Tuesday nights are cracking at Greenhouse, a club on the west side of lower Manhattan. The establishment was featured in Fabolous’ video for “Lights Out,” and this evening patrons re-create the ambiance. Beneath a sea of crystalline rods that hang from the ceiling, a swarm of rappers, athletes, hustlers and hot girls toast Rosé and bounce to DJ Clue’s sound selections. Of course Fabolous is there, along with players from the Memphis Grizzlies, New York Giants and New York Jets. Then there are the others blending in among the highfliers, the people who lurk in the shadows of celebrity. Characters like Lee “Q” O’Denat, the man behind controversial video site WorldStarHipHop.com, has two tables stocked with champagne, Patrón and women. When an argument between two girls breaks out nearby, Q’s bodyguard leaps in the way, while Q parties on, unfazed. Later in the evening, a member of the G-Unit camp—a tough-looking customer with gold teeth and an impassive face—whispers in Q’s ear. When the G-Unit soldier departs, Q recounts the conversation. “He wanted me to come by the G-Unit office,” he says with an incredulous laugh. “Fuck that! We’ll meet at a Starbucks or something.”
Q has a good reason to proceed with caution. Tension between 50 Cent and Q had been simmering since the previous day. After WorldStarHipHop (commonly referred to as WorldStar) had gone temporarily offline, 50 Cent claimed responsibility on Twitter. “I put Worldstar to bed, you don’t believe try me I will shut your shit down,” he wrote. It seemed plausible, since 50 had sued Q for trademark infringement in 2009 (Q believes the lawsuit was retribution for posting Rick Ross’ diss songs against 50 Cent). The news burned across the Web like a brush fire, and both World Star and 50’s Web site ThisIs50 became trending topics on Twitter. A few hours later, Angie Martinez, of New York’s Hot 97, interviewed 50 Cent on-air. He played it coy, neglecting to say World Star’s issues were specifically his handiwork. Eventually, Q was patched into the conversation, and 50 snapped into attack mode: “I should black ya eye,” he snarled. “Tell ’em how you were on my tour bus in 2003, you punk! And you created a area where everybody could try to hate on me!” Q stammered to get out a word, but was mostly quiet.
In truth, 50 Cent had nothing to do with World Star’s technical difficulties. The real culprit was an Internet video creator who calls himself IShatOnU. After WorldStar refused to add attribution to one of his videos, which showed ChatRoulette reactions to a faked suicide, IShatOnU filed a copyright complaint with the site’s server, a complaint Q says he never received. When WorldStar neglected to remove the offending video, the server took action. Some furious fans learned IShatOnU’s identity, and bombarded him with threatening e-mails and phone calls. One wrote, “Y da fuk u took down worldstar for? If I knew where you lived id murk u.” Another read, “Snich ass white faggot. fuck you in your fat face.” IShatOnU says it was only bored kids lashing out, but takes exception to World Star’s policies. “It’s a grimy site, man,” he says via phone from Chicago. “They’re making a shitload of money off other motherfuckers without compensation.”
To be sure, World Star’s poaching of content is not unique: The Huffington Post, a Web site purchased in February by AOL for $315 million, has faced similar criticism for its use of aggregating content. But Q’s approach is notably brazen. When a video goes up, it’s plastered with the WSHH logo, shoehorned into a media player and stripped of links to the source. Eric and Jeff Rosenthal, brothers who create online comedy sketches to ItsTheReal.com, have seen several of their videos uploaded to World Star without credit. The only identifying text on the video read “Courtesy of Mahad,” a World Star employee. “I don’t know who Mahad is or what he does, but I do know that he’s not a Rosenthal,” says Jeff in an e-mail. “World Star absolutely violates rules of Internet connectivity.”
According to Q, his strategy pays off with “roughly” 2 million unique visitors a day. Alexa, a Web analytics company, ranks the site 225th in site traffic in the United States and the 900th in the world. By comparison, MTV.com notches 222nd and Travelocity.com at 232nd. Alexa says World Star’s visitors tend to be Black males under the age of 35 who are “moderately educated.” As a result of all this activity, Q says the site is valued “in the millions.”