The Shout Out an excerpt from Has Been
By: LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs
Six Minutes: Jungle Brothers “What You Waiting For?” (1990)
That’s me. A millisecond of weirdness. We were all weird. Our hair cuts. Gumby’s. Bart Simpsons. Our clothes. The polka dots. The flairs. Why did we like polka dots? All uniformed eccentricity and on the other end of it, I had to be anomalous. No, I could not afford the stomp shoes. No, I could not afford the hair cut at Astor Barber shop. I had locks, lock extensions, ponchos, Danon yogurt cups sewn to black bras size 28B. That’s me in the Antoinette “Shake Rattle and Roll” video. I stood out because I could not conform to the uniformity of trends. By choice? Hardly. And my lack of uniformity transferred to my feet. I had the worst rhythm. No wonder my mastery of dancing on time often included no one else. Look. That’s me dancing alone. That’s my back. You can see my hair right in the corner of the frame. Who said light skinned girls get play in the videos? Sorry, my name is not Veronica Webb. That exact oddity amounted to the millisecond edit of me. The final edit. A flash of arm. A smile. Would they ever feature me on the Soul Train line? Would I ever get my shout out?
We did not have cable television in my household. Of course, there were a plethora of families in the block that figured out how to get cable (1. convert the food stamps at the Chinese spot around the corner 2. have a cousin who had a boyfriend who could acquire a cable box from the back of the truck 3. tap into someone else’s cable on the roof) but my mom was special. She was a mom who preferred her leisure time best dedicated to a neighbor’s Steve Wonder collection with a tall glass of Pepsi and chilled Vodka. She did not engage those who had the hook-up. My little sister and I had to live with a pair of rusty pliers inserted into the orifice (for the missing knob) on a small black and white television made functional with a clothes hanger and aluminum foil. This was our Lenox Ave. satellite dish.
As we grew older and apart in taste and dating points (little sis was the hottie) truth be known, I became the odd one on the block. Part of my curiousness had to do with my clothing choice (I mean, really. All my mom could afford was polyester and skips. I had no choice but to end up strangely out of tune with the uptown V.I.M. fashion trends). Another had to do with my musical tastes. My adolescence was shaped exclusively by the music afforded to me via the radio and mom’s gospel collection. To add to the narrative, thanks to the next-door neighbor – another, even older oddball who studied at the Wilfred Beauty Academy because she wanted to look just like a model – I got turned on to the UHF channels.
There was not much to watch on the UHF channels that a self-deprecating 15 year-old could relate to. Nor was there anything beyond the music video show that could offer escape from classmates who flaunted their parents’ receipts for back to school clothing. The first video show I was hooked to, U68, made a lot of sense. It gave me enough Iggy Pop, The Damned, XTC, Fishbone, ACDC, Kool And the Gang, Luther Vandross, Rapping Duck to convert me in a bonafied mess. It guaranteed my ass getting kicked by every Gucci Girl and BMX bike riding youngest brother of a crack dealer – the oldest in a family of ten siblings – in the block. It also kept me in my bedroom; door locked, playing “Blasphemous Rumors” by Depeche Mode until the record skipped. It did not matter that the club Harlem World was just a couple of blocks away from me or the parties in Kings’ Project could be heard not so far from my window. Growing up on Lenox wasn’t enough to earn ghetto points. My becoming the peculiar was causing a separation.
The exterior of what I was developing into was rarely displayed on the other channel I was overdosing on at the time: Video Music Box. The first thing that turned me on to VMB was its opening. The opening informed the spectator that the dance would initiate and complete the cycle, contesting that everything and anything will be grooved to. It was the DJ’s new turntable. And as young as was the era urban music videos was, there was enough to utilize the music video like vinyl. No, it was not U68. But it catered to those I grew up with around Lenox and those I feared getting a beat down from in the Polo Grounds. It invited the weirdo to be part of a party that might have been restricted to a Bentley’s clientele. It also tempted the underdogs of Mars (a club located in the meat-packing district a block from The Vault, an S&M, club) who consisted of hip-hop kids, skaters, early downtown hipsters and club kids.
Video Music Box represented the ones who could not get into the VIP and the ones who could. It was Freestyle. It was Pop. It was Hip Hop. It was the alternative before The Source had a review section dedicated to it. It declared:
We, the Black and Latino kids, the Thai and Filipinos mistaken for Puerto Ricans from the Bronx, Brooklyn, Harlem, Queens, and LES, listen to everything.
We, the Italian and Irish kids of Coney Island, Staten Island, Sunset Park, and Far Rockaway and a block from the Verrazano Bridge could be down with VMB and still get our Iron Maiden rocks off.
We, the kids jacking to house and hip-hop in Perth Amboy, NJ, skipping along like Smurfs with backpacks to the West Village via the Path Station, sporting Swatch watches and banging Public Enemy in our Sony Walkmans were down with VMB. Our flairs, stomp shoes and crimped hair were down too.
And yes, we, those other kids, the ones who went to Humanities and Park West High School, and who fought Decepticons outside of LaGuardia High School of The Arts, and who had to ride the Long Island Railroad or hop on the Air Tram from Roosevelt (that other island) we too now had a voice thanks to on VMB.
We were predisposed to enjoy everything they would never play on WBLS and it was all too pleasing. We could get down with Bruce Springsteen. We now knew what Apartheid was about, sort of. We could like the Eric B and Rakim and Cool Mo Dee and still buy that A-Ha, Steve Windwood, and Loose Ends album. Phil Collins liked electronic drum kits and we liked Phil Collins for liking electronic drum kits. The programming on VMB favored the folks in my block and gave me an okay pass that allowed me to be part of their planet. But Video Music Box had another layer to it that felt almost impermeable.
The VIP basement of the Tunnel and the stubby appendage of The World – The It Club – transformed me into an caricature who happened to ride the train downtown with the house and hip hop dancers who lived in the projects on 95th and Columbus and Schomburg Plaza on 111th and 5th. When the rise of the music video extra came to be, we migrated from the clubs after closing to the casting calls conveniently around the corner from our local hang, Unique, a clothing store on Broadway where air brush/graffiti artists had a booth in the window display. When Unique closed down, we parlayed next door at McDonald’s. Our first shared vegetarian food of choice was French Fries.
Music video shows like Night Tracks, Friday Night Videos, Hot Tracks, and The Box turned most of us into video junkies. As VMB became more popular and influential, the dancer too became, a necessary asset to music video making. In came our eagerness to splinter our necks in casting calls. We dressed in our loudest Cross Colors-Karl Kani-Fubu-Girbaud-Patricia Fields Bras. We used the nights at Tracks (later called Kilimanjaro) and Soul Kitchen to practice and perfect. That 2-second moment in a music video mattered. It showed that you deserved that moment right beside Heavy D or Kwame or Jody Watley.
So as the Marjorie’s and the Ejoes and the Stretches and Josie’s were being cast as principle dancers and fly girls, it might safely be assumed that the directors took pity on any (like myself) donning opposite fashion tastes. I was the dancer in the last row: left of the camera. You see a crowd shoot is necessary for the urban music video. I was employed in order to fill in space. But, it did not matter if my hair was locked or if I had no desire to rock a bleached fade or an asymmetrical mushroom. The goal was this: could you spot me in the video? If a blur of me could be seen standing on the corner in Boomerang or the back of my head could be made recognizable by pausing the videotape, it was enough to convince others that I was down.
For all those who were ghetto centric with a capital ‘G’ getting a shout out on Video Music Box provided an equivalent amount of credo. That drive to get your moves or face in the final cuts of music videos was the unscripted, silent shout out to your crew, the block and the haters. It made you the oddball famous amongst the heads that were too rough on the edges to have you be part of the their crew. The shout out on Video Music Box, on the other hand, was the amplified, improvised moment when those a bit rough on the edges could also get theirs. It made you even more envious because now the party Uncle Ralph was at, the one you had no entry to due to age, fashion no-no’s or overall hook up was smeared across the screen and all you could do was dream of the day you’d have both access and camera time.
I’d like to give a shout to my boo Mercedes in Newark.
It was that universe I badly wanted to be accepted by but loitered only on the outskirts OF as a music video extra. Even when I became a production assistant mopping concrete on a handful of Classis Concepts videos, no love was greater than the shout out.
I’d like to give a shout out to my boy Popeye upstate.
The Shout Out was for the partygoers, the unofficial, archival witness of their own scene and unknown legends to anyone outside their crews.
I’d like to give a shout to my mom’s, it’s her birthday and I just want to say I
Love you MOM!
The Shout out made your momma famous. The Shout Out made your block known to folks two blocks away.
I’d like to give a shout out my mom down in Greensboro NC.
Yo, I wanna give a shout to my nigga T-Bone, Mo Diddley, Stacy, Princess…
If a head from your block caught your shout out on the tube, you had instant fame and would for years on end be asked, “Are you still doing videos?”
Mhotep, I wanna give a shout out my queen Isis and my seeds Ishmael, Imani, Nubia, Tequawn and Jsiri. All prayers due to the Most High…
No your name was not Puffy or U-God or Jazzy Joyce. You were not on the front lines of this very young and then, quite eclectic movement called Hip Hop. But you were there amongst the nameless masses that kept the parties lively in D.C. and Baltimore. You participated in making it what it would become. You embraced the seconds worth of self-pride on a mic much like the video extras.
I wanna give a shout out to my man who’s at home with my baby girl and it’s my birthday and I’m celebrating with my girls and I wanna say HEY BABY and what’s up DADDY and this is my girl Shirley and this is my sista Beverly and I’m on Video Music Box….
The throng of shout outs poured in and entertained you more than more than the music videos sometimes. You wanted to know where the party was at and who was there. It mushroomed the popularity of VMB and created something more communal than what has being presented on MTV or The Box.
While VMB represented music and presented a mix of nuances that gave face to the creative integrity of McDaniels and Martin, what was also seen and heard was their dedication to those who watched it. This in turn, was expressed in the shout out; that possible plug to Mister Magic and his radio show, one of the early rap shows that aired around 1am where the shout out could be heard. A shout out now to those who began it all and a lesson to those of us who were not hip to Magic because we were either too young or too far gone in a Camus novel.
One Minute: Final cuts
A one-second or three-second flash meant the world. For some reason, everyone DID see you. 1991’s New Jack City. Yet again the odd ball in a poncho and Marithé François Girbaud bellbottoms. Yes, Girbaud, compliments of Domsie’s, a thrift warehouse in Williamsburg that sold clothes by the pound, vintage leather jackets for 10 bucks and where most video stylists got their costumes cheap. Mario Van Pebbles didn’t know where to place me. I didn’t realize how black he really was when I left him dumbfounded on the set of New Jack City. Wesley Snipes just looked at me and said “Nice Poncho.” Why did I think a poncho would fit in the club scene filmed at the Red Zone set up to look like this ultra boojie midtown professional-only club known as Bentleys? So yeah, I’m in it. 1991’s Strictly Business. I’m dancing just two feet from Halle getting down. Look close. My dance partner Shonette and I are there in the final dance cut. 1992’s Juice. Despite it’s off track club scene, my boy Ricardo Tree Top Dao made the cut and you even get to hear him scream out “Encore!” Oh shit, there I am again. It wasn’t just about being seen. IT WAS ALL ABOUT THAT FIVE SECONDS! Fuck yeah. You had to be seen. What would be the point then? 1992’s Malcolm X. Yeah I had locks then too and for that period shot, I hot combed the front of my hair and packed the rest into a big bun. There’s a second of me walking past Denzel and Spike talking shit in a club. A second more of me jitter bugging in a pale pink retro. 50 bucks. 75 bucks. No money. No Money. Long days in a senior citizen center turned green room. In an alley underneath a tent avoiding the rain. We froze our asses off. It was all about the moment you watched the video or movie and screamed at the TV set. You would be only so lucky to have a VCR that went slow motion too. You would only be so lucky to own a VCR to record it. And there you were. Blurring but there. An extra only had so much to look forward to.
I’d like to give a shout out to my god children Gem Amber Sun, Haile Ra,
and Osi Sela up in the Catskills and my best friend Jamie
And a shout out to the Light Skinned Mafia in Detroit…
And a shout out to my brother
Intergalactic Soul Brother Number 1 DJ Ron Paisley up in River Projects
And my boy Greg T-Bone, Voodoo Ray, Kalif, and Pete…
And my nigga T-Banks Jess and John Murillo and Patrick Rosal representing on
the literary tip cause you know who we do…
And a shout to all my girls making that money
snatching PhDs in Chi-town…
 The Gucci Girls, a local dance crew uptown represented the ingenuity OF what a black girl fresh out of a home economics class could do with a Gucci bag and a sweat suit. The Gucci Girls would cut up Gucci bags into G’s and Gucci symbols and sew them down the legs and arms of bright red and blue sweat suits, touching it off with iron-on lettering announcing each member’s name and astrology sign. Secretly, I idolized them. Truthfully, I could not afford a Gucci bag let alone a pair of Lee’s.
 Ralph McDaniels, Lionel “The Vid Kid” Martin and another cat named Trevor were all in a group of DJs known as the Brothership (a play on George Clinton’s Mothership perhaps).
 Classic Concepts was the name of the music video production company founded by Ralph McDaniels. Lionel Martin would directed many music videos under this production house and Hype Williams, then a young graffiti artist who would occasionally slip his way into the editing sessions, got his start there as a story board creator, production assistant and eventually, director.
About LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs:
Writer, vocalist, and sound artist, LaTasha N. Nevada Diggs is the
author of three chapbooks which include Ichi-Ban and Ni-Ban (MOH
Press), Manuel is destroying my bathroom (Belladonna Press), and the
album, Televisíon. Her work has been published in Rattapallax, Black
Renaissance Noir, Nocturnes, Fence, Ploughshares, The Black Scholar,
P.M.S, LA Review, Jubilat, Everything But the Burden, Tea Party
Magazine, Mandorla: New Writings from the Americas, and Muck Works to
name a few. Her interdisciplinary work has been featured at The
Kitchen, Exit Art, Recess Activities Inc, The Whitney and MoMa among
others. She has received scholarships, residencies, and fellowships
from Cave Canem, Harvestworks Digital Media Arts Center, Naropa
Institute, Caldera Arts, New York Foundation for the Arts, the Eben
Demarest Trust, Harlem Community Arts Fund, Lower Manhattan Cultural
Council, Rockefeller Brothers Foundation, Virginia Center for the
Creative Arts, the Barbara Deming Memorial Grant for Women and the
Jerome Foundation. As an independent curator and artistic director,
LaTasha has co-presented and directed literary/musical/theatrical
events at Symphony Space, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, WBAI, The
Schomburg Center for Black Culture, BAM Café, Dixon Place, and El
Museo del Barrio. A native of Harlem, LaTasha is a 2011 Laundromat
Project Create Change Artist in Residence and a Black Earth Institute
Fellow. She, along with Greg Tate, are the founders and editors of
Coon Bidness/SO4 Magazine. Her poetry collection My Life as a Boy is
forthcoming from Belladonna Books.