reality television hits the hood

Last night, at a neighborhood association meeting, I ran into Steve Pierce. After exchanging a few pleasantries, he asked me whether or not I’d seen the evening news on WDIV (channel 4 Detroit) the night before. I told him that I hadn’t, and he proceeded to tell me about a piece that had run about a fellow calling himself Flip Wilson who sells videos of local rappers and drug dealers bragging about their big scores, showing their guns, flashing gang signs and all the other stereotypical stuff you’d expect. Apparently, not only had the fellow shot a good deal of footage in Ypsi, but among those profiled was David Ware, the drug dealer shot to death in Ypsilanti a few weeks ago.

After searching for it a while last night with no success, I sent an email to WDIV and requested they put the segment online. Well, today they wrote back, saying that they’d be happy to. I’d bribed them a bit by saying that I could deliver a hundred or so viewers, but it was still very cool of them to do it. (To see the segment, just follow the first link in the post.)

In his defense, the producer of series, when interviewed by Channel 4, said that 98% of the content was fictional. Our County Sheriff, interviewed for the same report, however, was a little dubious of the claim. He thinks those individuals featured are, by and large, criminals, and, in fact, he’s been using the video to identify people that need to be brought in for questioning. Apparently, several have already been arrested, and, as we all know, at least one has been killed.

I haven’t verified it yet, but I’m told by Steve that the producer (I can’t bring myself to call him Flip Wilson) does his business from an Ypsi PO Box. As the WDIV folks point out in the piece, it doesn’t appear as though he’s breaking any laws by documenting what he has. While I don’t think that “Unsigned 2” is somethng that I’d buy (even thought I’m curious to hear what David Ware has to say), I don’t know that it’s something that should be discouraged. I think it’s important that things like this are documented for the historic record. (I wonder if the Ypsi Historical Society has a copy in their archives.) It’s just too bad that impressionable young people are going to see it… The good news, at least from that perspective, is that there may not be sequels, at least not if word gets out that being featured gets you a visit by police. But maybe the lure of fame makes it worth the risk. Who the fuck knows what motives people in today’s world.

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  1. Anonymous
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 12:47 am | Permalink

    Hey Mark,

    Here is what I know. The name of the production company is Midwest Entertainment Live. He really does go by the name of Flip Wilson.

    Midwest Entertainment
    P.O. Box 980139
    Ypsilanti Mi, 48198

    On the MWE website they have some vids but they are slow to play. Flip also has a Myspace page at Three videos are posted there and can also be easily found at

    Watching the videos you can see their office which looks like a building on Michigan Ave or Ecorse. Someone watching the videos will probably recognize the building.

    Another company that says they have done some magazine work for MWE is

    There is the usual references to Y-town, Southside and ID’ing local gangs. The DVD “indited” has lots of local sites including Ypsilanti Housing Commission Public Housing sites on Armstrong and Paradise Manor. As well as Parkview Apartments which the Ypsilanti Housing Commission wants to take over and the city Council approved the takeover in Jan 2007. (I wonder if the mayor knows that YHC and public housing figures so prominently in the drug and music culture here in SE Michigan)

    BTW one production company that I found has offices in Albuquerque and Ypsilanti. Weird coincidence.

    MWE isn’t the only one producing Urban vids, many of them are produced by companies that are located here in Ypsilanti, use Ypsi PO Boxes, or are about local folks including Ypsilanti gangs and public housing. Ypsi is well known in this business and saying you have an Ypsi address is like saying you are from Compton out west. It gives your production company credibility.

    PO Boxes are cheap in Ypsi and the post office even has a service that for $10.40 a week will priority mail your mail to any other address in the country. Outside of a court order, the Post Office will not disclose the forwarding address.

    Most of these Urban web sites can’t be found with Google or Yahoo. However, Myspace is a huge source for this and other local media and music. As well as links to other groups, businesses, gangs, music and DVD’s, DJ’s, mix tapes, website and business card development, DVD packaging and production, you can also find out about local events including events at ‘closed’ buildings around the area.

    The money is big. I have visited a number of these business and talked with owners over the last couple of years. Most keep a low profile, you don’t even know they are there. By my estimate, these companies, not just MWE but all of these urban media companies in the Ypsi area are generating $2 to $3 million a year in sales. That is a conservative number it is likely bigger. Sales will likely be $5 to 10 million within the next two years.

    This doesn’t include clothing and music sales which is also a multi-million dollar a year business in Ypsilanti. Combined, Urban retail and media production is likely ranked fourth in revenue in Ypsilanti behind manufacturing, entertainment(restaurant and bars), and tourism. Urban revenue will likely pass up tourism in sales by 2010.

    FYI, on the MWE website there is a music loop for the company. Even after you shut it off, it will turn itself back on in a couple of minutes.

    Also one correction, it wasn’t the local police Chief, it was the County Sheriff, Dan Minzey, that was interviewed by WDIV.


    – Steve

  2. trusty getto
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 7:43 am | Permalink

    Oh great . . . You’ve exposed the REAL reason I moved to Ypsi. Livonia just didn’t have the street cred I was looking for . . .

  3. ol' e cross
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    So should these companies be paying pp tax to the city?

    Vividis is listed at 412 Ferris but I can’t find anything on them or MWELive on the city’s tax rolls?

    Anyone know how that works?

  4. actualwolf
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    According to, there are two entries for “Midwest Entertainment” registered with the Washtenaw County Clerk.

    Aside from dates and file numbers they’re identical.

    The owner is listed as a Martillo Kewon Palmer at an address in Ypsi Township, southeast side. The property is in Palmer’s name, as is the domain name for Martillo and an Umika of the same last name also appear to other properties in YT. Zabasearch also lists Palmer at an address in Westland.

    The only Google hit is about a parking ticket in Ann Arbor.

    Curiously enough, Midwest Entertainment seems to have a second myspace profile.

    It lists Palmer and a Tommy Nichol as contacts.

    I wonder which is “Flip Wilson?”

  5. t.d. glass
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 12:37 pm | Permalink

    Granted, this isn’t my scene, but I can’t imagine that having an Ypsi address for such an enterprise would give it any more street cred than a Detroit address would. I can see how having an Ann Arbor address might be a bad thing for a company like this, but that’s the only reason I can think of for someone to come from outside of Ypsi to open a postal account here.

    And let’s not start talking about Ypsi being like Compton. It isn’t; and the last thing we need is for people in our region to start having that as their perception.

  6. vera
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    The video entitled, “Live from the Block” was shot in Superior Twp. Those buildings are on MacArthur Blvd in the housing complex that’s known as “The Green”. Back when I lived in the area (80’s) they were owned by HUD. I’m not sure if that’s true today. That party store is across from the Fire station on Mac Arthur and Harris.

  7. egpenet
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    If it’s not property tax … perhaps it’s income taxes on $5-$10 million that the city is counting on to bail them out.

  8. mark
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the links, and the correction, Steve. I’ll change my post to reflect that it was our County Sheriff.

  9. mark
    Posted March 2, 2007 at 10:07 pm | Permalink

    The money is big. I have visited a number of these business and talked with owners over the last couple of years. Most keep a low profile, you don’t even know they are there. By my estimate, these companies, not just MWE but all of these urban media companies in the Ypsi area are generating $2 to $3 million a year in sales. That is a conservative number it is likely bigger. Sales will likely be $5 to 10 million within the next two years.

    Steve, if you don’t mind my asking, I’m wondering what you’re basing that $2 to $3 million figure on. Is that based on your conversations with the producers (i.e. did you see palates of DVDs moving through a warehouse), or is it just a guess, based on an assumption that they could sell x number of units? If it’s true that we have “a number”? of these businesses here, each making several million dollars, what’s being done to see that they’re compliant with our tax codes? Has someone in the prosecutor’s office been formally alerted to this?

    Personally, I don’t think their revenues are anywhere near that, but I really don’t know the urban entertainment market. Their “Live and Unsigned” DVD sells for $15 on the Midwest Entertainment site. They’d need to sell 200,000 copies to take in $3 million. And, my guess is that if they were selling that many, they wouldn’t be handling their online sales through Paypal. (Paypal takes a fairly big cut.) The guy did have a nice van in the Channel 4 piece, and, from what people have mentioned to me, it sounds like he might have an office and an employee or two, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s raking in millions. I’m guessing, maybe, at the very most, they make a few hundred thousand a year on this. But, like I said, I could be way off. This stuff might be bigger than “Girls Gone Wild” and I just don’t know it.

    Thank you all for your comments.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted March 3, 2007 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    Mark, I didn’t say MWE was making millions. I don’t know the guy, never met him. But there are a number of other businesses that serve the urban market.

    The way to estimate revenue is what other economic development folks do. You ask. Then you confirm what you can. Talk to vendors and suppliers, talk to employees, look at rents, and many more techniques to see if the numbers reported make sense. Adjust your estimete were warranted and then cut the thing in half in order to make a conservative estimate on possible revenue.

    If you are correct about MWE making a few hundred thosand, remember there are probably 10 to 20 companies in Ypsi just like MWE doing similar things. Then look at all the other ralated business, clothes, art, hair, cars, music, electronics, and the revenue number is very defensible and also a very conservative estimate.

    It is not bigger than Girls Gone Wild, I believe GGW measures their money in the hundreds of millions.


    – Steve

  11. Alicia P
    Posted June 13, 2007 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    Yall muthfuckas is some haterz so what the man is making a fuckin living by videotapin shit he see and sellin it i dont see no crime in that and washtenaw county excuse me washaway county dont want the black man to have shit. Thats why David is dead now he turned to run and ya muthafuckas shot him so who was in real danger!! A black person makes a video about the hood and yall boo him a white person makes basically porn DVD’s GIRLS Gone wild which promotes sex for young girls and its okay !!! Thats a bunch of bullshit!!!!

  12. dr. teddy glass
    Posted June 13, 2007 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    If you took some time to look around the site before posting your comment, you’d know that Joe Francis, the guy behind the “Girls Gone Wild” videos, does get talked about here quite frequently, and it’s all negative.

  13. egpenet
    Posted June 13, 2007 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    Living for the moment has its risks. On the streeeets or on a beach in Florida … you can end up doing something stupid, looking stupid with your butt in the air or your breasts on a video … or you can end up dead. When any concern for consequences goes out the window … whoa! Either it all goes down … or next thing you know the man is at the door. It’s either stacks of money in the basement freezer or its your ass in the cooler. It’s definitely a groove … but it sucks big time. Ask David next time you see him.

  14. Internat'l Citizen
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 11:39 am | Permalink

    It seem as though everything that a certain group of people do, is of major importance to mainstream Americans. What these people do and how they do it does not effect you directly. But if it has anything to do with the fact that “Flip” Wilson is making an estimated amount of MONEY, then you guys are very wrong for trying to throw salt all over his thing (even if it is an illegit hustle). However, to a certain degree, you do seem to care about the lives of all of the poor African Americans who reside on the south side of Ypsi. And if you really do care then get involved directly and effect their lives in a positive way. Why go after one person who is only exposing the economic depression in America and it’s resutls? You’ve even gone so far as to check out this person’s tax status. Who’s exposing the dirt now? So what if he is making some money! That will be one less African American male who you won’t have to worry about breaking into your house to steal. If these people are making money in their own neighbor hoods (Which You Don’t Live In) then what is it to you? You don’t live in Ypsi’s public housing projects! So, why are you so concerned? What’s it to you anyway?


  15. egpenet
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    Choosing a “street family” is often not the first choice … or any real choice. It just happens.

    Breaking out from the streets … it’s like, why? Fast pace, money, drugs, clothes, cars, parties. Hardest thing is actually surviving on the strets into your forties or fifties with various half-kids and half-cousins and simply being too old for this s–t.

    Do people care about folks stuck in the streets … no … unless the DEA busts somebody in their neighborhood parking lot. Then, the screaming starts.

    Society (everybody who pays taxes) pays a LOT of money to provide social services, public housing assistance and a LOT of other counseling and health services to folks in need of all shapes, colors and persuasions.

    Yah, we DO care, a LOT. But if you don’t care about yourself. Fact is, those who are complaining about being continually punished are punishing themselves. And, if you are stuck singing about how you are STILL a victim … if you prefer your gan tubes and birds … and your “baby nine” … compared to a nine-to-five … you are on your own.

    If you want out … the door is NOT locked. In fact, there IS no door.

  16. Robert
    Posted June 29, 2007 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

    What the hell is a “gan tube,” and what “birds” are you talking about?

    Egpenet, you one crazy talkin muthafucka.

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