Hip Hop's Outlier - Uncle Ralp McDaniels Interview Part I

In his best selling book, Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that world changing success has just as much to do with circumstance and opportunity as it does with hard work and determination.

The story of Uncle Ralph reads like something straight out of Outliers.

Ralph McDaniels was born to Caribbean parents in the Bed Stuy section of Brooklyn. His uncle introduced him to the Motown sound at an early age. His mother’s first cousin, Geoffrey Holder, was a successful Broadway and film actor (most notably for this writer, as Punjab in the movie adaptation of Annie). His family was always supportive. Music was always in the air.

In the mid-seventies, during Hip Hop’s infancy, Uncle Ralph began DJing.

“I’m in Queens by this time, so you know, the whole DJ thing is becoming really popular. We’re out in the park doing our thing. Break beats are starting to evolve. The commercialization of Hip Hop is starting to happen.”

After completing high school, while still DJing, he attended Laguardia Community College in Queens. There, during an internship at Manhattan Cable Television (the founders and operators of the America’s first urban underground cable system), his interest in film and television was officially ignited.

“Nobody around me had ever seen cable before. I hadn’t seen it before that time because nobody had cable here — in New York — and I don’t think anywhere else. I think that must’ve been around 1980, so this was the beginning of the whole cable television explosion. And that was what sparked my interest because I always wanted to combine the visuals with the audio. I was into the audio already from DJing and being around certain artists…but now I had an opportunity to get involved with the video side of it.”

From that rarified experience — interning at the United State’s first cable company right on the cusp of cable TV’s communications takeover — Ralph not only honed in on the ultimate path that would define his legacy, but began learning the tools to bring his vision (combining the audio with visuals of New York’s musical revolution) into fruition.


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