God Bless the Playa

Fanning through the clouds of Black and Mild seeded with herb that hover over the entrance to Rain, there's Maseo, Plug Three of the once and now occasionally popular rap pioneers, De La Soul. Maseo and a posse of hangers-on are near enough to the entrance to be seen by everyone coming in, but he's no longer now enough for anyone except underground heads or backpackers to pay attention to. Mr. De La is dressed in traditional New York b-boy garb: jeans, sneakers, and T-shirt. The brands are not as important to b-boys, though Sean John seems to be in favor. Only on a Tuesday night in the summer can a member of a not-so-hot-now rap group gain entrance into a club in such a getup anyway. Maseo is in the middle of the usual Motorola two-way page. "Remember that name, Peter Thomas," he tells one of his cronies. Does this mean that there is a plan in the works involving the Barcode promoter? A future De La Soul trip to a venue near you?

Maybe Maseo isn't so out of date after all. A quick listen to what's pounding over the sound system suggests that there have not been many new rap songs out since the summer of 1994, or at least not since the demise of the Notorious B.I.G. Throw your hands in the air/If you's a true playa. Has the hip-hop scene's romanticizing of yesteryear and dead rappers grown tired? Blasphemy in the current hip-hop cult of posthumous celebrity.

"All my New York City heads make some noise!" the DJ recites over Jay-Z's "Jigga." Crowds of men stand by to watch crowds of women dance, romancing as the song says girls that dance with girls. "Yo, I'm sending out this special request," ad-libs the DJ. "You know who you are." The dancing women know too, gravitating toward a dark corner as Sean Combs's "I Need a Girl (Part 2)" plays. Receiving the dedication is Loon, Combs's replacement for Mase, who before him replaced the dearly departed Biggie. Having "more mack than Craig" isn't what gets the ladies going. What makes them tick is celebrity mojo. In the business of celebritydom, being a smooth talker or attractive isn't a necessity. The name of the game is just being a "star."

Loon is surrounded by what men in Miami call skeezers and gold diggers. Maybe that's what they're called everywhere, but Clubbed is concerned with Miami. Moments earlier the same status-seeking sirens were gyrating in the celebrity glow of Miami Heat basketball player Chris Gatling. At six feet ten Gatling's stature is an obvious mismatch for the low-key posturing of Loon, who sits in a dimly lit corner of the room with his posse, but Loon's association with P. Diddy makes his money plenty tall enough here.

Huddled together near the bar, playa haters are overheard exchanging ideas about why rap celebrities seem to always be found in Miami, no matter the season. "Man, the reason them NYC niggas come down here to floss is 'cause these silly-ass 'hos down here don't know better than to sweat like they do," says one. "Up the way, these niggas' money don't mean shit. It's dem Wall Street cats that's really ballin'!" But the skeezers don't seem to care who's really ballin'. Instead the flash of multikarat diamond watches and gaudy dangling Jesus pieces are a guaranteed lure.

Carl B, once darling promoter of the Beach hip-hop party scene, has gathered a harem of his own. Fittingly he is dressed as he has since the days of Fat Black Pussycat, like a pimp. Carl is a tall but frail figure who can at times resemble the infamous J.J. Evans from Good Times. His inebriated companions, probably tourists from some Midwestern locale or Kendall girls gone bad, tight-fitted brunettes with too-rosy cheeks. He slinks about the club sharing a few words with all of the necessary beautiful people before returning to his focus, keeping his harem close.

Another glance around the club reveals that Carl B and Loon aren't the only gentlemen with harems in tow. Well-dressed older men, Beach promoters, club owners, local musicians, and so on all seem to be afforded the same illusory status. "In New York, the Rockefellers and the Rubells run shit," the playa hater gripes. "They got real property and worth." In this land of David Copperfields, what's real is not what matters.

Outside the club, taxis wait like gridlocked chariots to whisk their Princes and their one-night Cinderellys into the dawn. Groups with women outnumbering men jump from cab to cab to get the right configuration and carry on the party. Two large security guards stand at the door thoroughly unamused. They've seen it all before. The only person left when the chariots depart is a visibly drunk man wearing black slacks from the Armani store and a baby blue button-down shirt from Kenneth Cole. He repeats over and over the news that he is leaving briefly to get his wallet. "Are you gonna remember me when I come back?" he asks security. Without a healthy wallet to buy another round for the juice thirsty VIP-seeking skeezers, he can't be a high roller. He's just an unlucky sap left out on the sidewalk in front of Rain.