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The Marlin Hotel's dimly lit lobby is quieter than usual. A tall, bearded man wearing a checked paperboy cap points to a raggedy basketball jersey hanging on an easel; its bottom is tattered, the seams are busted, and the bright red color has faded to gray-maroon. It appears to have been used every day for years and then buried deep in a dresser, forgotten.
"Look over there. That's Raw's official Rock Steady jersey back in 1982!" says Brimstone (real name Seth Schere), a local hip-hop artist. "And over there are all of the Hoodstock flyers and Raw's album covers."
Then there's the slew of framed artwork stationed in a corner of the lobby. One photo stands out: a closeup of six front teeth covered by a gold grill inscribed with "DJ" on top and "Raw" on bottom. It's dated 1996, when grills were used for barbecues, not as a fashion statement.
Brimstone advises that this and several other "artifacts" on display this night will be shown in the Miami Hip-Hop Museum, which he and several other local hip-hop community members hope to open in the next two or three years. "It was an idea that I had for years, and since Raw's release, he's been giving me all these pieces of history. I was like, now I really have to make it happen!"
Ah, yes. Raw's release. Not only is this June 23 party a hip-hop induction ceremony sponsored by the Zulu Nation, Miami Chapter, but also it's a welcome-back fete for Raul Medina Jr., better known as DJ Raw.
After serving 10 years for spearheading a multimillion-dollar cocaine trafficking ring, Raw was released this past April. Now 43 years old, he is known in some parts as a Wynwood drug kingpin, but also, and more important, as founder of Hoodstock, the all-day free hip-hop festival, held annually from 1994 to 1996 at Roberto Clemente Park, that remains the most influential hip-hop event to take place in the history of Miami. Promoting a mission of "peace in the hood," Hoodstock attracted more than 10,000 attendees and showcased some of today's biggest hip-hop artists — Fat Joe, DMX, Noriega — when they were merely startups.
Suddenly, Kayela Flemming, a blue-eyed, dreadlocked 38-year-old Caribbean beauty, emerges from behind the lobby bar, looking peeved. "I can't believe it! They shut the bar down," screams Raw's publicist and longtime friend. "The City of Miami Beach just came in here like an hour ago, saying we didn't have the proper papers. Unbelievable!" Her frustration mounts with every sentence. "Some people just don't want to see Hoodstock go down. They see that Raw's out and the supposed powers that be are scared 'cause things are gonna start changing!" She takes a deep breath. "But there's drinks up in Raw's room if you want!"
A few minutes later, Room 219 is clearly a fire hazard. Sardined inside are chain-smoking, would-be rappers and over-the-top could-be MILFs, all downing plastic cups filled with gin and rum. As the new DJ Khaled chart-topper, "We Taking Over," blares from the surround-sound entertainment system, Raw lounges next to an air-conditioning unit with several look-alike members of The Sopranos' DiMeo crime family, all in classic Italian mob regalia, cigars in hand. Bedecked in a navy blue zoot suit, the handsome five-foot-six-inch medium-build Nuyorican pats his forehead dry with a silk handkerchief.
"This was a long time coming," Raw notes, his uniquely deep voice reverberating. "I'm so overwhelmed right now, seeing all my brothers in this room together at last.... It's been 10 long years.... Sorry, Khaled, but 'We Taking Over' now!"
Nods and cheers follow.
Omar Islam, founder of the Florida chapter of the Universal Zulu Nation (an international hip-hop organization) and the night's main presenter, is clearly touched. "This man right here," he grabs Raw's shoulders, "he's made what Miami is today! Look right now — South Beach alone, every club you hear is hip-hop. Back then there was no hip-hop here! Raw was the first to bring real hip-hop to Miami!"
Raul Medina was born December 7, 1963, at Benjamin Franklin Hospital in the Bronx. The youngest of seven children, Medina was raised by his single mom, a school counselor, in the birthplace of hip-hop, the South Bronx.
"When I was growing up, hip-hop wasn't even named hip-hop," Raw recalls. "You had Bam, KRS-One, Kurtis Blow — I grew up with these guys." An avid dancer at the time, Raw reminisces about his break-dancing days at a nightclub where historical b-boy showdowns took place: "My crew — TBB (The Bronx Boys) — and Rockwell used to battle Rock Steady at this place called Sunken Treasure way back when."
While his cousin, Buck 4, became a stronghold member in the famed Rock Steady Crew, Raw took his footwork to the streets. "All my brothers and sisters went to college, and me, on the other hand, ran amok. I felt at that time in my life, I didn't need school."
His education was built around hustlers and drug dealers, particularly a boyfriend of his mom's who was part of the notorious drug-dealing gang the Homicide Brothers. "It was like a family trade," recalls Raw. "My mom's boyfriend had the streets so hot that he couldn't stand out on the corner, and me being the shorty, the tough guy, I would stand [there] selling dope for him."