After enjoying consistent success as a performer for decades, rapper Nas is entering a new arena. The Showtime documentary “You’re Watching Video Music Box” marks his debut as a film director. Photo by Travis P Ball/Getty Images for SXSW

By Ron Wynn

NASHVILLE, TN — Nas has been a popular and influential rapper for decades, but now he’s making a name in a different field. It’s actually the continuation of his early interest in television and film. He’s making his directorial debut with the Showtime production “You’re Watching Video Music Box.” Nas’s interest in directing was initially encouraged back in the early ‘90s. He was planning his first music video and turned to 

Ralph McDaniels. He was the host, founder, and resident Video Jockey (VJ) on Video Music Box. The program aired daily on New York’s public access channel.

“It was the best show on television,” Nas told the Hollywood Reporter.”You’re Watching Video Music Box” is a 90-minute film that unpacks the show’s history. It also puts the spotlight on McDaniels’ legacy in hip hop. The production features never-before-seen clips of such iconic rap stars as Jay-Z, Biggie Smalls, LL Cool J, Wu Tang Clan, Fat Joe, MC Lyte, Queen Latifah and many others.

“This is my first time directing and it’s his film,” Nas said. He also appears in an interview with vintage clips from his early days on the rap scene. “I’m just amazed. I’m still in amazement. I happen to be having a great run with an amazing company called Mass Appeal, and we specialize in securing the culture. [The documentary] was something that made sense for us and something that made sense for Ralph McDaniel and for Video Music Box. It also makes sense as a part of this whole hip hop 50 movement, which will be in 2023. So it was perfect. We were perfect for each other.”

“Ralph McDaniels is someone that really just changed the whole entire music world, from playing videos to giving us visuals of some of our favorite artists that we only heard on mix shows. These visuals took us to the record stores to buy their records in New York City. He was before his time and we wanted to be involved with sharing his story.”

Nas also talked about how much the project meant to him. “Oh man, I was just beyond honored too. I used to run home from school to catch the show which was the best show on television as far as music and art was concerned. Soul Train was on [at the time] but his show was a whole different thing. I could wait to run home and watch what he was giving us — everything from Run DMC to Billy Ocean, everyone. To actually have that guy who was in my living room direct my video when I was coming out with my first record, there was nothing bigger or better. It’s a complete full circle moment for me because this is my first time directing and it’s his film. I’m just amazed. I’m still in amazement.”

Nas also admitted being a bit surprised by some of what he discovered about McDaniels. “I’m such a nostalgic freak and a classic golden era of hip hop junkie that in the beginning, I thought that the old footage would be the star of the film. But as we opened up the whole book of life and looked at his beginnings, he became the star of the film. It’s a great story of how he became what he became, starting as a DJ turned VJ.”

He also has special praise for McDaniels overall role in the growth of East Coast rap and hip-hop. “They (the conversations had while making the film) impacted me because it showed that Ralph cared to not just pimp the game by getting the kids watching these videos but he knew that he had our eyes and hearts. He cared about us kids and he cared about the city of New York, which was going through a lot. He was responsible. It was the right thing to do. It was because he was a part of the community and he cared to nurture the community and he used his platform to do that. That’s what made him such a great guy.”

“You’re Watching Video Music Box” is now airing on Showtime.