Lee O’Denat, who went by “Q,” started WorldStarHipHop as a place to sell mix tapes. It evolved into an aggregating powerhouse with its reputation tied to the shocking videos of fights that it shared with a huge audience of young viewers. Just days before WorldStarHipHop is set to launch a new MTV series, TMZ reported that O’Denat has died at 43. WorldStarHipHop later released a statement confirming the news.
“Q was a brilliant businessman who championed urban culture, ultimately creating the largest hip-hop website in the world,” the statement reads. “But more than that, he was a devoted father and one of the nicest, most generous persons to ever grace this planet.”
According to TMZ, he died overnight Monday in his sleep in San Diego.
WorldStarHipHop became a site that elevated real-world moments of O’Denat’s vision of hip-hop culture, good and bad and in between. “Hip-Hop is for the sex, the drugs, the violence, the beefs, the culture,” O’Denat 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.”
Years before Facebook started coaxing its users to create live broadcasts of their personal lives, people were chanting “World Star!” as they filmed a fight between friends. In 2012, WorldStarHipHop became a media story about kids’ exposure to violence online. O’Denat defended his work then by arguing that a site like his simply reflected a slice of the real world.
“Everyone has a cellphone camera, videotaping what’s going on. Everyone’s a news reporter going out and saying what’s happening in the world,” O’Denat said to ABC News. “Times have changed from 20 to 30 years ago. Most people don’t understand this is what’s going on outside.”
For better or worse, aspects of what makes WorldStarHipHop work have filtered into the wider world of viral video content, from social platforms like YouTube and Instagram (where WorldStar has a huge presence, too), to more traditional media. The trending topics on Tuesday for WorldStar were a mix of things you’d only find there, and videos that had attracted more mainstream coverage: “YouTuber ‘Lena the Plug’ Says She’ll Drop a Sex Tape if She Hits One Million Subscribers!”; “Soulja Boy & Some Crips Say They’re Gonna Jump Chris Brown!” “White Nationalist ‘Richard Spencer’ Get Punched In The Face During D.C. Protest!”
In 2015, O’Denat told the Times that his ultimate ambition was to expand the slice of the recognition and growth that WorldStarHipHop got for the content it had long peddled, the very same sorts of videos that greatly benefited platforms like Facebook and YouTube. WorldStarHipHop speaks to a predominantly black viewership, one whose cultural contributions to the viral Web are both central to its success yet regularly appropriated to a wider audience without credit (see: Vine). In that way, WorldStar’s inability to fully break through runs parallel to that experience.
WorldStarHipHop said that it would continue to operate “in its various endeavors” going forward.
[This post has been updated]