There's a new wave of music television that's reaching local audiences. 'The visual media reaches a lot of young people," explains Kevin Griffin, the producer and business manager of 2-Cent, a new TV variety show focusing on New Orleans. 'We want our generation as a whole to speak up, be knowledgeable and be heard." Griffin's show, which combines music videos, reporting on the hip-hop scene, sketch comedy and political commentary on post-K New Orleans, isn't the latest creation from BET or MTV " rather, it's the combined efforts of about a dozen native New Orleanian students from UNO, Delgado and SUNO. And it's debuting on WGNO ABC-26 in New Orleans at 1 a.m. Saturday night (technically Sunday morning). Indie television isn't new for New Orleans' hip-hop community. Nine years ago, husband-and-wife team John 'N.O." and Glenda 'Miss Goldie" Robert, both born and raised in Uptown, debuted It's All Good in Da Hood " a talk and music-video show that went from block parties to recording studios " and they've been filming weekly episodes ever since.
'We were seeing a lot of bad publicity at that time," says Glenda. 'Every time you turned on the news, it's something bad: drugs, or who got killed. And I'm like, there's got to be something good in the hood. So I went out searching, and I found it."
Since the late '90s, some of the biggest names in New Orleans rap first appeared on It's All Good in Da Hood. Glenda remembers bringing in members of U.N.L.V., a seminal Uptown hip-hop crew, plus Juvenile, 5th Ward Weebie (whose bounce track 'F**k Katrina" became a post-storm street anthem), the Hot Boys and others. Glenda's message, she says, was to showcase the positive things.
'We actually had guys that weren't in the street selling drugs but in the studio making records," she says. One of her success stories was Brandon Odum, a UNO student now working on 2-CENT.
'He's a preacher's son," she confides. 'Brandon was so quiet. He never talked, never did anything." John and Glenda saw Brandon's potential when he brought them an unsolicited video montage of Soulja Slim after the promising rapper was killed in 2003.
'It brought tears to my eyes. I was so taken with it because I'd never seen that in him before," she says. Soon Brandon was guest-hosting episodes, and in 2004, he started working with Griffin and others on 2-Cent.
Charles Johnson, a friend of Griffin's and Odum's, brought 2-Cent " which the students began shooting in 2004 " to the attention of Vincent Morano, a friend who Johnson had worked with in television production in New York. Morano helped raise money to buy a season's worth of airtime from WGNO.
'I think this could have national appeal," Morano says. 'The local issues they're dealing with speak to a national audience. So far, 2-Cent's team of students have shot material on a diverse array of topics, from a report of post-Katrina New Orleans to an episode titled 'Perception of the Young Black Male" to a spoof on a popular Ludacris video. The crew also recently wrapped an interview with rapper Mos Def (whose 'Katrina Clap" track was based on Juvenile's 'Nolia Clap") and plan to shoot one of the Tipitina's Foundation's free Sunday music workshops.
Both It's All Good in Da Hood and 2-Cent also broadcast via the Internet using free outlets like MySpaceTV.com and YouTube.com to reach a wider audience. This isn't unusual for the New Orleans hip-hop scene. Q93 DJ Wild Wayne offers six channels of music and lifestyle-oriented programming at Wildwaynetv.com, and Ninth Ward alternative rapper Dick Darby filmed several shows focusing on recovery in his neighborhood immediately after the storm, which are available as the Dick Darby Show both on Youtube and as a DVD. After Katrina, that's particularly valuable as a community that's been extensively reported on is starting to do its own first-person reporting. Almost a decade after Glenda Robert first set out to show the other side of her neighborhood, she's seeing a surge of independent television coming out of the hip-hip community. Whether it's for only a few viewers at a MySpace page or hundreds of thousands, as with 2-Cent on ABC or It's All Good, which has now been syndicated throughout the state on the Louisiana Cable Network, she's glad to see it.
'It's like watching my child," she says. 'And we're going to keep doing it, every week, till a major network picks us up."
- The cast of locally produced hip-hop music, commentary and comedy show 2-Cent will air on WGNO late Saturday night.