QUEENS — He is a legend in the hip-hop world.
“Uncle” Ralph McDaniels produced Nas’ first video "It Ain’t Hard to Tell" and worked with musicians like the Notorious B.I.G. and Public Enemy. His TV show, Video Music Box, which premiered in 1983 and gave hundreds of artists from the golden age of hip-hop an opportunity to play their music, still airs more than three decades later.
But now, in the era of YouTube and social media, the famed DJ and hip-hop pioneer has found an unexpected platform to promote hip-hop and document its culture, joining the Queens Library as its first ever hip-hop coordinator.
In his new role, McDaniels will work to build relationships within the hip-hop community by coordinating programs and events that would also seek to attract people into the library.
“Hip-hop grew out of Queens' jazz legacy. It belongs here," said McDaniels, who will also work to preserve that legacy and create archival collections at the library, which last year began an initiative to document Queens' hip-hop heritage.
"We’ll be archiving different documents that people have — recordings, videos, flyers," McDaniels said. "And it will be housed in the Queens Public Library."
McDaniels, who grew up in Hollis, where he co-organized events with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, said that for him the project is also about bridging the gap between young and older people.
“Hip-hop is 40 years old now,” he said. “So a person that was 20 [when hip-hop began] is now 60 years old.”
Queens, which produced a number of very successful rappers, like LL Cool J, 50 Cent and Nicki Minaj, still plays a pivotal role in the hip-hop culture, he said.
“Those communities understand very clearly, because they have seen it first hand, how somebody can go from living in the projects to driving a Mercedes-Benz thanks to their creativity.”
The idea to bring McDaniels on board came after he hosted several hip-hop events at the library, which generated a lot of enthusiasm among young people.
"Hip-hop is an important part of Queens' musical and cultural heritage. We need to preserve that history,” said Bridget Quinn-Carey, Queens Library interim president and CEO, in a statement. “At the same time, music is a living, breathing way to connect with the community and attract new library users.”
Quinn-Carey also noted that "there's no one better to work with us on building library programs and collections based on hip-hop than Ralph McDaniels ... [who] was an eyewitness to its birth."
McDaniels said he wants young people to understand the history of hip-hop and various elements of its culture, including MCing, DJing, graffiti art and b-boying.
His goal, he said, will also be to identify young people who "are doing stuff that’s very cool and very hip hop."
"There is a Nas right now in every community, he just needs the opportunity," McDaniels said.
He also plans to bring hip-hop celebrities to the community as well as organize workshops teaching young people skills required to be successful in the music industry.
The announcement comes as the Queens Library kicks off special programs to celebrate the culture, history and impact of hip-hop.
Beginning Monday, Nov. 16, the library will organize a series of hip-hop related events, during which library patrons will get a chance to learn basic breakin' moves and the art of DJing. They will also get to meet Keith Perrin, the co-founder of FUBU, who will discuss how his company became one of the most successful urban-clothing firms in history.
The complete schedule of events can be found here.