By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
"The stars are wearing millions of dollars of diamonds," comments Level nightclub owner Gerry Kelly, in a cadence as slinky as a catwalk. "The last time Sean Puffy Combs was in, he had $3.5 million worth of diamonds around his neck." When asked who among the celebs frequenting the club of late have appealed to the proprietor, the first A-list names to spring from Kelly's lips remain classic Hollywood glamour gals Lauren Hutton and Faye Dunaway. Still he gamely acknowledges a new standard for glamour, adding, "Queen Latifah is an absolute sweetheart, and Eve is a lot of fun." So what if today's sirens are more eager to compete for the title of "the baddest bitch" than to inspire The Seven Year Itch -- diamonds are still a club owner's best friend. "Hip-hop music is a trend right now, and we have to appreciate it with open arms," Kelly explains. "It's a very affluent crowd."
Let those in badges and standard-issue blue worry about crowd control this weekend. The real issue raised by the official after-parties that begin at Level tonight for the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards is style. "Their fashion sense is more laid-back," observes Kelly of the hip-hop elite. "It's not couture, but it's as expensive as couture." Anticipating the equally expensive thirst of the Hilfiger, Girbaud, and FUBU brigade, Level has stocked the bar with a quadruple order of Cristaland Dom Perignon champagne. Kelly says, "It's going to be celebrity central."
All four of the official parties will be hosted by U.S. Army supplier (think bomber jackets)-turned-streetwear innovator Avirex. Each night a different hip-hop heavyweight label will drop beats for the urban trendsetters: Thursday it's Loud Records; Friday it's Slip 'N Slide; Sunday it's So Def; and Monday it's Def Jam. Source promotions director Rob Weinstein says the magazine partnered with Level because the club is well-known, centrally located, and "can accommodate thousands of consumers." Since the Source Awards ceremony is an invitation-only affair, the after-parties are the only opportunity hip-hop wannabes will have to make like a diamond in the sky.The Source selected Miami Beach for its annual awards show because the tiny island is the preferred destination for a player's holiday, but the heat of the awards spotlight has Slip 'N Slide Records working overtime. "It's already happening," says stressed but efficient general office manager Debbie Bennet as she directs traffic through the local label's four-room suite in Miami Gardens ten days before the event. Both of the labels' best-selling artists have been nominated for awards: Trick Daddyis up for Live Performer of the Year while Trina makes a play for New Artist of the Year. The Slip 'N Slide showcase at Level will use Trick and Trina to draw a crowd for up-and-coming labelmates like the rap collective Iconz, R&B crooner J. Shin, and the teen thug outfit Unda Presha.
Representing Miami Northwestern High School's classes of 2001 and 2003, the newest additions to Ted Lucas's roster hint at whether Slip 'N Slide will be remembered as a fleeting success story or a full-blown Miami hip-hop machine. The six rappers who will open the Friday-night show are the first generation to follow Trick and Trina in a bid for nationwide fame. "Trick and Trina opened the gates for us," says Souljah Boi, at age seventeen one of the group elders as well as the coproducer of the debut album scheduled for release in October. The supreme thug had an influence on the local scene well before he had gold records to match his gold teeth. "Trick was the man down here, regardless, even before he blew up," adds Souljah.
Souljah Boi and fellow rappers are sitting in Lucas's office, screening the video to their first single, a candy-coated New Edition-gets-beat-up-by-Tupac-in-Liberty City party tune called "Girls Be Lovin' This." Soon to be in rotation on BET, the video tells the tale of unsupervised prep-school boys who get wild at their parents' SoBe mansion. Although shot at Miami Northwestern, the video upgrades the public school by dressing the youngsters in starched uniforms that are hastily thrown off when the bell rings and exchanged for smart streetwear, even as guest rapper CO from Tre+6 assures a young lady: "I know you want a sugar daddy/But I ain't that guy." Born and bred in Brownsville, the youngsters don't feel they are leaving the old neighborhood behind. As far as Unda Presha rapper J-3 is concerned, clothes and fancy homes don't make or unmake the man. "With us it's gonna forever be hood," he declares. "The hood is what made us, before anybody listen to us, before it was even a Slip 'N Slide."
THE SOURCE HIP-HOP MUSIC AWARDS AFTER-PARTIES:
Thursday, August 16
Friday, August 17
Sunday, August 19
Monday, August 20