But for all its heavy numbers, World Star looks more like a remnant of the Geocities generation than a rising online powerhouse. It has a clunky design, comment sections susceptible to spam and captions that appear to be written by texting teenagers (example: “WTH Is Goin On: Bloods Violate Boy Reppin Another Gang in McDonalds!”). The clips of public fighting have become so popular on World Star that “documentarians” with cell phone cameras sometimes name-drop the site while recording brawls. The site has popularized online personalities such as Kat Stacks, a notorious kiss-and-telling groupie; 50 Tyson, an autistic emcee who resembles the rapper and the boxer; and Cubana Lust, an adult model with an extra large booty. One recent video shows a homeless woman attacking a shrieking man in a New York City subway train. “9-to-5 people love to see misery,” Q says. “People want to say, ‘I thought I had it bad, but look at these people.’ That’s what sells.”
While offering a glimpse at the stretch-marked underbelly of hip-hop, World Star hasn’t only generated torrents of traffic, but also spurred accusations of cultural bottom-feeding and back dealing, which has landed Q in the crosshairs online and off. The incident involving 50 Cent and World Star dovetailed with Q’s emergence as a public figure. He has always been relatively easy to contact through his site, but he had nevertheless been a faceless dictator of a roiling empire. In the middle of 2010, he recruited Kevin Black, a music industry executive who once worked at Interscope and Warner Bros., to serve as president of World Star. It’s a role Q describes as “a scapegoat.” After Black’s departure, Q stepped to the forefront.
The ninth grade dropout of Queens, New York’s Grover Cleveland High School doesn’t seem overly concerned about the ire he’s sure to draw from community groups and law enforcement agencies looking to police the Internet; or content creators who feel they’ve been ripped without credit; or rappers who have a score to settle. He’s determined to step out from behind the mouse pad and let the world know who did this to you. Or, as he put it: “I tried to be in the background. But people need to see and feel who started this site.”
“I’m like Black Jesus…I talk to everybody, the scum of the earth…
I treat everybody the same, from Puffy to the nobody with $500 for a video.
That’s what people love about the site.” – Q owner, WSHH
Before Q became the boisterous Internet video hustler, he was simply known as Lee O’Denat, an introverted kid from the working-class neighborhood of Hollis, Queens. His father left the household before he was born, and his mother worked as a nurse. “He was very quiet,” says his mom, Jacqueline Jeanty, in a dense Haitian accent. “He liked to play by himself. Sometimes the school would call and say, ‘Is there a problem at home?’ Because of his temperament.”
But the noisy allure of hip-hop was powerful. Salt of Salt-N-Pepa grew up around the corner, and Q once saw Kid N Play rehearsing in her backyard. CL Smooth’s sister lived up the block. Q dreamed of being a rapper. He recorded his own verses and used the alias Lee’apol—a nickname derived from a childhood accident where he hit his head on a pole.
It was in 1996 that Q first became enamored with computers and the possibilities of the digital age. Introduced to the Internet by “Web TV” portals, he recognized its potential for improving his social life. “It was a way to meet girls and not leave your house!” he says. “I was like, ‘I love the fucking Internet, I’m not fucking going back.’” Q’s first attempt at creating an online business involved hosting porn and placing ads in magazines, but he ran out of funds.
During the ’90s, Q bounced between New York City, Florida, Baltimore and Pennsylvania. He worked at Circuit City and sold phones at SprintPCS before he was evicted and spent some nights in his car. Then, in 1999, he had a revelation. “It was an inner voice, something that came to me that made me see the world differently,” he says. Q won’t divulge specific details, but describes the aftereffects. “When your life changes, you find yourself alone because everybody turns their back on you: family, friends. I would cry in bed. I was scared.” When pressed for details, he adds to the mystery by alluding to supernatural forces. He suggests watching The Knowing, a 2009 sci-fi movie with Nicolas Cage where the earth is engulfed in solar flares and beings called “The Strangers” whisk children away in flying vessels. “All I can say is that we’re not alone,” Q says.