he understood everything that the sub-culture represents. “Hip-Hop is for the sex, the drugs, the violence, the beefs, the culture,” he told the New York Times in 2015. “That’s the competitiveness of hip-hop, so I felt like the site needed to be R-rated.”


It becomes easy to understand this when one remembers what hip-hop actually represents - black culture.

The videos on Worldstar are lewd, grimy, funny, ridiculous, annoying, violent and downright scary at times but they were and still are a reflection of the way of life of the people who sent them in; the people who gave the site the millions of views that propelled it into infamy.

The internet of things is built like a very complicated duplex, with rooms for each class of people, content and activity. There have been rap sites and forums since its earlier days but there was no 'black people room'.

Worldstar broke down the walls of that duplex, built an adjoining flat and filled it with sex, laughs, music and violence - everything that it means to be black in America.

play Sex sells, and Worldstar understands that more than most. (Youtube)


It was only natural that those things would propel it to virality.

When its all said and done - when the techies have explained how it is a connected network of computers and the business people have recounted the figures that suggest it is worth more than all the world's money - the internet is all about content. And that content is useless if nobody views it.

By building a system that encourages users to send in content as soon as it happens and focuses on the more interesting aspects of a very diverse culture, Worldstar unlocked the key to getting videos to go viral - spontaneity.

The site's videos carry one promise - that, someone somewhere is doing something completely absurd and in the next few minutes, it will be right there staring you in the face. With those ridiculous slices of the real world, Q and Worldstar pioneered our addiction to viral videos.

That addiction has grown beyond just laughs and surprise to leave a stamp in real life - propelling songs like Migos "Bad and Boujee" and Rae Sremmurd's "Black Beatles" to number one, and reminding us that an orange-coloured troll from New York is the leader of the free world.

play Migos 'Bad and Boujee' was helped to number one by a viral video of their performance in Lagos (WorldstarHipHop)

In the years before last night, when Q still drew breath, he said he wanted to create a "CNN of the Ghetto", and he did - but not in the way he planned.

For a lot of people, the site is their preferred source for the news that matters to them - music, pop culture and the like, but what Worldstar has become is the internet's first true space for black people, a place where they can be the entertainers that they are and show the rest of the world how to enjoy things.


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