Finding Tomorrow's Stars Online Today

The popular video site YouTube.com launched a hip-hop and rap video contest this week. The company's spokesperson, Jeben Berg, tells why the online giant seems to be going into the business of searching for new talent.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya. And this is NEWS & NOTES.

The rise of YouTube has reconfigured the media landscape. It's the place online where the average Joe can post homemade videos for the world to view. And lately, YouTube has taken that idea to another level. It's co-sponsored a presidential debate with CNN and began hosting music video competitions. The latest contest is going to feature the best aspiring rap and hip-hop performers. It's called YouTube OnTheRise Rap Edition. And the company has enlisted hip-hop fave 50 Cent to promote the series.

(Soundbite of YouTube OnTheRise Rap Edition intro)

50 CENT (Rapper): Hello, this is 50 Cent. This is YouTube rap contest. Submit one original music video, original beats, original lyrics. (Unintelligible) MCs. If you have skills, determination, (unintelligible) telling you you're really ready, you can win all you need to win right here, right now.

CHIDEYA: Jeben Berg is a programming spokesperson for YouTube. Welcome.

Mr. JEBEN BERG (Spokesperson, YouTube): Welcome. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: So did you ever watch that MC Rove clip? Is this really what we're looking for more of?

Mr. BERG: No. No. Not at all. We're looking for aspiring MCs.

CHIDEYA: So what, you know, if you were going to coach me, what would you say I should do to make the cut?

Mr. BERG: You know, the most important - I mean, 50 Cent just said it right there - the most important thing is originality - original lyrics, original beats. Demonstrate, you know, some unique skill set that you have with it, and bring it. You know, this is a peer contest so your peers are reviewing it. So basically, show and prove. And this is certainly an opportunity to do that.

CHIDEYA: So what kind of people are actually submitting entries in terms of age, race, region, any of that stuff?

Mr. BERG: Well, you know, I couldn't speak to region right now, but, you know, we have received, you know, roughly about a thousand submissions so far. Of those, I would say that there are several hundreds that are absolutely serious aspiring MCs. There are certainly, you know, kind of the parodies that always come along with YouTube. But right now, we are seeing some extremely high quality submissions.

CHIDEYA: So what about content? And what I mean by that is that YouTube is fairly open platform. It's been open as well to people using it for questionable language and imagery. And hip-hop is actually, you know, as you know, no stranger to controversies over words, lyrics, imagery. Do you have any kind of screening process? What do you look for that you say this just can't be online?

Mr. BERG: Okay. So well, you know, YouTube has a very well defined, in terms of youth policy. Every submission that we're getting is coming from an account that someone has to setup on YouTube, and they have to follow our sender terms of use, which can be pretty wide. But really, what we're looking for is, you know, it's just creativity. And we're certainly not looking to bridle any of that. You know, we want people to, you know, to say and to speak in a language that they express themselves in. So you know, we're not looking to censor any of it, you know? But, of course, you know, there are certain ways that people can be creative, at the same time, without being offensive.

CHIDEYA: Why do you think YouTube has so much traction in things like the presidential debates, which, I think, were surprising to a lot of people?

Mr. BERG: Well, right now, I think it's very important to note that, you know, we approach every one of these programs from the concept that we have an enormous community and an enormous audience. And if we provide programming that help facilitate more video submissions specific to those types of programs, be it the debates or be it, you know, going genre-specific with the music like we've done here, you know, it's self-perpetuating in many ways.

CHIDEYA: So what do you have ahead? What's your next big project?

Mr. BERG: We're certainly going to continue with the OnTheRise program. It's going to take many interations over 2008, specifically. We're also looking at a number of other types of programs. We'll have one that we'll launch in October that will be a call for submissions for short films. And we'll be enlisting the help of some industry trade experts to help us judge those, to help us develop a criteria to look at them. And we're also going beyond that. We've got some pretty massive global programs that we're looking at right now that - they're going to be pretty sensational, we think.

CHIDEYA: All right. Well, since we've been talking a little bit about music, we're going to go out of this segment with perhaps YouTube's first music hit. It's not exactly hip-hop.

(Soundbite of song, "Chocolate Rain")

Mr. TAY ZONDAY: (Singing) Chocolate Rain. Some stay dry and others feel the paint. Chocolate rain.

CHIDEYA: So Jeben, you know, "Chocolate Rain", what can you say? Covered again and again. Thank you so much.

Mr. BERG: You're welcome.

CHIDEYA: Jeben Berg is a programming spokesperson for YouTube. The winner of the YouTube OnTheRise Rap Edition will be announced September 7th.

(Soundbite of song "Chocolate Rain")

Mr. ZONDAY: (Singing) Builds a tent and say the world is dry. Chocolate rain. Zoom the camera out...

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