By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
-- Terrance Smith, blackbeachweek.com
Terrance Smith may live far from the surf and sand, but the 34-year-old entrepreneur from Missouri knows his beach parties. As owner of the Website www.blackbeachweek.com since 1999, he keeps track of events that draw African-American students and professionals to resort areas across the United States and the Caribbean. He travels the circuit himself, brokering deals with promoters, hoteliers, and tour operators, and then drums up business by reporting where the party's at.
"Right now Miami is my favorite," he says over the phone from St. Louis. Smith will be spending Memorial Day weekend here, although his site is also promoting competing events in South Carolina and Cancun. Why Miami Beach? Smith explains, "It's like stepping into a music video."
Smith does not have precise figures for the number of guests who have booked through his site, but he reports that most of his hotels, including the Roney Plaza and Days Inn, are already full. (An informal survey of representative hotels by the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau on May 19 showed hotel occupancy on Miami Beach already at 87 percent, with many hotels on South Beach sold out. Last year, occupancy hit 96 percent.)
Smith predicts more than 200,000 people will show up this weekend, as they have for the past three years. Each visitor will spend a minimum of $400 in Miami Beach over the weekend, he estimates, with many spending more than $1000. Hotel rooms begin at $270 a night. Getting into a club costs $50 to $100. Then there's food and shopping. "People save up all year for this," he says.
On Memorial Day weekend, the first commandment is not just live large, but live gangsta. Despite hip-hop's domination of popular culture around the globe, fans still get off on the music's outlaw status. Some artists earn street cred as much for their rap sheets as for their raps. And the question music video producers most frequently ask when seeking permits, reports Graham Winick, film and print coordinator for Miami Beach, is the location of the "Scarface house," meaning the dazzling mansion with a glass elevator featured in the 1983 crime drama. "[Scarface is] in some ways a bible by which the culture lives," says Winick. But for most middle- and upper-class fans who trade in their ties for diamond-encrusted chains or their stockings for thong bikinis, the thug life is just another part of a hip-hop holiday.
"The crowd is very polite, very black, very ghetto," observes Boris Morales, manager of Club VIP, a nightclub nestled in the honeycomb of hip-hop hot spots on the 600 block of Washington Avenue. Make that ghetto fabulous. "They wear the hip-hop gear, but really they're a lot of black professionals. The people that come over to Miami Beach are the nice ones, because it's expensive."
To sit in one of the five VIP areas at Club VIP, patrons must buy a bottle of liquor at a minimum cost of $200 -- and buy another when the bottle is empty or get kicked out of the area. Hanging out in the club's more exclusive "ultra-VIP" room costs $500 up front and the purchase of at least three bottles. Morales says Memorial Day crowds think nothing of spending $500 on a bottle of Cristal. "Once a year, it's worth it," he explains.
Morales has fond memories of last Memorial Day weekend when rapper Wyclef Jean dropped in with an entourage of more than 30 people. He remembers one of the crew shaking up a "cheap" $200 bottle of champagne, and then spraying it on a friend. To retaliate, the friend bought two more bottles and emptied them on a few more friends. By the time the bubbly dried on the floor, the entourage had dropped between $12,000 and $15,000 in cash.