Founder of Worldstar Hip-Hop, Lee “Q” O’Denat Talks Having Foresight To Change Media
Talking to Lee “Q” O’Denat, founder of WorldStar Hip-Hop was like having a face-to-face with the CEO of the company that’s taken over yours in a merger. With worldstarhiphop.com, currently the most viewed Hip-Hop/urban entertainment site online, Q has helped change the magazine business forever. At the same time, our interview was like talking to a mentor, rightfully so since he is a CEO from NYC, who has found success in the same business I’ve been trying to get a grasp of for the past 6 years. In our exclusive interview we had the opportunity to talk to Q about his start, his passions, his failures and now his biggest success. Need a story of inspiration? Look no further.
Parlé Magazine: What’s your background?
Q – WSHH: Born in Brooklyn and raised in Queens, NY, Jamaica Ave. My family is Haitian. We left Brooklyn when I was 3. I moved to California for like 3 years then came back to NY.
Parlé: What school you go to out here?
Q – WSHH: I went to Glover Cleveland High School and that was the worst experience. I spent three years there and dropped out in the 9th grade. I realized it wasn’t going no where so I dropped out in ’91, ’92.
Parlé: What were you doing after that?
Q – WSHH: I promised my mom I’d get my GED, you know Haitian moms, ‘you gotta get that GED’. I got that, then I just worked and partied a lot. I wasn’t really into school cause all the schools I went to was just bullshit. It’s hard to sit down in class when everyone else is throwing paper balls. After school, I would party with [DJ] Whoo Kid and his cousin Max cause we grew up in the same hood.
Parlé: You’re the founder of Worldstar Hip-Hop, when did you start it?
Q – WSHH: WorldStar started July ’05. It was kind’ve a sequel for the mixtape site I started, NYCfatmixtapes.com. I was one out of 3 to have a mixtape site. I started that in 2001 and it was dedicated to DJ Whoo Kid. It was all mixtapes from Whoo Kid, G-Unit, 50 Cent. Then when 50 got signed, I was traveling a lot. I was doing parties with Whoo Kid and booking for 50 so I wasn’t home a lot, in the projects, to ship the CDs out. So I was getting a lot of complaints. So I figured I had to find a way for them to download them. WorldStar was originally a download site. I figured NYC was kinda biased and since the whole World loves Hip-Hop, everybody is a star in the world of Hip-Hop, so I called it WorldStar Hip-Hop.
Parlé: Okay, hold up, let’s back track a little bit. 2001 was the mixtape site, you dropped out in ’91, now I know you said you were partying but that must’ve been a lot of parties! What were you doing for all those years?
Q – WSHH: I moved to Florida for like 3 months, but didn’t like the heat so came back to NY for 3 years. Then I went to Baltimore–just moving. I had my car and I was just bouncing around. I found a home in ’96, I had a roommate, I worked at Circuit City in Maryland. With that I learned to communicate and be a salesman. That helps me today as far as talking to people. From there I went to Sprint PCS when they first boomed out. I would still come to NY every other weekend and see my people, but I stayed in Baltimore for about 5 years. I got evicted in ’99 for about 3 months. I had a vision to start my own business but the money wasn’t coming in like I thought and I had no support, no family so I was living out my car for like 3 months.
Parlé: What was that business?
Q – WSHH: It was an affiliate site, sort of like you see in the back of magazines that say, ‘you want to be rich?’ I didn’t realize I’d need more money after I got the site. But you need money to promote and market. I ran out of gas. So I had to regroup, rethink, but I didn’t give up. That’s when I contacted Whoo Kid and I said ‘what’s up? I see you selling the CDs, I can help you sell them.’ He said no problem and he sent me like 12 CDs, Murda Mixtape part 3. I decided I was going to take the CD and help Whoo Kid and 50 blow up. I tried hitting the Moms and Pops, but they were playing too many games and some of them weren’t paying. That’s when I decided to take it to the internet. The official launch was September 11th 2001. I got the official email from the guy saying the site was open and then an hour later the planes hit. I just kept pushing that. I lived in the projects for 4 years, 50 got signed in November ’02. That was it, everything sky rocketed.
Parlé: Would you call it luck or patience?
Q – WSHH: Definitely patience. I’m a chess master, I’m very strategic and I just knew. I knew I was smarter than most people, so I just had to sit there and wait. I’m a very observant person, I’m quiet around new people. I knew it was gonna happen. I knew it was either with Whoo Kid or myself. I knew I needed that leverage though so I went with Whoo Kid.
Parlé: So when you were in the projects, you were in Queens?
Q – WSHH: Naw I was in Pennsylvania. (laughs)
Parlé: Why the moving around so much?
Q – WSHH: Cause I grew up so fast. All I had was my mom, my sister and my brother. My brother had his family, my sister had my moms so I was by myself. I just moved around, I try to move every three, four years. You only live once you know. My joy in life was definitely NY, but I lived in PA for like 5 years.
Parlé: The projects of PA?
Q – WSHH: Yeah the projects. (laughs)
Parlé: Philly or…
Q – WSHH: Naw it was Central PA, $30 rent.
Parlé: Good times man!
Q – WSHH: (laughs) Yeah. I had to leave though because I was starting to rent nice whips and they was like ‘what’s this guy doing with nice cars?’ I was selling a lot of mixtapes online and I was charging like $15 so the money was flowing. Thousands a month. But of course it went down because competition was fierce with all these other sites. MixUnit was pretty big. I tried to figure out my next move which was a mixtape download site. That was okay then hundreds came after me. And then the site [WorldStar] was hacked by OnSmash in ’07 cause they were jealous of us. They said we stole their ideas for videos. The thing is McDonald’s don’t sue Burger King for the burger. They [OnSmash] fumbled the ball. They were more corporate, they were showing boring interviews and what the labels sent them. So 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. This was July ’05. We had video on our site, music videos, mixtapes, radio, it was a whole Walmart type website, and then we went full video in ’07. After we got hacked I was down for 6 months. I had no money coming in. We relaunched in December ’07. When we relaunched we hired the top security guy to watch the front and back of the site and we haven’t looked back since.
Parlé: How’d you get hacked?
Q – WSHH: If your site is popular someone is going to hack you. Whether its jealousy or cause you’re doing something they want to do. It could be many many reasons but once they get in, they just delete everything. I had members and I was charging a monthly membership fee to download mixtapes and porn clips. I had over a thousand members at $12 something a month. Back then that was good money. They got in thru the membership. OnSmash didn’t do it, they paid someone to do it. That’s why we got an ongoing hate with them.
Parlé: Has anyone ever tried to get at you about putting up their DVDs?
Q – WSHH: Naw because its exposure. DVDs are already bootleg, kinda like a mixtape. And the DMCA law protects us, they got to tell us to take it down and we will. You gotta give us a warning first. A lot of these videos were on youtube. We just tagged it with Worldstar. We edited ourselves. We took a clip and made it more appealling. They kinda noticed it was good for them too. In the beginning it was rocky but they realized it was providing exposure. Jordan Towers was one of the first directors to see that. He was like ‘wow you bootlegged my DVD, The Come Up, I want to work with you, give you the video first. That’s how Jordan came on board in ’08. He just gave us the videos first. That’s why I keep his name parked up top. Now we’re going to have a whole new site coming soon so his name won’t be there anymore cause we’re going for a more professional look. We’ve kept it so hood for so many years.
Parlé: You guys were real big with promoting Lady Gaga. Do you feel it is beneficial to cater to what people want to see rather than just Hip-Hop?
Q – WSHH: With Gaga, well i’m 36 and I been following Hip-Hop since birth. I know Hip-Hop is everything, Run DMC. Hip-Hop is a culture, a swag, its not just a genre. Lady Gaga is signed with Akon, Akon is Hip-Hop, I’m sure he chills with Gaga. I’m sure she’s a cool bitch. We won’t put up no Justin Beiber videos… Unless there is a Hip-Hop feature. We still keep it hood. We try to appeal to what Hip-Hop niggas like. Gaga got some swag. And we put Shakira up cause niggas dig that shit. We like beauty. I try not to keep a one track mind. After a while we want to stand out. A lot of people don’t love, love Hip-Hop cause it lost its umph, so we try to give a good mix.
Parlé: In the beginning how’d you get that fanbase?
Q – WSHH: In the beginning a lot of A & R’s would leak the songs with Whoo Kid and they were like let me just leak you some videos. We were the first to put up controversial videos which had people on the site more and more and they were talking about us. We hustled so hard that if a video dropped on MTV or BET we were the first to get it. We worked 20 hours a day. For a long time I did that. Sometimes I still do that. A lot of other people were slacking. I remember that Ace Hood video, “Cash Flow,” it was a clean video with Rick Ross, that was one of the first videos, real actual music videos that blew up for us. We had good videos, street videos but this was the first music video and it was big. It was a domino effect because people kept sending us videos.
Parlé: I know you mentioned Jordan Towers and that Ace Hood video, but besides them, over the years who has helped get you to where you are now?
Q – WSHH: Wow that’s a tough question.
Parlé: Well let me try to simplify it. Did you have a mentor or anything like that?
Q – WSHH: Well I’m very spiritual so I like to do meditations and stuff like that. I know there are other beings around us that we can’t see. That’s why I call it third eye music because the mind is the third eye and it can see beyond what the eyes can see. When you close your eyes you can see visions and the future. I see a lot when I close my eyes and just think. I’m very spiritual like I said so I had faith and I just knew it was gonna happen. I can’t tell you about that though. That’s a private thing, I will probably talk about it in the book.
Parlé: You get tons of comments on the site, do you feed off the site comments?
Q – WSHH: I do. I could sense hate and I could sense real criticism too. I just ignore the bullshit. I tell the artists and the models–cause they get real sensitive with the comments–I tell them to count the views compared to the hate comments. It’s less than one percent. I mean even Walmart gets returns. Kobe Bryant can be in Boston killing it and he is still getting booed. Just keep that Kobe, Jordan mentality. Do your thing and don’t worry about it. A lot of them get real emotional, especially the girls, but as long as they talking about you, its a good thing.
Parlé: What are the plans for the future of WorldStar?
Q – WSHH: We got Miatta as our publicist. Kevin Black is the President of WorldStar and Sparks Studios is gonna handle my marketing. I finally got a team, I was solo for a while there. I’m trying to think Viacom, movies, clothing, the way Russell did it. We looking to be the digital Def Jam.
Parlé: Why would you say, it took so long to get to this point?
Q – WSHH: I was one of the cats that never had love for the money, I love the Hip-Hop heads. I had to stay real, that’s why the money was slow in the beginning.
Parlé: What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?
Q – WSHH: I read books, a lot of inspirational and motivational books, and they tell you to act like you rich. When I was poor, I used to act like I was rich. Keep your head up, just because people got money don’t mean they better than you. So I would act like I was rich. I had that swagger. I didn’t have the money yet, but you’d still respect me. That was my mentality. I hung out with dudes like 50 Cent and Whoo Kid, and they had money but I didn’t hate, I just played my role cause I knew my time would come. I knew I was smarter then all them niggas. I respect 50 cause he’s a smart nigga. I show respect and love to everyone. I show respect to everyone I meet, from the owner of the restaurant to the bus boy.
Parlé: I know you mentioned that you were working on a book, can you tell us anything about it?
Q – WSHH: I am working on a book, with Miatta. (his publicist). [she continues] We’re working on it but for now there are no further details. (laughs around the room)
Parlé: What advice do you have for upcoming artists trying to get in the game?
Q – WSHH: Never give up for one. Keep working hard. Don’t quit your job at first. And invest in yourself. Money can go fast. You gotta make sure you invest in you. Back in the day, DJ Clue, and Whoo Kid used to charge 2 to 5 stacks to put a song on their mixtapes. That’s no visual, that’s just audio. Here i’m charging $500 to get seen by the world. Then they say ‘wow, $500′ but here they got mad J’s on, mad fitteds, they at the strip club.’ Use that money to put your video on the top.
Parlé: When you’re done with all this, what do you want your legacy to be, what do you want people to say about you?
Q – WSHH: I want to be seen as someone who changed Hip-Hop and changed the way it was viewed online. Its all about cycles, I feel like I changed Hip-Hop as far as WorldStar, with the visuals. People feel closer to the artists now. Before it was magazines with Q & A’s. Now it’s more personal. People feel like the artist is talking to them. I’m just happy I was part of that.
Images by Peter Garcia for Parlé Magazine
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