Ghetto Glorious

How three inner-city kids turned tragedy into a soon-to-be platinum hip-hop hit

If it wasn't for the Hennessy,
and thug livin' from my enemy,
my brotha' still be alive and a part of me.
So I say a prayer for that player,
and I tote my fire everywhere.
... That's how we livin' though,
dead and gone before we 24....

-- from "For the Thugs"

The success of his album means Trick is constantly on the road. He recently headed to Kansas City for a concert
Michael Marko
The success of his album means Trick is constantly on the road. He recently headed to Kansas City for a concert
Back in the day: Trick's mug from an early arrest
Back in the day: Trick's mug from an early arrest

Trick, Trina, and Ted owe their friendship to Trick's older half-brother, Derek Harris, better known as Hollywood. Until he was killed five years ago, Hollywood was a street-savvy heartbreaker, a handsome man of medium height with beautiful eyes. Trina dated him for about two years, starting when she was a senior at Miami Northwestern High School. "He was a nice person," Trina says, "a quiet person."

Trina's mother Vernesa Taylor is more effusive. "Oh, he was a sweetheart. He'd give you the shirt off his back. He was adorable, the sweetest guy. Just very caring."

"Hollywood, he was the type of person he would give you his heart," Lucas says. "Everybody knew that Hollywood was more the type of person that would help you than hurt you."

On the night of June 22, 1994, Hollywood sat in the front seat of a parked Buick on NW 25th Avenue and 152nd Street with his friend Walter Betterson. Some time after midnight, a gunman wielding an AR-15 assault rifle emptied a clip through the windshield, killing both men. Hollywood was 23 years old at the time. Because police are still investigating the shooting, few details are available. Even Trick is still in the dark. "I don't really know what happened that night," he says. Police suspect the case may be linked to several homicides committed by members of the Booby Boys drug gang.

His death became a shared epiphany for the three friends.

"That shit done tore me up; I loved him more than anything," recounts Trick, who was still serving time for cocaine trafficking. "A lot of people had to open they eyes after that. Me too. I was like, 'I'm a grown man, I can't be doing this shit no more.'" Trick vowed that when he left prison, he would not return.

"[Hollywood's murder] was definitely a wake-up call," remembers Lucas, who was limping back to financial equilibrium after a bold but flawed plan to promote a Miami Arena concert.

Trina was nothing more than a schoolgirl whose future plans included a vague notion of someday becoming a hairdresser. Her boyfriend's murder delivered a new awareness of her world's danger. "I was young and that had a big impact on me," she recalls. "Nothing like that had happened to me before. I mean you're close to someone today, and tomorrow they're gone."

The experience filtered into Trick's music: He frequently mentions Hollywood in songs. But as with much street rap, while Trick may lament his losses, he never criticizes or rails against the violence that claimed his brother's life. Such stoicism is characteristic of the music that is alternately called "thug rap" or "street rap."

Since Lucas founded Slip 'N Slide records in early 1993, its eleven employees have stayed close to the streets. Thug culture permeates the record label's offices. Lucas, a devout Baptist who regularly praises Jesus for his company's success, keeps two live .45-caliber bullets on his desk "just to let 'em know I mean business."

To keep that connection fresh, Lucas assembled the Red Eye Street Team, a kind of reconnaissance group of young men who prowl the hip-hop scene at night, going to clubs and neighborhood hangouts to scout talent and stay in touch with the community's musical tastes.

Trick's prison-filled past gives him credibility among rap fans. And he's not the only Slip 'N Slide artist with such a pedigree. Rapper Buddy Roe, real name Marlon Hanna, aborted his first album midproduction in 1997 after pleading guilty to drug trafficking charges in federal court.

A third South Florida rapper has achieved popularity recently. JT Money, Miami born and bred, made it to number one on the Billboard charts this past April with his latest single "Who Dat?" from his album Pimpin on Wax. He moved to Atlanta several years ago to be closer to that city's bustling hip-hop industry, but he still claims Miami roots. Trick and Money know each other well. Both say their current success is good for the hometown. "Yeah, Trick my homeboy, he tight. I think he complements what I do," Money said in a brief phone interview from Atlanta while heading to the airport. "This is all for the home team."

"He my dog. We represent the crib," Trick agrees. "JT was on my first CD." There's no fear that Trick will leave for the glitter of other cities, though. At least for now, MIA, as he calls Miami in his songs, has seduced him with its beauty and danger. "I can't go nowhere else. They got laws in other cities where you can't buy liquor on Sundays. And then it be cold in most other cities."

This is the first time Miami artists have reached the zenith of the hip-hop scene since 2 Live Crew outraged the nation with its booty-shaking music a decade ago. But make no mistake, Trick Daddy is no booty shaker. He doesn't even consider himself a purveyor of rap. "I ain't no rapper. Rappers do that gay shit," he mocks. "They talk about all their jewelry, money. They talk about shit they don't do, or say don't do stuff that they do." His music, on the other hand, is truthful, he claims, 90 percent autobiographical. (The title of his first album is Based on a True Story.) Yet sometimes his brand of truth is a hard sell.

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