South Beach as Thug Central

Will Puffy, Pink, and Cash Money Crew replace Versace, Madonna, and Ingrid Casares?

Hip-hop's history on the Beach has always been controversial. Luther Campbell still complains that it was official resistance to a black-owned club -- Luke's on the Beach, which he opened on Fifth Street in the early Nineties -- that shut down his place. And the hip-hop business conference "How Can I Be Down?" had to take a three-year hiatus after the Beach's city manager complained of the fights, littering, and vandalism that dogged the event in 1996.

Ted Lucas, president of the Miami-based rap and R&B label Slip 'N Slide Records, home to Trick Daddy and Trina, is candid about all this. "All that rowdiness came in with the young black males. I ain't gonna lie to you. Things happened at Woodstock [1999] too. They tore all kinds of stuff up there. It ain't just black youth. But look how much money it brought in! I know people who were paying $6000 to rent an apartment! All the hotels were sold out. I just think we need to be prepared for it better. Just try to keep control of things. This is great for the city, and it's great for Miami to be known for this."

His point is, that along with the troublemakers, there was an equal number of well-behaved, MasterCard-toting folks down here to relax and have fun.

Some of the turbulence falls on the clubs themselves. "We were well prepared for the events we had knowledge of," says Miami Beach Police Department spokesman Al Boza. "But there were events we had no idea about. This happened at places like Club Level and others, where they may have sold tickets well in excess of their capacity." Level has a 2000-person capacity, and there were at least 3000 hip-hoppers outside. And these would-be patrons, unable to get into other clubs for which they had tickets, understandably were upset.

But Gerry Kelly flings it right back at the cops: "The biggest problem was the police and street control," he observes. "There were no barricades the first two nights, so crowds outside the clubs blocked traffic. I believe we owe more respect to the tourists that come down here to spend their money."

Indeed Washington Avenue's Level closed Saturday night when the crowd outside its door became unruly, a bouncer was slashed by a knife, and police had to move in to control things. A few blocks away, the Living Room, which hosted parties for Jay-Z and R. Kelly, had to be shut down Sunday when the mob clamoring to get in swelled to 4000 and spilled into the street, according to Shawn Lewis. "The city wasn't prepared, and all the signs were there that it was going to be a very big weekend. All the hotels were booked up. I'm not happy about how things turned out at all," Lewis says. "Remember, I live here too."

Some locals in the music scene knew better. Both Luther Campbell and Slip 'N Slide's Lucas held their events on Virginia Key, away from the maelstrom.

So why did all this break now? It's no mistake that the only comparison people seem to be making regarding the weekend's events is with the 1999 Super Bowl game between the white-bread Denver Broncos, and the funky and largely black Atlanta Falcons and their fans. That weekend turned into an impromptu hip-hop festival as well. More recently many rappers have been coming to Miami to record and shoot videos and actually get work done. "A lot of people are recording [here] to escape the hustle and bustle of New York," XXL's Elliott Wilson says. Jay-Z and Sisqó shot videos down here, while DMX and the Cash Money Crew are recording in Miami studios. Don't expect the Beach's allure to fade anytime soon, Wilson adds. "It's definitely a hot trend right now."

Then, of course, there is the perennial reason why the Beach, and South Florida in general, remains popular: the overt sexuality. As Lucas says, "In Miami you get what you can get in Jamaica or Mexico, and you don't need your passport. The beaches, the girls. There's nowhere like Miami." What adds to the attraction is that South Beach is no black ghetto. The races -- Latin, white, black -- mingle here in a uniquely sensual stew. And perhaps middle-class hip-hoppers enjoy the frightened looks they get from upper-middle-class Latins and whites, who mistakenly think they're seeing real gangstas swelling the former Euro-glam playground.

Some escaped the weekend unscathed. Ken Smith, co-owner of crobar, claims he had no idea what was coming and luckily "misbooked." "I had my normal programming," he says. "I had my gay night Sunday, like always." Needless to say it wasn't a big draw for the homies. Consequently the club was not bum-rushed.

The risk is that any event with a predominantly black audience could now be tainted by that weekend. Many locals were warily awaiting the Soul Beach Music Festival that began May 31 at the Miami Arena and featured performers such as Erykah Badu, despite those concerts attracting a more mature audience.

The comedian Sinbad, scheduled to perform at Soul Beach, arrived in town just as the Memorial Day partiers were leaving. He cut the kids a lot of slack. "Look what our parents were saying about us back in the Seventies," he commented. "The hip-hoppers are just the new version of that. Still, it's not a God-given right to go out and create havoc." In fact Sinbad couldn't check into his South Beach hotel room when he first got here. "It was trashed," he noted.

Staff Writers Juan Carlos Rodriguez and Susan Eastman contributed to this story.

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