In clubland word travels in bits and pieces.
"You done look like a god dime," warbles Melissa, a talented R&B singer I've been trying to talk with for the past fifteen minutes.
"WHAT?!?!" I holla back. Melissa and I are merely inches apart -- so close that her large Afro nearly scrapes against my head -- but I can barely hear a word she says over Prive's loud PA system.
"YOU ... DON'T ... LOOK ... LIKE ... YOU'RE ... HAVING ... A ... GOOD ... TIME," she screams back one syllable at a time.
And she's right. Prive, the South Beach club that is essentially a VIP subsection of the immensely popular Opium, is undeniably beautiful. The space has an opulent and oddly organic elegance; hidden track lights illuminate a row of minisofas that snake through the relatively small club and wrap around tables stocked with top-shelf vodka, Red Bull, and various juices. Standing around the drinks is a group of patrons who look like they just came from Fashion Week. Statuesque females strut around in Pucci prints and Fendi handbags, while the men sport the sort of casualwear (Marc Jacobs shirts, Paper Denim jeans) that costs more than most suits. Despite their pained attempts at pleasure, a pretentiousness remains -- a sort of stiffness that seemingly precludes any sort of real fun.
And this is your typical South Beach club swank. Since touching ground in Miami a little more than a month ago, I've been warned by countless locals this isn't the real Miami.
But be it real or not, this is a side of Miami, and tonight I'm here to watch one of the Magic City's best and most influential hip-hop DJs, Mr. Mauricio, lay it down on the ones and twos. There is no doubt he holds tremendous sway in the South Florida hip-hop community. By day he spins on local hip-hop juggernaut 103.5 FM, and by night he has residencies at Opium Garden/Prive on Saturday and at Mansion on Tuesday and Friday.
Mauricio began spinning at the age of eleven. By sixteen he was already DJing house parties with a set that included a mixture of bass, freestyle, and house. Things have always come pretty easily for him, but it wasn't until he started spinning hip-hop that his career really took off.
"Hip-hop as we now know it in Miami didn't really begin until ten or twelve years ago," Mauricio informs me. Mauricio quickly converted to the genre and began playing such venues as Rain, Living Room, Skybar, and Rumi, and earned a guest spot on Y-100's Michael Yo! Show. When giant media conglomerate Clear Channel launched its 103.5 The Beat in 2002, they offered Mauricio the drive-time slot (5:00 to 6:00 p.m. daily).
The reason for his success is simple: Mauricio knows his city. "I'm from Miami and it's easy to tell what people around here like," he says.
And although staying on your grind and giving the audience what it wants will endear you to club promoters and radio directors, Mauricio understands that to move his career forward he needs to move Miami forward, a feat that can be accomplished only by educating his audience and breaking new songs and new talent.
"A lot of DJs down here don't have the balls to play what they want," Mauricio comments. "People just play the same hip-hop hits over and over again. But I try to mix it up. Even if it's a really urban crowd, I play some reggaeton or rock, which they may not normally like ... but if I like something, I'll play it. And most of the time I'm right. A good record is a good record, and if you can make it fit in your set, then it will work."
A little after 1:00 a.m. at Prive, Mauricio and I pile into the DJ booth. If you've never DJed before, there's no way of understanding what a rush it is to look down at a packed audience and know that the songs you play -- the decisions you make -- control the crowd. It's the sort of direct, positive reinforcement few of us are afforded, and it's the juice that fuels Mauricio: "When I play on the radio, I know that there's an audience of a half-million, but it's nothing like when you're performing in front of people."
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Tonight Mauricio starts out with something I wouldn't have expected to hear at Prive, the Commodores' "Just to Be Close to You." Apollo Kid may be thrilled by the choice, but the crowd seems nonplused.
Not until Mauricio plows into the latest G-Unit bangers (Tony Yayo's "So Seductive" and 50 Cent's "Just a Lil' Bit") or tracks from upcoming ATL superstar Young Jeezy ("Soul Survivor" and "Dem Boyz") does the formerly staid crowd visibly respond to the music. G's in Armani suits grip shots of Patrón and sway back and forth to the beat. A host of anonymous, bobbing hands rise up from the crowd. Girls in black miniskirts climb on top of the sofas as their dates try to grind against them.
At this point Mauricio has the crowd in his pocket. And though they devour the hits, they barely miss a beat when Mauricio slips in his exclusive remix of Smitty's "Diamonds on My Neck" (with a special verse that shouts out Mauricio) as well as various reggaeton and rock tracks. Like they say in the UK, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.