Nick Cannon's Wild N Out Celebrates 15 Years
Courtesy of VH1

Inside 'Wild 'N Out,' Nick Cannon's Half A Billion Dollar Baby

The multimedia maven reflects on past seasons of his hit series and where he's headed next. 

Nick Cannon has a shocking idea. It consists of an electric chair and quick thinking. It’s pretty simple: you’re strapped in the chair, showcasing your best freestyling skills, but if you hesitate you get zapped. Nothing major besides an intensified static shock, right? Although Cannon thought it would be a hit with viewers, his Wild ‘N Out castmates weren’t on the same wavelength. Back to the blank slate they went.

From the producers to the cast, Wild ‘N Out’s collective input aids in its staying power. MTV’s 15-year-old improv comedy show, which films at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, enters its new season on April 21. Its first episode featured a blend of new school and old school entertainers, a theme that’ll be amplified this coming season. Actor/comedian Orlando Jones, rapper Cassidy, and legendary hip-hop figure Biz Markie were the names etched on the Hollywood premiere’s bill. As some celebrities who took the stage throughout the seasons continued to get bigger, a few cast members eventually established their own fame: Kevin Hart, Randall Park, Nyima Funk, Affion Crocket, DeRay Davis, and Saturday Night Live’s Mikey Day to name a few.

At 22, that was Cannon’s vision: create a platform that offers his friends jobs, but also sets the stage for their respective careers. In 2003, he gathered his fellow comedians—and his own funds—to shoot a pilot episode for MTV. It didn’t take long for the network to give Cannon’s “baby” the green light. In a past statement promoting the news of Wild ‘N Out’s creation, executive Tony DiSanto (the senior vice president of production development and animation for MTV at that time) said as the Nickelodeon audience matured, so did Cannon. “With Wild ‘N Out, they’ll get to see a whole new side of Nick as he flexes his improv and sketch comedy skills alongside this great cast he helped assemble,” DiSanto said. “We’re thrilled to be in business with Nick, and to bring our viewers comedy and hip-hop in a fresh way.”

Since he was a teen, Cannon has been a cornerstone of Viacom (owner of VH1, Nickelodeon, BET, CBS, and other cable networks). At 17, the San Diego native became the youngest staff writer in television history as a writer for Nickelodeon’s iconic sketch comedy show All That, and later his self-titled television series. Kneading his “college years” within Viacom’s lattice, Cannon briefly hosted Total Request Live (TRL) on MTV in 2003. His Viacom reign continued to elevate. In 2009, he became TeenNick’s chairman and created fresh programming for its youthful audience, which included a sketch comedy show named Incredible Crew (Mikey Day was also one of the show’s writers). Experience in front of the camera to working behind-the-scenes at a senior level helped Cannon take Wild ‘N Out from a pilot episode to a national brand.

“I always knew how to operate from a business aspect and seeing an idea start from its conception to its fruition. Now, with having this almost half a billion-dollar brand that I built, I get the concept of being able to get as much out of the brand as possible but still staying true to it without over-exploiting it,” Cannon says in an interview with VIBE. “I think that’s what we’ve done extremely well with Wild ‘N Out from the careers that it’s helped birth to the marketing to the branding from everything that we do with the tours, the restaurants, barbershops, we’re doing so many things with the brand. It’s because I had the opportunity of seeing how one of the biggest brands with Nickelodeon or Viacom operated.” Witnessing how shows like “Spongebob, The Rugrats, or The Ninja Turtles” churned out movies and accessories encouraged the Howard University student to operate Wild ‘N Out with a similar mindset. The show was an immediate hit with viewers, but after airing nearly 50 episodes, life off-stage began to take form.

The show went off-air after four consecutive seasons from 2005-2007. MTV wanted to do more with the show despite its growing costs, but Cannon opted to focus on his marriage after tying the knot in 2008 to world-renowned artist Mariah Carey. “My focus went in a different direction,” he says, adding that he also wanted to start a family. ”As much as I loved the show, I felt I needed at least a moment to step away to re-evaluate what I really wanted to do. Once I did, I said, ‘Alright, I’m back at it. Let’s keep it rocking.’”

WNO returned to the small screen in 2013, but on MTV2 for seasons 5-8. Formed in 1996, MTV2 was known for its music video-centered programming like Sucker Free Sunday, Chart2Chart, and MTV2 Rock. Although the channel trekked into original programming by airing shows that initially premiered on MTV, it wasn’t until 2011 when the network caught audience attention with Guy Code. A year later, the sports-focused X Games debuted in March, three months before Hip-Hop Squares entered the roster. For WNO, 2013 was a historic return; it became MTV2’s highest-rated telecast when season 5’s first episode garnered 1.1 million viewers. Cannon says the show also aired a few episodes on BET and Comedy Central, proving that his creation could thrive on multiple platforms. “It’s probably the only show that can air across four or five of Viacom’s networks and still be a huge digital brand that hits the top numbers on Instagram and YouTube and all of those places,” Cannon says. “It’s just one of those things that works everywhere.” WNO’s social media presence has garnered over 18.4 million followers across its accounts. It’s also responsible for 44 percent of views on MTV’s YouTube channel and accounts for “10 percent of MTV’s revenue,” Cannon says.

In season 5, the teams changed colors from the red squad to platinum but kept the black squad until it changed to gold for season 8. Cannon shares the color schemes are a part of branding, revealing this new season will usher in “neon and hyper colors” to bring more energy to the show. Introducing games like “In The Classroom” or “Got Damned” continues to boost the “lightning improv” skills the cast own, but one thing that remained consistent throughout the seasons is Wildstyle. Cannon says its concept primarily inspired the show, reminiscing on his days at the comedy clubs backstage with his friends, freestyling and taking comedic jabs at each other. Incorporating the battle rap aspect of the show was a no-brainer, enlisting those from the community like Charlie Clips, Hitman Holla, Conceited, and more.

“I became a big fan of watching those different battles and I was like once we bring the show back we have to bring those types of cats onto the show along with the comedians that were already there,” Cannon says. “But one of the prerequisites for being on the show when I created it was being able to freestyle and know how to battle. Obviously the art form shifted and changed over the years so it was only right that those guys like the Conceiteds, the Charlie Clips, and the Hitman Hollas would thrive in this environment because they had been doing it on their own.”

Through workshops, the cast form “synergistic chemistry” before hitting the mainstage as a method of blending the battle rappers with the comedians. Making sure there’s a balance of male and female representation is also a goal, name-dropping the OGs like Nyima Funk to B. Simone, Jess Hilarious, and Pretty Vee. However, Cannon states that when it comes to casting, he doesn’t look at gender in terms of “‘Oh, we need this,’ or ‘We need that.’ Whoever is the most talented and funniest those are the people that I want.”

Developing a thick skin is also ideal, even for the host himself. In the beginning, jokes about his career or relationship with Carey garnered slap-knee reactions from the audience, but Cannon believes it’s been overdone at this point. “I know it’s a joke but it’s over 10 years since I was married to Mariah Carey (Laughs). You’re kind of just showing your weakness by even bringing that up,” he says. “The only people who even really say stuff about Mariah are probably people who come on the show and think that’s going to hit. It doesn’t hit anymore and you kind of feel bad for them (Laughs).”

Although you’ll probably hear crickets if you still decide to mention Cannon’s previous marriage or music, he says no joke is off-limits, adding that WNO gets away with a lot of controversial jabs because of its diverse cast. “I always tell people Wild ‘N Out is probably the most progressive show on television and it’s probably the only place that’s left where comedians can come and speak their mind and not have to worry about cancel culture or people getting offended,” he says. “The one reason is because we actually offer a platform where everyone is welcomed. It’s the only place where you’ll actually see someone who is homophobic battle rap someone from the transgender community and at the end of the day they hug it out.”

While the cast operates under the premise of having fun, lines have unexpectedly been crossed. During an August 2018 taping of Azealia Banks’ episode, a back-and-forth between the rapper and comedian DC YoungFly took place that unraveled from the show’s studio to social media. Cannon adds that there was a prior discussion to ensure if anything shouldn’t be said, to which Cannon says Banks had no issues, but as the cameras were rolling and jabs were flying, things took a turn. “She did the entire episode and we talked afterwards and she was cool, and then the next day I think that’s when she put the battery in her back and was talking about her experience,” Cannon says. “We let it be known what really happened and the world saw it for what it was. I would welcome her back and I got nothing but respect for her.”

A few artists have returned like Chance the Rapper, Rick Ross, and Snoop Dogg, a feat Cannon says adds to the show’s biggest moments. “This is a show where people get the opportunity to show that they have a great sense of humor and they don’t take things too seriously,” Cannon says. One episode that shocked the businessman was Chrissy Teigen’s. “She came to wild out for real,” he says. “I remember in the Wildstyle battle where Karlous Miller picked her up and said he and her were going to do some things backstage and he didn’t care what John Legend said. That was pretty out of pocket (Laughs).”

Outside of WNO, which has already been renewed for season 16, Cannon is working on his upcoming daytime talk show premiering this September, continuing his hosting duties on The Masked Singer, and producing a documentary on herbalist Dr. Sebi. For the latter, Cannon says he’s picking up where the late Nipsey Hussle left off.

“That was Nip’s sentiments and that’s what I’m going to see through, that we have to be curators and the narrators of our own stories and control our narratives in a way where we’re the ones telling the story and we don’t allow the system to tell our story.” When asked if all aspects of Dr. Sebi’s practices and beliefs will be analyzed, given investigative reports, Cannon states both sides will be represented. “That’s where I try to bring it back home to where ‘Yeah we’re going to talk about everything because we have to. We have to talk about people who believe and people who don’t believe.’ We talked to people who believe it’s possible and we talked to people who believe that it’s not possible,” he says. “It’s in that scenario where I encourage people to think for themselves and don’t take anything for face value. You have to understand to dig deep, do the research on your own. That’s why this process has become this process for me because I’m not going to say, ‘Hey, somebody just told me this’ and I’m going to believe it. I’m going to go research for myself and we lay it all the way out there in a very investigative way.”

Citing inspiration from legend Quincy Jones, who tapped into all forms of entertainment, Cannon wants to establish Wild ‘N Out Films, another piece in cementing the show’s legacy as a fortified brand from apparel to restaurants in Miami and Hollywood, with Las Vegas being the next destination. It’s safe to say Cannon’s baby is in good hands.

“I think a lot of that stuff is going to branch off in a big way to where the brand actually truly matters for generations,” Cannon says. “We’re trying to take it all over the world. We’re starting here but the brand can go as far as we can take it.”

--

The new season of 'Nick Cannon Presents: Wild ‘N Out' premieres Tuesday, April 21 at 8 PM ET/PT on VH1.

From the Web

More on Vibe

Mark Barboy

Interview: Suave House Founder Tony Draper Links With Celebs Like 2 Chainz, G Herbo and Nick Cannon To Feed Their Cities

The harrowing COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately disrupted Black communities across the United States with cities like Chicago being among the hardest hit. Throughout the year, artists from the city have stepped up and held socially distanced food drives and PPE donations across the city’s South and West sides. With his deep ties to Chicago since the early 90s, Suave House Records founder/entrepreneur Tony Draper, alongside NBA veteran Ricky Davis, made the Chi’ their next stop as part of the nationwide Feed Your City Challenge this past October 17th at the Pullman Park Community Center.

The chilly, yet bright and sunny Saturday saw hundreds of people drive through the parking lot of the complex, receiving groceries from the many volunteers, gathered from across the city. Masked up with PPE in the trenches with the civilians were local natives and celebrity supporters like Chitown’s Grammy winning producer/music executive No ID, rap star G-Herbo, new rapper Queen Key, NBA star Jabari Parker to media/music entertainer Nick Cannon. Draper and Davis were handing off items and loading boxes of farm-fresh produce and meats in the trunk of cars, and offloading the 95,000 pounds of food to feed 7,000 residents. While they were not in attendance, Common with Jhene Aiko and Social Justice Collective donated funds for the free groceries.

“You can’t lead the people until you feed the people. We’re out here in the community in a real way. People always talk about what’s going on in Chicago and these are the things going on in Chicago. Positive things for the community during a time like this. People coming together and it’s a wonderful event,” said Cannon.

For Draper, bringing the Feed Your City Challenge to Chicago and being able to pull it off successfully was crucial because October 17th, marks the 24th anniversary of the death of one of Chi’s most influential DJs, Rapmaster Pinkhouse, who passed away in 1996. “It feels like myself and my partner [Ricky] Davis coming to Chicago and partnering with Common, No ID, Jhene Aiko, Nick Cannon, G-Herbo, Jay Allen, [local FM radio] Power 92 and Pat Edwards was a sign from God that it’s meant to happen on this day. Even though Pinkhouse is gone, he’s still influencing the south side of Chicago and he’s still sending us blessings. We had to pull it off, we had to,” Draper said with conviction. 

Meanwhile, Power 92.3’s DJ Pharris, DJ Nehpets, DJ Commando, DJ Amaris and Hot Rod were on the 1s and 2s while Parker, Hot Rod, G-Herbo, and community activists Joey G and Nico Naismith played basketball with the kids. A nonprofit Hoop Bus was set up with a small hoop with Black Lives Matter symbols and the names of victims who were killed by police officers. 

G-Herbo, who has been volunteering his time to the kids of Chicago throughout 2020 says that events like this are important to build and strengthen Black unity across the city. “It’s beyond just being able to feed and provide, it’s allowing people to feel unity in the city. This is the city coming together and a lot of important and powerful people coming from the city, all walks of life coming together for a positive reason and that’s what it’s all about.” When asked if this event defied the stigma of Chicagoans not being unified, Herbo exclaimed, “Absolutely! We unified right now and it’s only gon’ get better, so we’re just trying to lead by example and make this normal. This is not just an event, this gotta be the normal for guys like myself and for the city.”

And the people who showed up to receive their free groceries were more than appreciative. Takara, a mother from the Southside of Chicago says that while she found out about the food drive at the last minute,“It’s a lot of food out here, a lot of good people out here and it’s something that we need. Events like this are very necessary and it’s filling the need for families who can’t feed their children during these times. I wish I could have volunteered and done something more, but we need this.”

In a one-on-one with VIBE, the legendary Tony Draper talks about his connections to Chicago, the importance and impact of the Feed Your City Challenge, the role celebrities play in activism, and more. 

VIBE: Earlier you shared that Oct. 17th was also the day that Rapmaster Pinkhouse passed away. For the younger readers who might not know who Rapmaster Pinkhouse is, could you share who he was and why he was so important to Chicago?

Draper: For young people that don't understand how music was heard back then, there was no social media [in the early 90s], there was no Instagram, so you had to get your record to the hottest person in the city. That person had to make a decision about whether it was good or not. And if that person touched your record in Chicago, that person would spread, it was automatic. That’s what happened to a young Tony Draper with 8Ball & MJG’s first albums. He put his hands around it and he exposed it to the Chicago market. Every time I think about Chicago, I always think about Pinkhouse. Pinkhouse was the main reason why I even came to Chicago.

Talk about that. What was Chicago like for you when you first came here?

Coming to Chicago was a very interesting moment for me because when I came, I had my hat cocked a certain type of way and I didn’t know the rules and regulations. And he told me, “Tony, man you gotta keep that hat straight (laughs). And I kept it straight ever since. So, for me, doing my journey as a young Black man from the inner city, raised by a single parent, establishing Suave House at 16 years old, seeing what I went through to establish [the company], and make it a force to be reckoned with. That was an accomplishment, but also I wanted to touch people I knew understood the music and understood where I was coming from and the importance of a young Black man that was a true, independent CEO and giving me the avenue to get my music heard. I’m from Memphis, raised in Houston, but Chicago is Suave House’s biggest market to this date. They supported everything Suave House did and I wanted to bless them [with the Feed Your City Challenge], the same way they blessed me.

With the conversation within the music business revolving around Black Lives Matter and supporting Black communities, what do you think it’ll take to get many of these CEO and executives from the major labels to support these communities like what you and many of the artists have been doing across the country?

I think they have to be involved with people they’re not comfortable with. Stop giving money to these organizations you think is giving the money to Black people, because they’re not. Nobody is holding these organizations accountable. Do business with somebody that has their finger on the pulse. A person that you know is in the music business that has been very successful in the business. Like right now, the Feed Your City Challenge, we’re in our ninth city. We’ve had eight of the top music artists host these cities without funding from the parent companies. [The artists] are giving the money themselves. Jhene Aiko gave money herself. Nick Cannon, himself. Rick Ross, 2 Chainz…Pee from Quality Control. 

Pee was on vacation in Mexico and he took a private jet back to Atlanta just to attend Feed Your City in Atlanta. He didn’t have to do that, but he did because he cares about where he’s from. He cares about the area. He wants to take [talent] from the area, but he also wants to give back to that community. See, white people want to come and exploit your community, but don’t want to build a library over there, never build a basketball court, never build anything. When an artist is dead, they say ahhh aahh ummm. If you wanted to demonstrate good character, you would have said, ‘I made a lot of money off that artist. Let me do something for that community as a token of appreciation for birthing that particular artist.’

I don’t think we’ve ever seen that before.

And you’ll never see it unless I do it and I am going to do it. That’s why I’m in Chicago. I’m going to every city that has blessed me and fed my family because every time I feed myself, I feed my family, my loved ones, it comes from my fans. My fans gave me the opportunity by buying my records. I had a dream, I had a drive, but without the opportunity, you might not have heard of Tony Draper. So, I’m always appreciative of people that have helped me, that’s why I want to help them. I’m in the best place I could ever be in my life. I’m 49 years old, I’m successful, I’m good. Bro, you want to know what makes me happy? Giving to somebody else. There’s another star out there that’s hoping and praying that they could get an opportunity and if I could give them that opportunity, I’ll give it to them. I don’t relish in the attention; I relish in the accomplishment. Let me help somebody. And if I help them and they become successful, they don’t owe me a quarter. I won’t sign them to a management deal or nothing. I just want you to acknowledge it and pass it on. See, we got to learn how to pass it on.

With the timing of this event brought on by the pandemic, how do you feel about it all?

I think it was God’s mission. With COVID that’s really unfortunate, a lot of people lost their lives during this pandemic. A lot of people have lost their jobs, their homes, their properties. My heart goes out to them. But if me and Ricky Davis can put a smile on a mother’s face, a father’s face and feed their children, that’s all I need. I remember me and my mother going to churches and food banks, walking with free government cheese, powdered eggs and we was happy. We were so happy, smiling and grateful. I think without that, I don’t think we would have made it to the following week. So, I’m always thankful for everything God blessed me with. I don’t think I’m special. I think that I had a plan and I stuck to my plan and made it happen.

Suave House has had a lot of artists who have always been outspoken about social and political issues, [similar to like an] Ice Cube recently. Considering that, and what you’re doing with these artists for the Feed Your City Challenge, do you think that the role of the celebrity today is to get in front of these issues or to fall back and support the people who're already doing the work?

I think it’s a choice. For me, I’m not a city official, I’m not a politician. I’m more comfortable with doing and getting my hands dirty on the ground. If I was in Chicago building houses for people, I would actually be there. I wouldn’t [just] send no money or send a crew there. I would be there. That’s how I feel blessed. I feel blessed by actually talking to the people and them seeing me out there distributing groceries. I feel good when a person drives up in their car and they pop their trunk and say ‘Draper?! You putting groceries in my car?!’ And they may be happy about ‘Space Age Pimpin’’ or ‘I’m So Tired of Ballin’’ or whatever, but just the mere fact that they were happy about me putting groceries in their car meant more to me than anything else. I think it’s a choice you make as an individual.

For a lot of people, some celebrities end up causing harm because their celebrity and actions might overshadow the actual issue.

You know what though? Without you being a celebrity, you might not be heard. So why not use that platform to be heard? I think LeBron James is phenomenal. I think Ice Cube is phenomenal. You don’t have to agree with him, but you have to respect him for speaking his mind and trying to get something for Black people. Nobody else did it! Nobody else took the initiative to write a Black America contract and present it to both [Biden and Trump] camps. So, I think that was a phenomenal move, whether I agree with it or not, it was still a phenomenal move. We got to stop with all this goddamn talking and do some action.

Draper and Davis’s Feed Your City Challenge will be arriving in Compton, California as their next stop on November 21.

Continue Reading
T.I.

Interview: T.I. Talks Activism, Verzuz Battle, And His Desire To Produce A Biopic On His Life Before Fame

Although Tip "T.I." Harris has earned some very respectable stripes as an emcee for his successful rap career, the self-proclaimed “King of the South” moniker really began to take true form once he stepped into his community activism calling. He’s acted in blockbuster films opposite Denzel Washington, Paul Rudd and Kevin Hart, but his willingness to speak truth to power has shown an unwavering commitment to being on the good side of history, as opposed to choosing silence to secure a spot on the good side of Hollywood.

During this recent conversation, Tip talks about his upcoming Verzuz battle with Jeezy, politics, the Trap Music Museum, and his desire to make his TV/film directorial debut.

Be sure to check out his newest album, L.I.B.R.A available on all streaming platforms.

Continue Reading

Ziggy Marley's First Time Voting In America

No more long talking from politicians. Today, the people have their say at the ballot box. Judging by the number of voters who showed up early this year, the 2020 election is going to smash all records for voter participation. With a deadly pandemic, wildfires, floods, economic pressure, and a struggle for survival playing out from the tweets to the streets, the stakes have never been higher.

If you're reading this right now and you haven't voted yet, it's not too late. Get up get out and let your voice be heard. As Samantha Smith recently discussed on her IG Live, this year's election is too important to sit out.

Snoop Dogg will be voting for the first time this year—and he's not the only one. Ziggy Marley voted for the first time this year also and documented the process on social media. "I decided to vote and I wondered to myself why," Ziggy wrote on his IG. "Then I thought about those who came before, the price they paid. In part, I am voting in honor of them and to honor them, to not belittle their many sacrifices and struggles with my high jaded righteousness and indifference. Many brothers and sisters from numerous backgrounds and origins marched, bled, and died to give people like me basic rights in 🇺🇸 , the right to be treated like a human being, the right to vote."

As the eldest son of the Robert Nesta Marley aka the King of Reggae, Ziggy is part of a mighty musical legacy, but his father is more than a musical legend.  The new film Freedom Fighter—part of the 75th anniversary series "Bob Marley Legacy"—examines Marley as a symbol of human rights with a voice more powerful than any politician.

Ziggy has continued his father's musical mission as a solo artist and part of the Grammy-winning family group Melody Makers. His 2018 album, Rebellion Rises opens with a song entitled "See Them Fake Leaders," leaving no doubt about his views on the institutions of government. Still, Ziggy remains engaged in the political process, doing his part and encouraging others to do the same.

"Imagine if Martin Luther King Jr, John Lewis, and others thought, 'Voting rights? Civil rights? Who cares? What difference will it make?'" Ziggy wrote on IG. "Just imagine what the world would have looked like now if not for their sacrifices. Go ahead, imagine it. Can you see it? Well, what do you think?"

"To be clear voting is not the end-all," Ziggy Marley added. "It is a small piece of a puzzle and just one of the tools in our toolbox that we must use as part of a larger effort to bring positive beneficial changes for all people. The work must continue at maximum effort after elections regardless of the outcome." Ziggy emphasized that he was not voting for a party or a person for an idea. "Even though we have differences we can be better human beings, more united human beings, more loving human beings, equal human beings, just human beings. The politics will come and go left right and center but still through it all the humanity that we must show to each other is not negotiable."

Ziggy voted by mail this year, but for those of you standing in line today to exercise your right and let your voices be heard, Ziggy curated a special playlist for Tidal's "Hold The Line" campaign. Music to vote by—from Ziggy and Bob to Fela and James Brown, not to mention Public Enemy and Rage Against The Machine.

Ziggy Marley’s new album, More Family Time, is out now on all music streaming platforms.

Continue Reading

Top Stories