Say Cheese, Mr. Trick

On the set with Miami's hip-hop big shot

"You should start at the beginning .... Kierkegaard said, “Every duty is essentially duty to God.'"

"Nigga be a leader, not a follower."

"What?"

"Master P said that."

"You still listen to rap?"

"Why?"

"It's just all about marketing now."

-- Matt "Big Pussy, Jr.," Bompensiero to Anthony Soprano, Jr., The Sopranos

The difference between working with hip-hop stars and fashion models is pretty simple. South Beach photographer's assistant Susan Egan, a veteran of magazine shoots for both, breaks it down. "The models never have a lot of food, just light salads. But they're on time," she quips. "Hip-hop guys are two to five hours late, and they always arrive with a posse. But the food's great, and there's plenty of it."

At the end of the day, though, the results are the same: a set of dramatic shots that will help sell a product. The commodity that currently has Egan readying the fog machines inside downtown's Park West studio is Trick Daddy, which complicates the formula a bit. After all, Trick -- Miami's premier rap star of the moment -- isn't a piece of jewelry or an expensive pair of shoes. He's flesh and blood. And unlike a model, or even a Hollywood actor, the persona he's carefully fashioned on his albums isn't a role, a character study to be sloughed off with the next job. At least that's what Trick Daddy himself says, or rather grunts dismissively at Kulchur's questions. Right now he's got weightier matters than getting philosophical with some notebook-toting white boy. He's about to become the cover star for the next issue of the Source.

Strapped in behind the wheel of a twenty-foot-long dragster, Trick is throwing his trademark gold-toothed scowl at the camera. Hot lights shine down as flashbulbs pop. Thick fog begins pouring out from behind the car, but even photographer Jerome Albertini can tell it's more than the heat and smoke that's got Trick on edge.

"You wanna hear something else?" Albertini asks in his thick French accent as the chilled-out jazzy shuffle of an A Tribe Called Quest CD plays loudly in the air. Trick nods his head in the direction of the music: "I don't know whatthat is."

One of Trick's friends heads for the CD player, and soon the raw staccato beats of Trick's own www.thug.comalbum are booming out: "I'm doin' this one for the thugs/and the niggers on the corner selling drugs." Immediately Trick relaxes and begins mouthing the words to his lyrics. Although the shift is subtle -- he never stops grimacing on cue -- the entire crew can sense that things have just fallen into place.


There's a new problem on the set. A team from Channel 7's Deco Drive is here to shoot what should be a simple two minutes of fluff: Hometown rapper makes good. Trick Daddy has a distribution deal through major label Atlantic, and as his imminent appearance on the front of the Sourcewould seem to indicate, his new album, Thugs Are Us, is about to move him from "bubbling under" to the center of the hip-hop world, the first Miami rapper to do so since the heyday of Luther Campbell and 2 Live Crew more than a decade ago.

Deco Drive's Odette Burton takes Source fashion editor Liza Montoya aside and asks why the magazine is spotlighting Trick Daddy. It's meant as a softball question, and Burton looks perplexed as Montoya moves off for a huddled conference with David Curcurito, the publication's creative director and the orchestrator of today's shoot. Curcurito immediately whips out his cell phone and dials up the Source's editor in chief, Carlito Rodriguez, in New York City, who begins delivering a precise spiel. Curcurito then carefully relays some choice phrases back to Montoya: "represent the Dirty South"; "address the previous lack of attention to Miami"; "Trick Daddy is going to be big."

None of these lines seems controversial, the kind of PR spin requiring an emergency strategy session. But the Source isn't just another music magazine. In the world of hip-hop, it matters. Sure, its sales figures are impressive enough (with 450,000 copies sold each month, it's number four behind Rolling Stone, Spin, and Vibe; in terms of newsstand sales, it's number one), but the magazine's influence travels far beyond advertising concerns. Not only rap fans but rappers themselves read the Source with the utmost seriousness; remarks that may be offhand to some can produce dramatic consequences. Artists such as the Notorious B.I.G. and LL Cool J have written hit songs that proudly cite their glowing reviews in the magazine, while rumors fly of rappers who've made veiled threats to Sourcewriters over negative pieces.

Other hip-hop publications apparently have seen actual violence. In November 1998 then-Vibeeditor Danyel Smith accused rapper Foxy Brown of assaulting her in anger over a less than flattering cover pose. That same month Jesse Washington, editor of the now-defunct Blaze, charged Puff Daddy producer Deric Angelettie with barging into his office. Apparently upset over Blaze's unveiling of the shadowy identity behind his Madd Rapper project, Angelettie and two accomplices allegedly beat him with his own chair. That came on the heels of an August 1998 incident in which Wyclef Jean reportedly pulled a gun on Washington over a critical review.

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