Say Cheese, Mr. Trick

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

Difficult to imagine, say, Don Henley winging a chair at Rolling Stone's Jann Wenner over a nasty concert notice, or Paul Simon reaching for his pistol if an Esquire shutterbug highlighted his bald spot. But then, unlike rockers, hip-hoppers spend little time worrying about the art-versus-commerce debate. They simply view them as inseparable. Nirvana's Kurt Cobain may have agonized over his platinum sales awards and Top 40 radio play -- and whether they delegitimized his muse -- but for most rappers the marketplace is the only arbiter that counts. Which is precisely what makes hip-hop journalism so problematic. Negative reviews, no matter how thoughtful or nuanced, are seen as both personal attacks and economic sabotage. And as the shooting deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. seem to demonstrate, sticks and stones may break one's bones, but words are worth killing over.

"This isn't fashion," Montoya says of her job as fashion editor. With a laugh she continues, "You can do a lot more styling with Britney Spears, but it's all a façade. It comes out of thin air. Hip-hop guys have a history. Their images are generally their own; that's who they are." Or at least who they want to be. Montoya recalls one cover shoot with a well-known California rapper. The layout, previously agreed to by the rapper's management, featured an elaborate James Bond-style motif. When it actually came time to snap the pictures, however, the rapper balked at such imagery and walked off the set. At the last minute he had decided his fans would never accept such a glamorous remodeling of his persona. "We had to flush a $2000 helicopter rental," Montoya sighs.

That's the business of hip-hop, by turns either comical or tragic. Yet Ted Lucas, president of Trick Daddy's Slip 'N Slide label, explains just what's at stake: "If you walk down to the Dade County Justice Center and look at all the attorneys in there, how many are black? Five?" He fixes his eyes firmly on Kulchur and asks sharply: "How many black people get the chance to go to law school? [Hip-hop] is an opportunity for black people to make it."

Trick Daddy makes a new friend during his Source cover shoot
Courtesy of The Source
Trick Daddy makes a new friend during his Source cover shoot

Hip-hop may never move past its uneasy relationship with the pop marketplace -- at least as long as its practitioners remain socially marginalized. But it's that very frisson that gives the music its sense of excitement and cultural relevancy, as opposed to modern-day rock and roll. At the very least that tension provides for some awfully entertaining moments.

During a lull in the Source photo shoot, Odette Burton finally attempts her on-camera interview with Trick Daddy. Stripped down to a wife-beater and low-slung pants drooping off his Polo underwear, Trick strikes a pose far removed from Deco Drive's usual rotation of halter tops and haute couture.

"My music represents everything I stand for, because God loves thugs too," Trick drawls, his eyes darting down to the large diamond-studded cross hanging on a long chain around his neck. "My first album was about my problems growing up as a shorty. My new album is about how times are changing."

Burton is still fishing for a pithy sound bite and asks him to elaborate on these ever-changing times. "These days if you get sentenced, you'll never get out," Trick stresses, warming to the subject. Burton manages to maintain her smile as Trick grows impassioned, decrying the mandatory minimum-sentencing laws for drug-related offenses with a telling dip into legalese. Heady stuff, but the details of Trick's own incarceration for cocaine trafficking aren't exactly Deco Drive material. Perhaps sensing Burton's growing exasperation, Trick abruptly shifts gear. He raps one of his verses a cappella, stopping short when he reaches an obscenity. "I can't say that on TV," he laughs. "They can take me out of the ghetto, but they can't take the ghetto out of me."

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