By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
By late Saturday evening it was clear Hurricane Hip-Hop had been downgraded to a tropical depression at best. While the Miami Beach and county police departments had been on high alert -- with war rooms set up and riot control in place -- the huge, mostly black invasion, still fresh in the mostly white Beach minds from Memorial Day, had failed to materialize. Even the parties, hyped with promises of lots of stars and even more gold and green, were turning out to be lower velocity. Not that rumors and hyperbole hadn't been blowing. Suge Knight, just out of prison, would churn up the East Coast-West Coast rivalry when he reintroduced his Death Row Records, now called Tha Row, here in Miami. He called a local radio station from L.A. on Friday night and had dis to say about his sometime rival P. Diddy and old colleague Snoop Doggy Dogg. Luther Campbell, Miami's original booty rapper, was feeling a little dissed himself, claiming the Source Hip-Hop Music Awards were not giving him his due as a rap leader and he would boycott the awards. Hotel elevators would be guarded, streets would be cleared of cruisers, the Fruit of Islam would be keeping order.
But then MIA showed some love, and got it in return. There was the obligatory boasting onstage and off (how many number-one thug-life gangsta rappers are there anyhow?), but there was also a mellower edge. The message delivered from this hip-hop nation to overprepared Miami Beach might have been articulated across a scanty tank top stretched to its limits by a pair of bold, black breasts: Make Love, Not War.
10:00 p.m. Friday: Inklings that all is very very quiet on Miami-Dade's far eastern front. About 50 bright yellow shirts straggle into the sweaty Tenth Street Auditorium on Ocean Drive for the changing of the Goodwill Ambassador guard. The brainchild of the U.S. Department of Justice, the team of about 100 volunteer city and county employees is charged with answering questions and mediating between the police and the civilians out on the street. The first shift finished without incident, and the second group is gearing up for six hours on the streets. The volunteers help themselves to bottled water as they listen to an impassioned pep talk by Rev. Willie Sims, director of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board. "Don't be hanging out there looking foolish, as if you're homeless or something. I want to see these shirts all the way up and down Washington Avenue," Sims directs lightheartedly.
But the mood turns serious when the reverend moves into religious territory. "Don't do anything without invoking the name of the Almighty God," Sims instructs. "The police chief might not be there, but God'll be there."
After receiving their assignments (the six volunteers assigned to patrol the weekend's epicenter, Level nightclub, cheer and give one another high fives), the ambassadors hit the streets.
Back at the Tenth Street "control center" fifteen minutes later, where five volunteers will work the phones throughout the night, all's still quiet. One woman begins to nod off, waking quickly as the opening strains of the Married with Children theme song pipes out of the small television. Another volunteer reads the paper. They quibble good-naturedly about who's going to get ice to chill the stacks of water bottles.
It's going to be a long night.
2:30 a.m. Saturday: Inside Level at the Slip 'N Slide Records party, time continues on a leisurely pace. About a half-hour before Trick Daddy, Trina, and the Miami-based Slide crew take the stage, the DJ is imploring the anemic crowd for some action. This is the first big party of the weekend, and Slip 'N Slide is looking to make an impression. The DJ tries a few tricks to get the crowd fired up. "If you don't give a fuck, put your middle finger in the air and say, “Fuck you,'" he commands. It seems to work -- the dancers respond, and seconds afterward a jubilant "Fuck you!" rises from the floor. Still, the pep rally doesn't stick, and the DJ returns minutes later with a blunter approach. He flatly begs the crowd to make some noise. "Pleeeeease," he howls into his microphone.
Soon the stage is full of Miami's own: Young men saunter and stomp in baggy T-shirts that read, "I'm a thug" in bold white letters. Atop the megaspeakers they hold platinum records above their heads that read in shiny letters, "Thugs are us." Slip 'N Slide makes claim to the well-worn corner of the hip-hop, slip-hop world. "We are real niggahs -- we are street niggahs," offers a hefty middle-age black man who chokes the microphone with massive tattooed forearms. "I am the South -- I am the Dirty South."
Somewhere in the midst of the hype and posturing, one of the label's stars and Source nominee for best new artist, Trina, takes a cell-phone call while on center stage. She closes out the appearance with a quick and sassy rap and promises the half-full dance floor at 3:30 a.m.: "My album's coming out, it's coming out!"