The Grinders

It was 9:00 on a mid-April morning in Miramar, and the Levinson Jewelers Theater in the Clear Channel Communications building was overrun with females. They were squealing with delight at Pretty Ricky as the fledgling boy band weaved through a performance of "Grind on Me."

Who is Pretty Ricky? If you listen to urban radio, you may have heard "Grind on Me," with its rough, neo-Jodeci sound hewing closely to the early Nineties "Knockin' Boots" era of R&B. This past winter it was the number one single in Power 96's rotation. (Pretty Ricky's bio proclaims "Grind on Me" as the most requested song in that station's history.) The song's popularity was an overdue reward for a quartet of brothers -- and their father/manager Joseph "Blue" Smith -- who sent out CDs of their material to key industry people over the past two years, with limited results.

I was sent one of those CDs early last year, back when the band was called Prettie Rickie and the Maverix. It included a single, "Hey Girl" backed with "Flossin'," and a ten-minute DVD. The package contained a photo of the garishly dressed group. Lead singer Pleasure was wearing a black Piglet T-shirt, Slick 'Em and Baby Blue were garbed in mismatched white and yellow gear, and Spectacular was shirtless, his baby dreads tied into two ponytails. I guess you can't judge a book by its cover.


The success of "Grind on Me" on Power 96 woke everybody up to the quartet, who renamed themselves Pretty Ricky early this year (owing to legal conflicts with roots-rock band the Mavericks). Stations 103.5 The Beat and 99 Jamz added the song to their playlists; in fact that morning Pretty Ricky was performing at Bakaz and Eggz, a morning showcase The Beat's morning jocks the Baka Boyz occasionally throw for their listeners. The bandmates were dressed sharply in matching Tommy Hilfiger lime ensembles and Air Force One sneakers.

After the performance, Pretty Ricky settled down to hang out with Nick Vidal from the Baka Boyz, who gave out raffle prizes to the audience. "I'm gonna give away Spectacular!" interjected Pleasure. "He got a six-pack too! Take it off!"

The audience chanted, "Take it off! Take it off!" Spectacular stood up and began to slowly take off his jacket, then his fuchsia shirt. No one wanted to win a tote bag with a 103.5 The Beat logo on it. They wanted the stars.

One of the girls had the lucky raffle number, so she "won" Spectacular. The two just danced closely for a few moments, grinding together as DJ Eric Vidal from the Baka Boyz cued up "Grind on Me" one more time. Kids.

Afterward Pretty Ricky's members retreated to the conference room for a quick interview. But it was difficult to pin them down. They were still hyped from the showcase, cracking jokes, amiably snapping on each other, and making random cell phone calls.

The brothers of Pretty Ricky are originally from Carol City. Since "Grind on Me" blew up, they have been on a fast track.

"We get up at 8:00 a.m., we start getting ready, we head to the studio around 10:00 a.m., we at the studio all day," said Baby Blue. "If we got a show, we gotta leave the studio session to go do the show, do the interviews, then come back to the studio. Then we practice. We leave the studio about six, get about two or three hours of sleep in, then we back at it, the same thing."

When you practice, do you mean your stage show?

"Yeah, we practice our show too ... we not the Backstreet Boys, we more like Miami hood dance with it."

It seems like you guys have a different flavor from the other R&B groups.

"See right here, I got cachet. Everybody in the group got cachet," said Slick 'Em, who claims Trick Daddy as an influence. "You could say I'm the rebel. I'm the wild one of the clique. I'm bringing that thug, but not really thug, commercial thug."

"I bring the love," said Pleasure. "Lover-boy, that's me. I'm that kind of guy."

"I'm on the business grind all the time," said Baby Blue, who is starting his own clothing line, Marco de Bleu. In New Edition terms, he's the Michael Bivens of the group. "I'm trying to think about what we doing four or five hours ahead of now."

"I'm bringing the sexiness to the group, the dancing," said Spectacular. "See what I'm saying? Make the ladies scream. That's me."

This past February Atlantic Records signed Pretty Ricky to a major-label deal through their father Blue's management company, Blue Star Entertainment. Then the band quickly proceeded to knock out an album, Blue Stars, for a May 24 release, just in time for Memorial Day weekend.

"We got a couple of joints for the ladies. We got a couple of joints for the dudes. Our main focus is to satisfy the people," said Pleasure.

"We all about the ladies," added Baby Blue.

"It's still clean though," said Spectacular, "so all the kids and their parents -- everybody -- can enjoy it. The whole family can enjoy it. We're making feel-good music."


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