By Jacob Katel
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The North Miami Beach offices of Starline Communications look more like a guy's dorm room than the headquarters of an up-and-coming media enterprise. Posters of Eve, Piccolo, and Eminem smother the wooden panels of the dimly lit four-room suite where hip-hop personalities hang and Jesse Coleman and Danny Compodonico -- partners and executive producers of the hip-hop video music program Video Mix-- try to get work done. "People just come in here at any time, like we don't have anything to do," complains Coleman. Nothing could be further from the truth: Barely a year after first going on the air, Video Mix is broadcast in Miami, Dallas, Tallahassee, Detroit, Chicago, Milwaukee, and Atlanta, giving the locally produced program access to five million homes across the nation.
The 32-year-old Coleman believes Video Mix meets the needs of an urban demographic that have been neglected since media giants gobbled up Miami Beach-based video network The Box and the formerly black-owned television network BET. "We needed a way to really be able to touch the people and let them know what's going on and what's hot," explains the six-foot-four entrepreneur, whose beard and dreads are streaked with gray. "We wanna show that we can break records; we can break artists. You know: Who's the next star coming out of Birmingham? Who's the next Miami Trick Daddy? Who's coming out of Atlanta? We want to have our fingers on the pulse [in] all these kinds of cities that really make a difference in the music business."
His desk nearly buried under press releases and video reels, Coleman enters into a computer the month's rotation, to be sent off to record labels. Rocking a yellow T-shirt with "deejay" spelled out beneath a red robot spinning and blue jeans, the North Carolina A&T engineering graduate recounts the experiences that led him to Starline. After a brief stint at a shipping company in Virginia, Coleman bounced around the major networks before landing a job as director of broadcast operations at The Box. All the while he developed his own concept for a live hip-hop music show with a host and a DJ. Inspired by Marcus Garvey's philosophy of self-reliance and economic growth, Coleman aimed to build a production unit that would provide exposure to an underrepresented music community.
Coleman matched his entrepreneurial spirit with Compodonico's production skills. When the two met at a Bad Boy album-release party, Coleman identified with his future partner's independent spirit. "Corporate America is garbage," says Compodonico, his untamed black hair escaping the black bandanna tied around his forehead. "You're just another number, [and] I'm better than that." Standing five foot seven in an oversize black T-shirt, blue jean shorts, and black high-tops, the Ecuadorian American looks like a teenager (he won't reveal his age), but Coleman found his partner's production skills as impressive as his passion. "He came by the office the next day and brought his reel," Coleman recalls. "His work speaks for itself. That is my dawg."
The pair filled out a small crew and on Compodonico's birthday in July 2000, put Video Mix on the air as a two-hour weekly show. In the first month, the show garnered recognition from Billboard magazine. "Then we hit the wall," says Coleman. The shutdown of the first station to broadcast Video Mix put the show on what Coleman calls "this unplanned hiatus for like four, five months."
By February 2001 Video Mix had secured slots at Channel 48 and Metro Access Channel 31. That's when the show ran into trouble with the host, Lady Most Dangerous. "I give her her props," Coleman says of the feisty personality. "But she is just very difficult to work with." So producer Compodonico adopted the name Little Monster and took over. "People like Little Monster 'cause he's wild," says Compodonico of his on-air success. "I'm a little version of that."
"Danny was kind of thrust into the fire," Coleman laughs. "It's not about a Carson [Daly] or an Ananda [Lewis]. We let the artists and the music be the stars." Local DJs Lennox, LA Smooth, and Maurissio back up Little Monster on the turntables.
On a recent afternoon in the studio, Little Monster is cheesing for the camera, joking on the DJs and pumping the crew. "Where you calling from?" he asks viewers from Carol City, Little Haiti, and Opa-locka. "What video you wanna see?"
Not everything runs smoothly. During a live performance by guests Philly's Most Wanted, one of the performer's microphones stops working. On the second try, Little Monster's microphone goes out. Coleman makes the most of the situation. "We used the Philly's Most Wanted [act] as our way to create modifications," he says, "We have to do mike and sound checks before the show and things like that."
Before going on the air again, Compodonico drops the Little Monster persona and busts out as video producer. "We got 72 seconds," he shouts at the studio full of politicking visitors. "I need you to set up now, please."
Other days the show is seamless. Guest rapper Gangstarr asks DJ LA Smooth: "Where are the other places that I can find this show?" Many of the artists leave the studio with more than a memory. Despite the microphone snafus, Philly's Most Wanted was so pleased with the promo Starline produced for the group, they hired the company for an independent project. After Video Mix was the first show to drop Skee-lo's single "At the Mall," the rapper approached Starline to do a commercial for him. Ads have been coming in from artists such as Memphis rapper Gangsta Boo and even other hip-hop media, such as the Source magazine.
Despite all the attention, the partners say they hope to fend off the media giants for the time being. "We know we can make money," explains Coleman. "It's about the freedoms that we have and how we can impact people's lives. There's some baggage that comes along with [investors]. How much do you give up of your company for this money?"
Little Monster makes his independence clear on-air. "Yo, before I take the calls, don't ask for Lil' Romeo or Lil' Bow Wow," he warns viewers. "We are not trying to play songs out here like the radio stations."
"That's censorship," Coleman shouts from the control room.
"It's not censorship," Compodonico argues. "We're just not trying to play something so much [that] people's like, “I don't wanna hear that song no more.'"
"Yeah, I feel you," Coleman concedes.
What Video Mix is about is targeting markets the giants cannot reach.
It's time to record the Little Monster outro. Noticing the networking going on around the studio, Compodonico pauses, then closes the show: "Yo, we gonna be the next BET. Ya'll don't sleep on Video Mix, so, yo, keep it locked."
Fade to black.